“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.” – Norma Desmond
There was nothing small about AFI’s No. 16 Sunset Blvd. This film noir took a look at the dark side of Hollywood that still exists today, how do child and young stars react to the fading of their stardom? In the case of Ms. Desmond, not well. When Joe Gillis stumbles across her, her home looks like it could be on America’s Most Haunted and her sole companion is her butler. Rather than embrace change, she dreams of the days when actors and actresses used their face and eyes to display emotions. Joe brings her happiness she had been lacking but unfortunately that happiness came from being in control.
It is funny that Norma spoke of acting with her eyes because that is truly what Gloria Swanson did throughout the film. She had, for lack of a better term, crazy eyes, ones you can tell were not fully right in the head. I was stunned when I read Gloria Swanson did not in fact win an Academy Award because her performance was so mesmerizing and out of control. I was terrified of her throughout the film.
I enjoyed a lot of the directorial choices that were made, such as the beginning shot of Joe floating face down in the pool. The small touches, such as the never explained chimp funeral, also created a dark scene with pinch of humor. Like most film noirs, none of the characters are likable but there are times you can’t help but sympathize with them… From Mr. DeMille’s pained look watching Norma leave the lot, knowing he helped turn a sweet girl into a self-obsessed monster, to the tears in the reporter’s eyes as Norma prepares for her “close-up,” all of these people felt a bit like they were partially to blame for her breakdown.
Sunset Boulevard is a gripping tale of the horrors of Hollywood and the demise of Ms. Desmond is one all to familiar to stars of today.
Next up: No. 15 2001: A Space Odyssey