Sunset Boulevard drives down the venomously paranoid streets of a scathingly ruthless Hollywood. Silver screen classics, particularly noir films, drain the life force out of me. They require effort, stamina and widened blood-shot eyes in order to bypass the often gruelling glacial pace commonplace in films of that era. Then you get the odd few, '12 Angry Men' for example, that surpass even the greatest of expectations. Offering more captivation than a modern masterpiece, ageing finer than a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we watch films. Sunset Boulevard may just be one of the most proficiently entrancing films I've ever watched, and I adored it.
An unsuccessful screenwriter is hired by a faded silent-film star to write her screenplay, marking her ambitious return to the silver screen. Yet, when delusions become obsessions, her paranoid fantasies start to shroud him in a poisonous fog of wealth and ownership.
Before I envelope myself in my own stream of consciousness, I want to start with some bold statements. Here goes nothing! Swanson's role as Norma Desmond is one of the greatest performances of all-time. Wilder and Brackett's screenplay is one of the greatest scripts of all-time. And, Sunset Boulevard is possibly the greatest story about Hollywood. Period. Now, just let those comments sink in for a moment. Much like you, I am also surprised by the overwhelming praise that flooded my mind as I watched this. But it happened. The infamous quote was executed. "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up". And it was the first time I noticed that I blinked. For nearly two hours, I was hypnotised by the level of quality that was being output way back in 1950. Stunned into silence, I had to patiently wait for the overwhelming sense of perfection to leave my body.
Sunset Boulevard was effortlessly perfect, and the majority of that stems from Swanson's excruciatingly realistic performance. This drama, first and foremost, is a character study. A silent-film star trapped in her own deluded mind where fame, fortune and popularity is left unchanged. Her refusal to accept change, her inability to progress, her latching onto her own self-importance. It's regressed her mentality into a state of delusional grandeur. Forming a tangible fantasy of her fabled "return" to the screen.
Wilder's close attention to Swanson's theatricality grants us minuscule details when depicting her regressed state. The exaggerated body movement, particularly of the arms and face, are a secondary result of her excessive work in the silent-film era, almost likening her to a vampiric entity. The schizophrenic behaviour, instantly switching between happiness and melancholy, encapsulating her broken mental state. And none of this, absolutely none of it, would've been possible without Swanson's masterful performance. In fact, it's one of the greatest. She beautifully realised the character of Norma Desmond with an equal balance of power and fragility. It may just be one of the most accurate performances depicting melancholy that I've had the pleasure of viewing. Her range was extraordinary, and she devoured every single artistic set piece.
Then you get Holden's illusory narration that exhumes the mind of a skilled writer. The flow, tempo and idyllic vocabulary. A poetic river that explored the illusory world of Hollywood. It instantly ensnared me with its sharp dialogue, allowing us to empathise and sympathise with his reluctant choices. Wilder's humour, and believe me there are some giggles to be had, compliments the delusory world being depicted. Fractured, almost. One scene you'll smile, the next you'll glance in fear. A clashing of tones orchestrated to produce a gorgeous symphony of thematic competence.
Wilder's strong directorial hands ensured that the splitting of tones was minimal, only allowing subtle hints of fragility to seep through the cracked walls of the dilapidated mansion. A microcosm for the incongruous mind of Norma Desmond. Such simplistic yet memorable art design that emitted a trapped state of disrepair.
Waxman's soothing score also alluding to a fantastically perfect world that Desmond embraced, yet still managing to draw up tension when required with erratic pitch changes. The majestic costumes, the concise editing, the gorgeous cinematography, the supporting performances. Nothing in this picture was wrong, and that's a rare statement for me to make.
The ethereal aesthetic, considering it's entirely narrated by a murdered victim, only enhances the ghostly quality of its lead character. It's acute depiction of Hollywood's evolution, never steering away from its extremities, makes it one of the best films exploring the industry. It's definitive. It's sensational. It's perfect. Yes, Sunset Boulevard has just acquired the highest score possible. If ever there was a classic you need to watch, this is the one.