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Sunset Boulevard

Screening on Film
Directed by Billy Wilder.
With Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim.
US, 1950, 35mm, black & white, 110 min.
Print source: Swank

An iconic exposé of the dark dementia lurking just beneath Hollywood’s silver screen, Sunset Boulevard is an endless hall of ironic mirrors, obscuring the lines between onscreen and offscreen, fiction and fantasy. Gloria Swanson portrays Norma Desmond, the aging silent movie star afflicted with famously bizarre delusions. Erich von Stroheim, who once directed Swanson in Queen Kelly, here plays—in a not-so-distant depiction of his actual descent—Max von Mayerling, a once-esteemed silent film director who is now the butler of the actress he used to direct. His dour, empathetic von Mayerling labors at preserving Norma Desmond’s dream that she is still a much-loved, sought-after star while coolly observing her psychological entrapment of young Joe Gillis (William Holden), a hack writer who stumbles unwittingly into her macabre lair and a disorienting, decadent dream world that is not so far removed from the cruel beauty of Hollywood’s studio system.

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