Director: Billy Wilder; Main Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson;
I have always liked films about the movie industry; whether it’s the making of a film, the life of a director or actor, the politics and troubles of producing, I find it fascinating. This great classic, written and directed by Billy Wilder, has it all: a once famous actress wanting to come back to the limelights, a struggling b-movie writer and the almighty studios of the golden era of Hollywood; above all it has some really great lines.
The story, set in 1950s, revolves around Joe Gillis (Holden), a small-time screenwriter, and Norma Desmond (Swanson), a silent-film goddess who lives like a recluse in a crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard. She still desperately believes in her star power and undying fame, indulged and protected by her butler Max (von Stroheim), who was once her director and husband. Norma is dreaming her return to the pictures, resigning herself to be in a talkie. Norma is writing a film about Salome and her chance encounter with Joe is an additional spur to her delusions; enticing him with the prospect of script work she puts him up in her mansion. Joe becomes ever more involved and entangled in Norma’s life, he is her lover/gigolo and he is fascinated and repulsed by it at the same time. The drama spirals out into insanity and violence closing the circle of the narration.
Holden and Swanson are both superb and play off each others perfectly. They bring to life their characters with great skills, giving nuanced performances that will grip your attention and won’t let go. Wilder’s script is sharp and riveting and it is interesting (also a bit ironic) for a film about writers and, in particular writing film, to say: “We didn’t need dialogue! We had faces!”. Wilder uses an effective approach: he starts the movie at the end of the tale with a voiceover of Joe telling his story before his death (Sam Mendes will adopt exactly the same structure for American Beauty!). Disquieting and mesmerizing —8.5/10
This is my entry to The Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Check all the other contributions here:
Director: Sidney Lumet; Main Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty;
Television is indeed a cut-throat world. Network and corporate executives exploit the mental break-down of a veteran news anchorman for the sake of ratings and monetary return. Summarised in this way, the film sounds like a jaded, cynic view of TV news in the seventies but it is so much more! It manages to introduce some surreal elements into a serious and realistic narrative that becomes one of the harshest criticism of television, entertainment and business world. Furthermore it uncannily predicts what happens to television in the next forty years: reality shows, exploitation of the worst gory events to improve ratings and such. Faye Dunaway show a wonderful combination of fanatical glee, workaholism and sheer determination as Diana Christensen, the producer who takes the reins of the news section of the network. She replaces Max Shumacher (Holden), an old-timer with integrity and also personal friend of Howard Beale (Finch), the anchorman in question. Beale’s ravings are illuminating and still actual (and downright hilarious) and Finch is fantastic to watch, no wonder he has got an Oscar for this role. To add more quality to an already stellar cast there’s Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett, face of the corporation, that recently bought the network, and ultimate shot-caller. His character might come across as one-dimensional, only driven by quarterly returns and stockholders’ expectations but Duvall manages to imbue him with some vulnerability that makes him more credible. The heart of the film is Holden’s Max: a man who is going towards his twilight years and finds himself fired, rather unceremoniously. He is viewed by Hackett as the past in TV news and he is considered both expendable and a threat to the network. All of this because Max refuses to use his friend Howard as freak-show to be paraded in front of millions of people. Max is the only silver lining of the film: someone who clings to his humanity (both the good and the bad) and doesn’t surrender and turn into a humanoid like Diana. Lumet’s directing is flawless and inspired and Paddy Chayefsky’ s script is pure gold. My favorite scenes are: Arthur Jensen’s (Beatty) speech about the primal forces of Nature and the contract negotiation between the far-left-wing revolutionaries, the communist activist and the network representatives; both are hilarious and amazing. Riveting —9/10
This is my first entry to The Matinee‘s Blind Spot blogathon. So far so good!