It’s the Pictures that Got Smaller

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When I realized that my ever-so-busy schedule would prevent me from seeing Sunset Boulevard at the Arclight on June 21st, I decided that at the very least I should rent it from my favorite video store (which has everything) Video Journeys. Despite being an enormous movie fan and an intense love of LA, this was my first time seeing the classic Hollywood film and, as you all know, it didn’t disappoint.

Coming from the art world I am conscious of the constant discussion of art being self-referential – i.e. art being made to comment on art, art history, the art world. And it comes as no surprise that other creative genres do the same thing. Sunset Boulevard, despite being made in 1950 and one of the first films of its kind to critique its own industry, is just as relevant today as it was then. With its cynicism mixed with hopeful optimism within its characters, who were playing characteres eerily similar to themselves, Sunset Boulevard extends beyond Hollywood and reaches into the depths of Los Angeles as a whole. Though surrounded by “Hollywood” (which subconsciously seeps into our lives whether we want it to or not), people in Los Angeles are trying to be a star in a bevy of occupations – doctors, musicians, artists, lawyers. This is a city where all dreams can be made and, really, what other city allows you to design your own way of making a living? But it’s also important to remember that LA is very much a city of industry that can be cruel. Fortunately, as with life, Sunset Boulevard offers a bit of comedy in the tragedy which, I suppose, is what life in LA is all about.

Side note and interesting fact: Norma Desmond’s house in Sunset Boulevard was actually the house once owned by the wife of J. Paul Getty and wasn’t located on Sunset at all – it was on Wilshire. It has since been torn down. The “special features” section on the DVD offers a fabulous “making of” and includes map of locations used in the movie.

8 Replies to “It’s the Pictures that Got Smaller”

  1. They screened this at Hollywood Forever last year – creepiest way ever to see it.
    I have a few friends who live at the Alto Nido – where William Holden’s character is afraid of being evicted from in Sunset Blvd., and was also used as a location for the upcoming Black Dahlia… cool place. Would make for great blog fodder to go and make a tour of all the locations from the movie!

  2. I love spotting the references in Sunset Boulevard – the film inside the film they watch in Norma’s house is a clip from the film QUEEN KELLY, which was indeed directed by Mr. Erich Von Stroheim himself AND also stars Ms. Gloria Swanson in an earlier & lovelier incarnation.

    (Sidenote: In David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, you can spot what appears to be Norma Desmond’s car and driver waiting behind the Paramount Studio gates.)

    The famous ‘wax works’ playing cards together (Buster Keaton’s great deadpan face always gets a audience reaction) were INDEED actual wax works and considered Hollywood relics at that point in their careers – William Holden himself was starting to be considered a twee over the hill when Sunset Boulevard was made.

    Um, nothing is better than that burial scene. SO Michael Jackson yet decades ahead of his weirdness!

  3. Good discussion of the film as art object…what other films seem to do the same (that is, comment on their own role, comment on their time, the “Industry”)? I need a few good films to watch.

  4. If you want commentary on Hollywood in a more modern version, nothing beats Robert Altman’s “The Player”.

  5. Lucinda, try the film “Network” which is the movie industry making an artistic statement about the television industry in the context of the times in which is was made. (Interestingly enough, many of the points made still stand.) Any version of “A Star is Born” is extremely Hollywood self-referential; I prefer the Judy Garland version myself.

    “Singin’ in the Rain” superfically appears to be a bit of fluff but is actually one of the funniest self-referential skewerings of the process of fame within the entertainment industry ever filmed.

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