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JulyDiaz

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard  

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  1. 1. Does "Sunset Boulevard" belong on the AFI List?

    • Yes
      13
    • No
      2

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  • Poll closed on 02/01/19 at 08:00 AM

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Paul & Amy drive down to 1950's Hollywood house of horrors Sunset Boulevard! They ask if Joe Gillis is a reliable narrator, praise Gloria Swanson's transformative performance, and wonder if Hollywood really hasn't changed in 70 years. Plus: Alicia Malone (TCM host and author of "The Female Gaze") joins us to help place Sunset Boulevard in it's historical context.

 

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Edited by DanEngler

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Since I haven't been able to rewatch Sunset yet, I want to at least back up Amy on What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? because it's great. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis have monumental performances.

Alicia Malone is also the best TCM now. She hosted a great series on TCM late last year about early female directors that was really eye opening for me.

 

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This is my number one movie on the list and I enjoyed the episode as usual but I did have an issue . And I do not want to come across as an Amy hater as I have been a fan since the first episode of the Canon and there is just way too much of it floating around, especially in the Facebook group. So Amy, you are awesome!

In this episode( and it is definitely due to me loving the story and dialogue of this movie above most any other) I really found it boring when alternative takes were offered of scenes and characters. The whole point is that Gloria has internalized the way that the world(and Gilles) sees her and has treated  her(terribly) and that is the basis of the story. "There's nothing tragic about being 50, not unless you try to be 25."   

And if we point it out that she should be celebrated instead, yes indeed do that absolutely.  But the discussion of  every scene with Gloria kind of came back to that point with alternative scenarios being offered. That's not really criticism in my book and I was just kind of bored by it. Same with the discussion of the characterization of Gilles.

This is a bit unfair, but I just love the "text" of this movie so much that I wish it had been appreciated a bit more in the discussion. We should tear down our idols for sure and examine the wreckage, but there was so much greatness in this movie(especially about the idea of movies and culture) that was largely left un-examined that I was perhaps a bit let down.

One of my favorite exchanges of all time:

Betty Schaefer : Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Gillis, but I just didn't think it was any good. I found it flat and trite.

Joe Gillis : Exactly what kind of material do you recommend? James Joyce? Dostoyevsky?

Betty Schaefer : I just think that pictures should say a little something.

Joe Gillis : Oh, one of the message kids. Just a story won't do. You'd have turned down Gone With the Wind.

Sheldrake : No, that was me. I said, "Who wants to see a Civil War picture?"

But these are two people I love hearing talk about movies and will be interested to hear their takes on 2018! Keep up the great work! and Thank you!

 

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5 hours ago, NYNoirFan said:

This is a bit unfair, but I just love the "text" of this movie so much that I wish it had been appreciated a bit more in the discussion.

I agree, I think it's a fantastic script, and Amy and Paul glossed over the dialogue here when they spent some time praising it in Double Indemnity, which I'm much less a fan of.  Double Indemnity has some great lines, but I always thought they were too written, and no one would actually talk that way.  In Sunset Blvd, the witty repartee seems more believable to me.

I'll also vouch for how good Whatever Happened To Baby Jane is, though I don't agree with Amy that it's better than Sunset Blvd.  There's a great conversation to be had about the two films together though, and I've always thought that Bette Davis's performance as Jane, particularly in crafting the makeup and hair, was inspired by Gloria Swanson as Norma.  Jane is essentially the more horror movie version of Norma.  When Norma performs her old bits, it's more cute than sad.  When Jane performs her old bits, it's quite unsettling.

A couple other connections to real-life that weren't mentioned in the podcast: when Norma visits DeMille on set, the film DeMille is directing was actually the film he was directing in reality at the time, Samson and Delilah, which went on to get nominated for five Oscars the same year as Sunset Blvd, and the two films were actually pitted against each other for Best Score.

Also, I think there were more similarities between Gloria Swanson and Norma than Amy and Paul and Alicia implied.  Listening to the podcast, it seemed like they were saying that Gloria Swanson was getting plenty of steady work, but in reality, her film career had fizzled out at age 35.  Between 1934 and the 1950 release of Sunset Blvd, she only appeared in one feature-length film.  (I don't know the details about this break, though it seems suspicious that she signed a contract with MGM in 1934 and she immediately stopped booking film work.  I also don't know if she was doing stage acting during this time like Bette Davis did before Baby Jane.)

At any rate, this is one of my favorite films and will probably end up in the top 10 on my list, so pretty close to the #16 position it holds on the AFI list.  (I currently have it at #4).

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I sort of had a mixed reaction to Sunset Boulevard.  I mentioned in my Letterboxd review that I sort of found some of the characters cartoony and I was glad Amy & Paul backed that up, because I wasn't sure if I was taking some things wrong or not.  I did love the dialogue and the strangeness and the mixing of genres -- it's noir-like but also not really a noir either.  It is certainly very entertaining too. 

