Sunset Boulevard: Extra Credit #3

This past Wednesday, Emory’s Cinematheque screened Sunset Boulevard (1950) – which I had not seen before – as part of its Billy Wilder series. Before I made it to the screening, I was working Emory’s varsity volleyball game versus Lee University (where Emory swept them 3-0), but the game ended right as the screening was scheduled to start. I sprinted across campus to White Hall and sadly missed the majority of Dr. Bernstein’s opening speech about Billy Wilder and Sunset Boulevard. After Dr. Bernstein’s speech, I found a seat in the front row (best row) with my friend, Ben, who had already seen it before. The room itself was about 85-90% full, mostly middle-aged and older folks.

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The only thing I knew about Sunset Boulevard was the iconic line of, “I’m ready for my close-up,” so I didn’t really know what to expect. Sunset Boulevard was a film about an aging silent film era star, Norma Desmond (played by the famous Gloria Swanson), who can’t accept that her fame had come to an end with the film industry moving to sound. She decides to write her own film about Salome and that’s when Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) runs into her. Joe had been facing money problems and ran away to what he thought was an abandoned house, which was Norma’s house. That’s when everything changed.

It was funny watching the way Norma dramatized everything she did. It was as if her life was still in a silent movie. The face-shaping makeup, dramatic reactions to minor events, form-fitting wardrobe, exaggerated facial expressions – all parts of a great silent film that she was still living in. It was also interesting to watch Norma fight for her screen time back because, in my Classical Film Theory course, we are reading Rudolf Arnheim and how he believed sound corrupted the true art that silent cinema is. I thought that Rudolf should be Norma’s final husband and I told my professor my idea, and he laughingly agreed. However, the best part of the entire film was the surprise cameo of silent film superstar, barely second to Charlie Chaplin himself, Buster Keaton!! Overall, I really liked the movie and I’m glad I got to see it in its full effect on the big screen, but it’s not one of my favorites.

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