Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Directed by Billy Wilder
110 min.; U.S.A.; Black and White; Mono
This post is part of the Movies about Movies Blogathon hosted by Goatdogblog.
Los Angeles, California. 4:58 a.m.
You'd think that two slugs in the back and another in the stomach would ruin a guy pretty quickly, but you got a few moments of breathing chlorine flavored water while the old ticker keeps up the feeble pumping, pumping, pumping. But what can you do with that time if you're paralyzed by a nasty piece of .25 lodged near the lifeline in your backbone? Well you can still think, can't ya pal? Okay then. And you're supposed to be a writer, so make with the story already. You may only have mere moments, but with a flashback device you'll have plenty of time to tell the whole tale. Give us a story, sweetheart, and forget your troubles. At least keep yourself entertained while that red ribbon spools out of you, Joe.
What a heel I'd been to remain a kept man while convincing myself that I was completing faded star Norma Desmond's comeback script instead of merely decorating her arm. I was her new pet replacing a chimp that lies buried beneath the grotesque clay roofed mausoleum in which she hides herself. I should've packed my grip and given her the brush after she overplayed an obvious suicide routine weeks ago. I should've left with that sweet kid from Ohio when she showed up here and tried to convince me to leave. Maybe poverty kept my prospects near goose egg value, but at least I'd have found some measure of self-respect instead of being a good for nothing Joe who found nothing but the bottom of Norma's Olympic-size swimming pool.
Okay, I give. But, what kind of story would best fill these fading moments? Well, you're a screenwriter aren't you? So think up one about the movies. Or about Hollywood. Something you know from your thrilling adventures selling first-rate stories to second-rate studios.
Nah, tell one about nutty Norma Desmond, the withering star of silent pictures whose career was ruined by her inability to work in the talkies. Ruined by her inability to work in talkies, hogwash. More likely studio officials decided that Norma couldn't finesse her acting style to work in the talkies. I've heard enough of her voice over the past weeks to know that dialogue wasn't beyond her acting ability.
Still, she was aging wasn't she? And ingenues flood into town by the busloads, don't they? Time waits for no one and it won't wait for you, Norma Desmond. So long, kid. Thanks for the memories and the millions. Take a powder, doll. Go back to your palazzo, build a moat against the rushing forces of fame and history, and wait for the empty telephone to ring while you dream about Hogeye's long gone key lights sharpening the bones of that formerly fabulous face.
But it's not just being in that spotlight that makes one a star though, is it? Norma was right when she told me you're a star when the public refuses to stop watching you in the spotlight or outside of it. What she didn't realize is that those "wonderful people out there in the dark" like when it you're up, but like it even more when you're a once-was struggling to convince them you're a still-am.
Hollywood loves nothing more than money and it uses the scratch to buy youth. Norma had youth back in the silent picture days. And with a face like hers she didn't need to say a thing. So, they bought her up for thousands a week and she reigned as a silent movie queen, telling stories with her eyes in the great, lost old Hollywood. That old self regulated, self invested and self interested dream factory. Make 'em laugh, shiver, and cry then kick 'em out. A Hollywood held together by star power, beauty, and vaults full of money but few ideas. And those few ideas were told, retold, and told yet again across decades worth of celluloid. A kind of enterprise for selling a fantasy version of American culture, ideals, and character to the screens of the world while the orchestra, or the organist, or the zitherist played on. But then the world turned upside down in October 1929, and inside out in September 1939. In between, the technology, the economics, and the politics of Hollywood had changed and there was no place among the "new Hollywood trash" for Norma Desmond was there?
Maybe I'd feel differently about Norma if I had known her over twenty years ago when she had "It." If I saw her as flaming youth drinking bathtub gin and dancing on DeMille's table top at a Jazz Age bash in the Hollywood Hotel celebrating her latest smash hit picture about Sadie Thompson and the heroic feat of a brave flyer from Minnesota all to the tune of five tuxedoed musicians junk, junk, junking through "St. Louis Blues." And at midnight, "masks off!" and she'd do it all over again. But Norma's mask never came off. It was her ticket to that table top and the world's movie screens in 1927, and she refused to believe it wouldn't work again. But they never called her back to the lot. So the mask grew to grotesque proportions. Like a pharaoh of old she knew the only immortality lies in not being forgotten. But, who's ever going to remember a star from twenty years ago? I can't imagine anyone sitting around watching old movies when a fresh batch is cranked out every week. Will Norma's pyramid crumble to nitrate dust in the California desert or will she yet find a way to make it back into the spotlight? And if she does make a comeback, or a return as she'd have it, will it be as a star or a spectacle? Will anyone notice the difference?
What a picture this story could make. A wry, twisted commentary on the hypocrisy that makes the business of movies tick with a faded star who loses her marbles and plugs her latest kept man as the symbol for lost greatness and absurdity that was Hollywood, and will continue to be once the term refers to a marketable concept more than anything else. The whole idea is too delicious for anyone who's ever been to the pictures to refuse at least one bite. And Norma could play herself because age wouldn't matter and psychopaths are hot commodities in pictures these days. Hell, I heard Warners brought back Cagney to play one, and he's just as old as Norma.
What're you thinking, Joe? You're dead. You were a ghostwriter and now you're a ghost. These are probably the last words you're ever going to dream up, sweetheart. But they'll never reach a typewriter so no one will ever read them. Better just forget it pal, they're only thoughts drifting out across the chlorine ripples in this pool and even you'll forget about them once someone comes along and hauls you out of here with a couple of hooks. And later your useless ideas will whirl round the drain with the rest of the floating debris and vanish when the pool is emptied and the rats take it over again. But you're a writer with time on his hands--a few last seconds worth of blood to the old jellyfish in your noggin anyway. And any writer with time on his hands will inevitably start churning out material. Besides, what have you go to lose? You're dead, Joe.
Ok, here goes nothing: "Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It's about five o'clock in the morning..."