BP’s Top 100 Challenge #42: Sunset Boulevard, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I love Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. She gives 110% in her performance and it works. This was my second time seeing the film and it was a delight to revisit it. I think my experience watching Sunset Boulevard was enhanced this time by the Battleship Pretension Top 100 challenge, over 2017 I have seen a number of silent films so the story of an aging silent film actress trying to make a comeback connected with me more this time.
I really like the structure of the film. Joe Gillis is telling us the story from beyond the grave. We know from the first shot that he is dead at the end of the film but you still want to know what lead to his demise. I also really liked that they didn’t make Joe too likable of a character. You certainly never wish he was dead but William Holden is able to beautifully balance being a bit of a rake but also being a decent guy who down on his luck and desperate. Joe clearly comes to care for Norma but he never loves her. He also knows his tendencies so he tries not to let Betty Schaefer get too close to him.
The character of Max Von Mayerling, played by Erich von Stroheim, is one of my favorites. He is the Sam to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings or the Horatio to Hamlet in Hamlet, and it is one my favorite character types. Max does love Norma and has sacrificed his life and happiness to make her happy and bears his own burdens as a result. He wanted to be a famous film director but instead he became what Norma needed him to be. In that way the final scene when Norma descends the stairs in her madness and Max directs the scene it is extra heartbreaking for both of them. Just for a moment they are both exactly where they want to be.
Sunset Boulevard is one of those films that is beautiful in black and white but I would have loved to have seen it in color. Between Norma’s outfits, her house, and her car I think it would have been breathtaking in color. That being said, Billy Wilder makes every frame work. Wilder captures the themes of ‘the old versus the new’ and ‘reality versus dreams’ so well that they are ever present in the film without being too obvious.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Sunset Boulevard ranking: Battleship