Sunset Boulevard ★★★★

Swanson is so good, so singular and iconic that it can be hard to reckon with the movie as a whole. But this time around, I found myself wishing that Wilder showed maybe a bit more sympathy or affection for Norma - or for Norma's perspective. Or maybe if he'd allowed Holden to show half as much affection as disgust. (After the Chaplin impression? Come on, Bill, what more do you want from a woman?!). And maybe it's because I have such a greater appreciation for the silent era than I had last time I saw it. I may worry for Desmond's mania and delusion, but I don't entirely disagree with her about the uncanny power of the silent screen - and of faces in close up. Of course what makes the movie more than just a cynical and sour take on the movie biz is the sad and soulful performance of von Stroheim's Max and - even more movingly for me - Cecil B. DeMille's impeccable and sensitive performance as himself. DeMille, in his tender treatment of Norma, is also the only character to convey the truth about the silent film - that it's not a relic that belongs to a different era. And it was not an art form that needed "improving" (with sound). I guess I'm not convinced that this was a sentiment shared by Wilder and Brackett. And I guess what I'm sacrilegiously suggesting is that a better film could have been made by someone who was as sympathetic to Norma Desmond as they were to Joe Gillis. (OK fine, not a better film - just a different film.)

The other thing I always forget about the movie is Nancy Olson's Betty Schaefer as the love interest. Given what we learn about Betty and her failed starlet past, it's ironic that Olson is so forgettable herself. And the relationship with Gillis is itself is so conventional and forced compared with everything else in the movie.

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