Sunset BLVD.

After watching a few old movies from the 40ies to 60ies with me, bf articulated doubts that he could ever enjoy old flicks beyond their nostalgic qualities. First of all, camera- and cutting-techniques, tempo of the story and cinematic style quite differ from today's fast paced and color- and actionful entertainment movies we are normally used to nowadays. But with Billy Wilder's Sunset BLVD. from 1950 we both found an old movie suited to both our taste. The movie is in good oldfashioned Film-Noir style (with the main protagonist narrating off-screen and with dubious characters throughout the suspense story), though it still seems modern in many ways. The use of light and stylistic devices is strikingly smart and impressing in many scenes and makes for good screen captures (like below). The actors' performances were imposing, too. All in all, it was a rare jewel of an old movie, very inspiring and compelling in its cinematography (another such one for me would be Gaslight from 1944 starring Ingrid Bergman).

The story is about struggling, young screenwriter Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, becoming entangled in the queer world of former silent movie star Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson (who, in fact, really had been a former silent movie star), who lives in an old, decaying big mansion with her mysterious butler Max, keeping up her vivid illusion of fame and stardom, which in fact have both forsaken her for good "10,000 midnights ago". Gillis eventually gets involved with Desmond, but of course soon seeks to get out of her ambiance when he falls in love with another young girl.

The movie is a critical view on Hollywood, the eerie madness and follies surrounding fame and stardom, and the excessiveness of obsession with youth and beauty - a still very modern movie indeed.


This is when we first meet Nora Desmond. Unfortunately it is hard to tell, and hard for me to decribe, but she is wearing an exquisitely dramatic gown/pants-suit. Her chunky bracelet is very special.



Although only staying in the sphere of her own mansion she is always dressed decadently in excessive amounts of fabrics and delicate layers. The rope-like necklace to the left is especially remarkable.



She, as well as her mansion is full of herself (the photographs are all picturing Gloria Swanson in her own heyday as silent movie star),



regularly watching old movies of her in her own movie theater at home. The play with light/dark is especially clever in this particular scene and reminds me of Citizen Kane, where they, too, used the supposed light of the projector for a play with silhouettes in front of a screen.



Norma Desmond in a lot of tulle and ruffles and layers after a suicide attempt on New Year's Eve. I suspect this may be where the inspiration for Carrie Bradshaw in Paris comes from, when the Sex and the City protagonist is literally drowning in her own dress on the hotel bed.



Max, the butler, chauffeuring Gillis and Desmond in an Isotta-Fraschini.



Nora Desmond on the filmset of her old director friend DeMille. The filmset in the movie, when Desmond visits him, had been a real set. Old staff members on the set recognize her and put her under the spotlight again.



Norma Desmond in her nightgown and the most darling cover up.



Gloria Swanson played Desmond's madness so well, she was very convincing and completely scary at times (like in this scene when she tries to stop Gillis from leaving her)!


The whole movie was a very stylish one. Other moments worth showing:


Hedda Hopper as one of Nora Desmond's card game partners. Later on she appears another time:



The other card game players, H.B. Warner and Buster Keaton, each in a cameo.



Norma Desmond's ridiculous cigarette holding-device.



Joe Gillis' friends' New Year's Eve party. At this point I have to point out that although most characters in old movies look like 30+, they are supposed to play mid-20ies (like in Breakfast at Tiffany's in which Holly and "Paul" are supposed to be 22, 23 or so). Young people's whole appearances, style and manners in old movies only seem so much more grown-up compared to what we are used to now.



Assistants on DeMille's filmset.



This is how we meet and will bid farewell to Joe Gillis - head down in the mansion's pool with the homicide squad investigating the corpse.

I did the screenshots myself - please credit accordingly.