22 December 2011

7. SUNSET BOULEVARD




A dead body in a pool. Intrigue immediately.
-- compare this with SOME LIKE IT HOT, which starts off with a car chase, or DOUBLE INDEMNITY, which begins with a gutshot Fred MacMurray announcing "I killed Dietrichson." Wilder's quote was "Grab the audience by the throat and never let them go," and he practiced what he preached.

A young writer who can't sell his stories. Repo men come to get his car. He's in dire straits, broke. He needs $300.

He goes to a producer he knows, tries to pitch a script to Paramount. He gets denied, is still out of money.

Gets on the phone, calls around to friends for the cash. Meets with his agent, who also refuses to lend him the money. Drives around, contemplates going back to (Dayton) Ohio, returning to the newspaper business (this comes from real life, I'd assume, since Wilder started out as a newspaper man before getting into the movies).

He sees the repo men while he's driving around, they give chase. Ends up in a random rich person's garage.

12 minutes in. He's somewhere new, at a huge white mansion. He gets called into the house -- they treat him like he's expected, even though he's obviously not.

Already we have a main character in a SERIOUS bind (he's broke), we have him taking actions to alleviate his problem, and we have scenes that end on intrigue, making us always wonder: what will happen next?

What happens next is that he meets a movie star: "You're Norma Desmond. You used to be big." "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." She's eccentric, theatrical, a has-been. She lives alone, only a butler with her, in this mansion.

He tells her he's a writer; she laments sound, tells him to read her script. Again, here's where we can discuss motivation: normally, a guy like this would get out of the creepy old mansion with the has-been actress, but two things are making him stick around: he's being chased, and he thinks she might able in a position to give him money. So he stays.

He finishes the script, has some thoughts on how to make it better. She hires him to do a touch-up/rewrite, so he stays the night. As he does so, he looks around the grounds: "It was all very queer, but queerer things were yet to come."

This is how Act 1 ends! With the writer basically telling us directly that we should wonder what's next.

So: Act 2. He moves in, begins working, she breathes down his neck. He tries to cut a big scene with her, she resists. "The public wants to see me!" She is narcissistic, has an inflated ego, is unreasonable. They watch silent movies occasionally, always ones where she was the star.

30 minutes in -- the repo men find him, tow his car away. Now they use her car. He is getting in deeper and deeper -- she buys him clothes, he moves into the main house from the garage due to a leaky roof in his room.

New Year's Eve party -- set piece -- she's trying to seduce him, he resists, she slaps him. He leaves, goes to a young person's party with other struggling entertainment world folks: his peers. He's made his decision: he will move back in with a friend, leave Norma's world, the dusty, ancient, dying world she inhabits, the lonely world. That's contrasted by the liveliness of the party and his reemerged libido, with which he tries to kiss his friend's lady, who likes his script.

He calls Norma's to get his stuff packed, finds out from the butler that Norma tried to kill herself, and thus he returns and is sucked back in to her world, a world he doesn't belong to and almost escaped. "Happy New Year, Norma," she says, and kisses her. He's locked in.

That's the midpoint. The girl calls, tries to find him, the butler denies her.

They all go to Paramount to see DeMille unannounced. She thinks this is her big break, but DeMille doesn't want to see her, even though the public flocks to her on the soundstage. She thinks they've been calling her about a role, but instead they've been calling her to use her old car for a period piece. "How did it go?" "It couldn't have gone better!" But DeMille never wants to see her again.

Act 3, it becomes almost all plot. She undergoes a montage of beauty treatments. Gilles sneaks out every night to work on script with the girl. The butler, Max, reveals that he directed her and was her first husband.

She finds his other script. Betty kisses him, is in love with him, wants to leave her boyfriend. Norma calls Betty, tries to tell her off. Betty comes over, he resists her, doesn't steal her, unlike what we thought he would do. She leaves.

He packs, prepares to go back to Dayton. He reveals the truth to her: There were no fan letters, DeMille doesn't want her, she's old and over-the-hill.

She cracks. She has built up an entire world where she was special, where she was relevant. That's gone now. She shoots the messenger.

Back to the opening scene, the cops come to see her and arrest her. She's completely insane now, no longer in the real world, completely consumed by fantasy. They get her to come downstairs and be arrested by telling her that she's wanted on set.

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."

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