Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Just Your Standard Monkey Funeral Shot*
So I re-watched Sunset Blvd. the other day, and about fifteen minutes into it I felt the same frustration I'd felt the first time around. My first viewing took place during my Buster Keaton phase, and I watched the film because he was in it for like three seconds. I'd been watching a lot of silent films at the time and maybe that was the thing, because soon enough, Sunset Blvd.'s voice over started to really, really bother me. I just wanted William Holden to shut up. When he said, "Max wheeled in caviar and champagne" and there was a shot of him wheeling in caviar and champagne I was like, UGH!!! STOP!!! Stop reading a novel over this movie, dammit!
I mean, aside from that, it's great. Great story, awful, incredible, ghoulish, creepy story! Terrific cast, dear god (I love Gloria Swanson! Male and Female was awesome, and Sadie Thompson was bizarre -- and I want to see Manhandled!). Obviously, great inside-view Hollywood satire (one of the first, I am told, I wonder if that's true). The dialogue between Holden and Swanson is terrific (between Holden and that oatmeal girl Nancy Olsen, not so much, but intentionally so, I imagine). And yes, very innovative: the voice-over is a dead man. Neat. But they could have sliced a lot of the damn voice over and it wouldn't have been missed. No one needs to narrate the butler bringing in caviar. (Ah, Eric von Stroheim, you magnificent bastard ... )
Richard Corliss called Sunset Boulevard "the definitive Hollywood horror movie," noting that, "the story is narrated by a dead man who Norma Desmond first mistakes for an undertaker, while most of the film takes place "in an old, dark house that only opens its doors to the living dead." He compared Von Stroheim to The Phantom of the Opera, and Swanson to Dracula, drawing comparisons between Wilder's handling of the camera during her seduction of Holden to "the traditional directorial attitude taken towards Dracula's jugular seductions."
One funny thing I read online, which may or may not be true, is that apparently, during a preview screening of the film, actress Mae Murray, a contemporary of Swanson's, was taken aback by the actress's over-the-top performance, and commented "None of us floozies was that nuts." And apparently Mary Pickford got real quiet. I wonder my what my favorite floozy, Mabel Normand, would have said about it.
* This is apparently what Billy Wilder said he wanted from his cameraman during the monkey funeral scene.