Saturday, March 5, 2016

Gothic Greatness: Sunset Boulevard

A tale of worthy of Shakespeare! How can that be? Easy! It is tragic and epic. What heroine was ever more haunting than the tragic, Norma Desmond?

Here she is, long past her prime, living in a creepy mansion that one might picture Dracula having a fondness for. Her butler is a loving acolyte. Her most loyal, who will never leave her, He is the guardian of the temple of Venus, in this case the temple of the great silent screen star, Norma Desmond.

She has receded from the world, much like Miss Havisham. In fact, William Holden’s character, the doomed, Joe Gillis makes reference to Miss Havisham, the sad character from Dickens’ Great Expectations ‘who was given the go by.’ Well, he’s quite right. Norma Desmond played by the iconic Gloria Swanson in her finest role, was most definitely ‘given the go by.’ Filmland used her and spit her out. She was in silent films and didn’t transfer over to talkies which is so ironic because of this film’s success for Swanson.

One of the best lines is delivered by Swanson in answer to silent films vs. talkies:

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!

So true. Her character makes an exception for Garbo which is also only right.

The story’s Norma, committed an unpardonable sin. She got older. Women can’t age in Hollywood. They couldn’t in the 20’s and they still can’t. France may be able to appreciate the maturity of women grown older as they do in their Gallic way, but Hollywood cannot. It probably never will. Norma, very much like Garbo, left dreamland to exist in her own way in a decaying mansion. Unlike Garbo, the Desmond character goes a little crazy. She develops a fantasy world for herself.

Holden’s character winds up in this living tomb of sorts because his car is in danger of being possessed. Norma likes him very much. She wants to tango with him—vertically and horizontally. He, however, wants to go back to the world. Tragedy is waiting to happen.

When, at the end, Norma can no longer tell the real from the make-believe, she is at her most tragic. All the reporters are snapping their flashbulbs. She thinks she’s on the set again and De Mille is filming.

Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close up. That line is one of the best lines ever. She descends the stairs, dancing—moving gracefully reaching out ‘to all those marvelous people out there… ‘

She will remain insane most probably. Too much has happened including murder. Too many knocks have befallen this forgotten star.

It is supremely tragic. It is about the charm of youth and the horror of aging; of life and death—love and loss.If you have never seen Sunset Boulevard (1950) please see it. It is one of the finest, most memorable films Hollywood has ever made.

Take my word for it.
~Carole Gill

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