The Essential Movie Library #55: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

For all of Gloria Swanson’s sturm und drang the movie’s secret weapon is William Holden.

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The Movies as Life, Part Two: “It’s the pictures that got small,” silent screen star Gloria Swanson famously declares in this vivisection of Hollywood. For all her sturm und drang, however—and notwithstanding her final stairway descent into the white fire of the camera—the movie’s secret weapon is William Holden as the desperate young screenwriter she sexually possesses. Holden was coming off a long callow career that was trailing into nothing when he took over the role from Montgomery Clift, who would have matched Swanson intensity for intensity and sent the whole enterprise up in smoke. 

Detached and filled with self-hatred, performing as a surrogate for co-writer-director Billy Wilder—who arrived from Vienna only 16 years before without knowing a syllable of English and in short order mastered the vocabulary of contempt—Holden bears witness to the absurdity of not just his own situation but the industry itself. Hollywood howled with displeasure (Louis B. Mayer screamed at Wilder at an early screening) and then in the dead of night, via the anonymity of the secret ballot, nominated Sunset Boulevard for 10 Academy Awards, before giving almost all of them to All About Eve, that vivisection of Broadway. 

Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #54: Metropolis
The Essential Movie Library #53: In A Lonely Place
The Essential Movie Library #52: Talk to Her

The Essential Movie LIbrary #51: To Be or Not To Be
The Essential Movie Library #50: The Battle of Algiers
The Essential Movie Library #49: Notorious
The Essential Movie Library #48: Wings of Desire
The Essential Movie Library #47: L’Avventura
The Essential Movie Library #46: Malcolm X
The Essential Movie Library #45: In the Mood for Love
The Essential Movie Library #44: Touch of Evil
The Essential Movie Library #43: Once Upon A Time in the West
The Essential Movie Library #42: Belle de Jour
The Essential Movie Library #41: Apocalypse Now
The Essential Movie Library #40: Out of the Past
The Essential Movie Library #39: Branded to Kill
The Essential Movie Library #38: The General
The Essential Movie Library #37: Lord of the Rings
The Essential Movie Library #36: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
The Essential Movie Library #35: Raging Bull
The Essential Movie Library #34: The Rules of the Game
The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown 
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot 
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin’ in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L’Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy

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