Sunset Boulevard Reviews
And then you understand. That's the point. Billy Wilder's take on a darker side of Hollywood is scathing and unrelenting, showing how fame takes its toll on those "fortunate" enough to reach movie star status. Behind the camera, the screenwriters (in this case, down-on-his-luck writer Joe Gillis) are too cynical to craft anything more than an easy buck. To boot, it's all strangely meta: Gloria Swanson, giving one of the most legendary performances in history as Desmond, transitions from silent film actress into a new era of filmmaking, not unlike Desmond hopes to do herself. Wilder is wildly inventive in this regard, and doesn't pull punches when going directly after the business. Instead of making up directors to include in this story, he throws in real names (D.W. Griffith and Cecil DeMille, the latter of whom cameos in a small acting role) to make this savage satire hit as hard as it can. Wilder and Charles Brackett's screenplay draws elements of film noir mysteries, with voiceover narration and murky cinematography, but it's also truly funny. It's that kind of juxtaposition that makes Sunset Boulevard such a masterwork of film: you can't help but laugh at how these things play out and how ridiculous they all can be, but they sit in the corner of your mind and slowly register. And again, you understand. This is very much a horror story.
Wilder stages this with delicacy, but is not shy to allow over-the-top moments, particularly by Swanson giving us the ugliest side of fallen stardom one could imagine. From her facelift to her close-up moment after the murder, we get all we could hope to keep reserved in the belly of our deepest nightmares of lost minds and past-dwelling.
I only wonder if this film feels very removed from those who don't know Hollywood lingo, which dialogue and narration provide an abundance of. Featuring legendary director Cecil B DeMille as himself may not register with the modern audience, but it's significant. He entertains Desmond, horribly and accidentally teasing that her screenplay has any promise, only to reveal the sad truth that he had no other way of handling her politely, and has no intention of making her movie.
The narration is another great tool, providing the attitude and backdrop of being a screenwriter in Hollywood, not taking from the theatric experience of the story coming to life visually. Sunset Boulevard itself will fatefully be the best story Gillis ever tells on film. Desmond's heartbreak is unsettling, unnerving, and an effective lesson about moving on in life.
Saw this on 01/11/16
Billy Wilder's cynicism and black comedy elements are praisable, but the film is only good in parts and its predictable. It's got good characters and dialogues, yet it dwells on familiar tracks for most of the time.
Overall, it was well acted and had some very witty and funny remarks, particularly if you have any familiarity with LA's film industry, but there wasn't much of a drive or plot throughout. Even halfway through, it felt like it was just meandering through their lives, with no particular understanding for why this movie had been made.
Given that it is on many best of lists (and #52 on IMDB), I just expected more from this film.