But in the end, there were two things I felt.  One, I kept coming back to how much I LOVED Double Indemnity and while I try to take each movie on their own, but considering this had the same writer/director and such a similar feel, I'm not sure the top-100 needs both.  If I have to choose, it's DI all day.  And two, at the end of the movie, I think my basic reaction was "ok huh" and I turned it off and it didn't mean that much to me.  Nothing about it lingered in me.  

On my personal rankings so far, it's sort of in the middle -- I definitely recognize some of its high points, but I can't get it over the bar to the top.

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A number of film scholars have noted that women were more prominent in the silent era than under the studio system, which strikes people as contrary to a monotonic Whiggish notion of historical progress. It can be argued that this was part of a backlash against the first wave of feminism which occurred after it was blamed for Prohibition (James Thurber was particularly prominent as a commenter on the battle-of-the-sexes at that time). Billy Wilder wasn't in Hollywood during the silent era, but when he came over there was a receptive audience for mocking a prominent actress of that time uppity enough to give orders to a man. Part of the reason many people don't remember that aspect of the silent-era is that it's attitudes toward gender were sometimes tied up in notions like the "defense of white womanhood" depicted in The Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind (the latter is admittedly not silent or even black & white). Just nine years after Sunset Boulevard came the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, made into a film a few years later and eventually mandatory classroom reading for many children, teaching them about false rape accusations as one of the tools of bigotry in our unjust society. Susan Brownmiller of "Against Our Will" was then reacting against that stereotype she'd been taught. And perhaps such cycles of cultural reaction will repeat forever, long after Weinstein is gone.

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On 1/24/2019 at 4:11 PM, bleary said:

I agree, I think it's a fantastic script, and Amy and Paul glossed over the dialogue here when they spent some time praising it in Double Indemnity, which I'm much less a fan of.  Double Indemnity has some great lines, but I always thought they were too written, and no one would actually talk that way.  In Sunset Blvd, the witty repartee seems more believable to me.

I definitely agree with Double Indemnity feeling a more written. It's quotable but completely unnatural (not that I'm complaining). Sunset Blvd. is just a bit wittier, smarter, faster than real people talking but you can imagine people getting close to it if that makes sense.

I think where Sunset really shines isn't the dialogue but the tragedy of Norma Desmond and her relationships with Max. The are other movies that deal with the facing (or not facing it) aging, loss of career, recognition, etc. I hadn't seen this is in a decade at least and I had basically no memory of the first half of the movie outside of the body floating in the pool. I remembered so much about Norma Desmond's life though.

That's why I don't see much reason to not include both Double Indemnity and Sunset even though they are same director, same time period and kind of similarish. They're really doing different things in my mind.

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On 1/25/2019 at 5:11 AM, bleary said:

I agree, I think it's a fantastic script, and Amy and Paul glossed over the dialogue here when they spent some time praising it in Double Indemnity, which I'm much less a fan of.  Double Indemnity has some great lines, but I always thought they were too written, and no one would actually talk that way.  In Sunset Blvd, the witty repartee seems more believable to me.

 

YES. Also, add in a healthy layer of meta in that the "movie-ness" of the dialogue is coming from people who work in the movies. They mention a bit of this in the podcast, but it's worth a highlight in my book as there's lines between text, subtext, and metatext are so intertwined. Also, disclosure: I've always liked Double Indemnity well enough, but think it's overrated and I don't want it crowding into any discussion of something that makes my Top 5. :) 

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I could have sworn there was a Simpsons reference with Mr Teeny (Krusty the Clown's chip sidekick) in a funeral scene, but maybe that's just so likely that I can imagine it. But I knew I could count on this board to remember the Tiny Toons version. Someone beat me to it :) I think there was a Pinky & The Brain reference as well. 

And speaking of animation, don't forget Cats Don't Dance. This is really an overlooked gem that got caught up in a bit of a speculator bubble in the late 90s and not many people know of it. There's a lot of classic Hollywood there, and the butler has a Sunset Blvd relationship to the main villain, who's def a Baby Jane type ... 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdP3Itc6_Es 

 

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I've always loved this movie and never really questioned any alternate paths the film could have taken. William Holden starred as Joe Gillis, and that was that. This film was introduced to me at such a young age and it was so burned in my memory that I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. I think Holden is good, but it was nice to hear Amy and Paul speculate as to who might have played him instead. Brando would certainly be right for the moment when this existed. Certainly could reek of sexy desperation. I could also see the hungry boyishness of Dick Powell in the role of a screenwriter nearly wanting to give up. Or Burt Lancaster. So often I imagine my favorite classic films as untouchable but it's fun to play around with what might have been.

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Since this movie hasn't brought a lot of discussion, I'd like to talk about something the episode does bring up: women directors. Who are some of your favorites? What are some of your favorite films directed by women?

A few directors I like right now are Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, Meek's Cutoff, Wendy And Lucy), Sarah Polley (Stories We Tell, Take This Waltz), Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, Private Life), Ava Duvernay (13th, Selma), Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, You Were Never Really Here, Movern Callar).

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