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April 27th, 2017

Max’s View

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
****
In the movie “La La Land,” Los Angeles is a fantasy land for its two lead characters. By the end, they have achieved all of their ambitions, both artistically and financially.

“La La Land” is an idiotic movie about Hollywood with an offensively upbeat conclusion. “Sunset Boulevard” is a brilliant movie that offers a brutally honest assessment of life in Hollywood: stay away or be eaten alive.

William Holden stars as Joe Gillis: a 40-ish screenwriter from Dayton who had some showbiz success but now is down on his luck.

To evade the repo men who are after his car, Joe pulls into the garage of an old dilapidated mansion. Joe has discovered the home of washed-up silent film legend Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).

The aging star reels Joe in with the promise of a lucrative screenwriting job. And she keeps him there with an array of lavish gifts.

Writer/director Billy Wilder must have been an angry, bitter guy in 1950. “Sunset Boulevard” makes Hollywood look like a hell on earth.

The film suggests that the only thing worse than becoming a child star is for a young woman to become a starlet at 17. Norma Desmond was once worshipped for her fame and her sex appeal. Now that both of them are gone, all she has left is her ego and delusional dreams of a comeback.

Ever wonder where self-hatred ends and madness begins? Gloria Swanson shows us — right around the 90-minute point of “Sunset Boulevard.” I’m not even going to research whether she won Best Actress for this movie. If she didn’t, the Oscars are a joke.

Joe Gillis’s experience in Los Angeles is less dramatic than Norma Desmond’s. But it is just as sad.

When we meet Joe, he is frantically trying to sell another uninspired script in order to stay afloat. He is essentially a prostitute with a pen. For him, becoming an actual prostitute isn’t just a logical next step in his career, it is actually a promotion.

Shallowness, materialism, and caring about what other people think aren’t the vices of Hollywood; they are the entire value system.

Joe’s ultimate fear is that he will have to return to Ohio with his tail between his legs. To stave off that nightmare, he is willing to submit to virtually any indignity. Billy Wilder wasn’t allowed to say it in 1950, but this is the foundation of the California pornography industry.

Joe isn’t a bad guy. He just made one terrible decision. It’s obvious to us that his life would have been happier if he had just stayed in Dayton. He knows it, too. But it’s too late. Joe is doomed.

I don’t like classic films. I like great movies. “Sunset Boulevard” is both. (“La La Land” is neither).

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