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.