Sunset Boulevard ★★★★½

The original.  It’s one of those films where everything you could say has been said before a million times and where every stroke of inspiration you could take from it has already been taken by its infinite inspirations and homages.

I got to see it for the first time on the big screen which was certainly a good decision.  I tried to watch it once through Netflix and turned it off after twenty minutes because I knew I wasn’t paying it the appropriate amount of respect.  And I’m so glad I waited until day.

The dialogue is so whip smart, the story is so elemental and ultimately sad and then laced with so many idiosyncrasies and additionally weird moments that would have been bold and questionable if done today, and the characters are so deeply cut and richly sketched in.  There are so many classic films you watch that just tell the basic story because no one had told it before and there was no thought to elevate it because why would you need to.  But this film has dead orangutans and a hell of an out there central performance that it hinges absolutely everything on.  It also never sacrifices the truthful darkness of its story for the time period or for the audience.

A former star of the silent era is in the midst of a psychotic break and attempted resurgence when she meets a down and out screenwriter who needs to make some cash so his car isn’t towed.  And there’s no tidying up of who these characters are.  Norma Desmond is deeply depressed to need the doorknobs taken off her doors so she can’t attempt to kill herself again and Joe Gillis is pathetically broke enough to take advantage of this unstable woman and let her use him in any way she needs if it keeps him away from the difficulties of his life.

The last big turn of the story is perhaps it’s weakest element.  The opening image is a haunting and iconic one but the resolution to the frame story is just kind of perfunctory.  It doesn’t add or detract or twist or accentuate the story or characters we already have gotten to know by the time we get back there.  What happens is just kind of what happens as we expect it to be when we first meet these people.

But it’s made up for by it’s surreal and satirical and deeply miserable ending.  It’s a great one.  A story about obsession.  About grasping for the waning beams of limelight as they dissipate in your fingers.  About not being able to acknowledge the passage of time or your deeply ignored and unimproved flaws.  About wanting a life above the clouds and the mental cost that everyone tries not to talk about.