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The Scroll

No. 2: Sunset Boulevard

The candid, insider’s take on Hollywood and the human condition

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(Corbis)

1950, dir. Billy Widler. Let’s begin our review by doing what the film itself did so well and start at the very end: It’s the release party for Sunset Boulevard, and Billy Wilder, sheepish, is being berated by Louis B. Mayer. “You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you!” the studio boss shouts.“You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood!”

Mayer’s sentiment isn’t hard to understand: Even today, six decades after its release, it’s hard to imagine a film more brutally candid—about everything from Hollywood to the human condition—than Wilder’s tale of a has-been movie diva and the young hack writer caught in her web. And candid isn’t what Hollywood was ever about.

It was, however, what Wilder was about. Having escaped the Nazis in the nick of time, and having lost most of his family in Auschwitz, he wasn’t cut out for the fripperies of the film industry. Instead, he made his mark with dark and emotionally harrowing movies, like the noir classic Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend. Both films forced Wilder to fight against Hollywood’s strict adherence to self-censorship—and, in both cases, he won. By 1950, he was likely in a mood to turn his lens on the industry that awarded him all of its laurels but that also tried to claim large swaths of his soul. The result was Sunset Boulevard.

There are many extraordinary things about the film. For one, it is deeply concerned with authenticity: Buster Keaton and Cecil B. DeMille play themselves, and Gloria Swanson brings much of her own past as a silent movie star—including photographs, mementos, and other tchochkes—to her role as Norma Desmond. Even more profoundly, however, the film is as hilarious as it is grim. Indeed, if there’s any message in Sunset Boulevard it’s that life is tough, aspirations are doomed, people are mean, and there’s absolutely no reason not to go through the whole ordeal laughing every step of the way. Is there a more perfect summary of Jewish history?

 

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Margaret Reines says:

Some observations re the film:
The frequent imageries of death:
Rats in the pool; The dead chimp; the decaying mansion; Norma’s fellow ‘silent-film’ card – players (referred to as the ‘waxworks’).
The mansion possibly being indicative of an old ‘Hollywood’ – and all its inhabitants – crumbling. The same argument could be afforded to the old car.
The derision conferred on Norma’s age of ’50′ years – as compared to today’s women – and the accompanying notion of what she was capable of at ’50′.
The novelty in 1950 of a women ‘keeping’ hack actor/writer Joe Gillis. (Note the smirk on the salesman’s face when Norma is buying Joe clothes).
Possibly the best imitaion-cameo of Charlie Chaplin ever. – By Norma for Joe’s amusement. He looks more bemused than amused-this sort of ‘aside’ in the film presenting so well because of Waxman’s flawless score.
The impossibility of classiying this picture in to one category – (horror, film noir, social commentary?) -It’s really one of a kind – a savage expose of Hollywood -possibly not receiving as many awards as it would have for this very reason.

alottadreck says:

WHAT A HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT…..You included a bunch of NON JEWISH FILMS and Excluded a bunch of REAL Jewish Films!!!!
With this list of 100 greatest Jewish Films…What happened to “Hester Street”, “Defiance”, “Cast a Giant Shadow”, “Marathon Man”, “The Frisco Kid”, and a host of others!!!????

Ande says:

The List should be renamed to “The top 100 movies for -non-Zionist secular Jews” I love many of these movies but the lack of jewish knowledge by reviewers shines through. And before you trash Schindler’s List you should read about Amon Goeth and what he did. As for Schindler himself, nobody tries ot hide his boozing and philandering, even the Jesuits who buried him in the Catholic cemetery on Mt. zion because he saved 1000 lives.

2000

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No. 2: Sunset Boulevard

The candid, insider’s take on Hollywood and the human condition

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