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The Film List Project #18: Sunset Boulevard

I apologize for not posting last week. It might happen again.

This week, I had the bizarre pleasure of watching one of the most misquoted movies of all time, Sunset Boulevard. I don't think I've yet recovered.

This film is exactly the kind of movie I pictured when I was young and someone talked about "classic Hollywood". Black and white, bombastic lead actress, a forbidden romance, twisting plot. Everything I imagined was there.

I always held these type of movies to a higher standard than those more modern movies I had already seen. People talked about them with such fondness, recounting memories of seeing them in a theatre or on TV at home. I was worried that when I watched a movie like this one for the first time, I would be disappointed.

What I've realized is that any movie from any era can excite, disappoint, or surprise you. An era that a movie was made in may shape the story and how it is made, but an audience's emotions toward movies have always been the same. Movies are made to make an audience feel something, and that's why people's memories of them are so strong. The release date is but a small detail.

I had two thoughts after watching this movie: 1) That was a beautiful roller coaster, and 2) Is Gloria Swanson okay?

I think it is easy to see a movie like Sunset Boulevard that has dynamic, explosive characters and assume that the actors are their characters. This is made even easier because of certain similarities between Swanson and her character, Norma Desmond (former silent film stars, former collaborators with DeMille, multiple marriages, etc.). But, Swanson put it so beautifully herself when she said, "I've got nobody floating in my swimming pool".

My only problem with this movie is with its protagonist. Screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) is the ultimate hypocrite. He lectures Norma Desmond about taking him for granted, but it is he who takes her for granted. He stays in her house (because he needs a job) and takes her money (honestly, because he needs a job) and never thanks her. In his eyes, he is doing her a favor, but the bizarre relationship between the two goes both ways.

This movie is going to stick with me for a while. See you next week.

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