Saturday, 21 April 2012

Movies That I Haven’t Seen But Should Have - Part 4: Movies

There are a lot of movies I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen. But rather than pretend I’ve seen them or change the subject when they’re mentioned, I’ve decided to share them with you. These films that are cult classics or masterpieces that I have missed or avoided, I am sitting down to review. Today's film was placed at number 16 in AFI's top 100 and stands at 32 on IMDb's top 250. It's the second Billy Wilder film on this list and some may claim it's his best. Let's see. This is Sunshine Blvd.

Joe Gillis (William Holden), a screen writer with a couple of B-movies to his name, was trying to make it in to the big time. The movie opens with his body floating face down in a swimming pool. He begins to tell us what happened. We rewind a few months. He's low on cash and is pitching his latest script ideas to Paramount Pictures. He explains his unique baseball movie to Paramount executive, Sheldrake (Fred Clark), who seems interested until a reader by the name of Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) describes it as flat and trite. Gillis once again has no money and the finance company are after his car. He decides to try and run. Whilst trying to escape the finance men, his car blows a tire. He pulls into a garage attached to what he thinks is an empty mansion. He soon discovers that it is not as abandoned as he thinks and its residents are a washed up movie star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), and her servant, Max (Erich von Stroheim). Somehow, Gillis is roped into helping Norma with her comeback, sorry, return to the big screen. But something isn't right in this mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and Gillis might have bitten off more than he can chew.

There's something extremely watchable about
old school car chases.

The performances in this movie are something that only the best movies can produced. It's also done in a way that only the early 1950s can achieve. The wit and charm possessed by William Holden as Joe Gillis is only matchable by other Billy Wilder characters. It's the sort of performance that makes a good film fantastic. He's as cool as a cucumber but when things get serious, so does he. He is a real guy, a understandable, we can relate to him, and that's what's needed for this film to work. But, for me, the really stand out performances come from Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim. Playing what are essentially heavily exaggerated versions of themselves, they nail it on the head. Gloria Swanson as the slightly batty and nostalgic Norma is superb. She completely captures the idea of someone losing their mind and living in the past. And of course, being a silent movie actress, she has the most incredible range of facial expressions that tell more than words can do. It makes you understand why silent actors and actresses were sceptical of the 'talkies'. And Erich von Stroheim jumps around being horridly creepy and some form of antagonist to someone that the viewer begins to connect to. His genuine care for Norma conquers all else and it's really rather sweet, despite his rough exterior.

The 1950s: The prime time for swimwear fashion.

With the recent success of The Artist, the issue of the transition from the silent era to the 'talkies' is something that has been brought to light. The struggles that were faced by performers whose medium was dying. Sunset Blvd. faces that issue when it was a current one. It looks at how the stars from yesteryear have dealt with the drop from the top 20 years on. This makes for a fascinating story on its own. However, what keeps the film unique is the way it tells you what is going to happen. It starts with Gillis dead in a pool. We know his fate. We're drawn in to the story by that; how does a hack writer who has no issue with the law, end up dead in a pool? And the timeless quality to the whole thing helps to solidify its place in film history. The film industry is constantly changing - look at 3D at the moment - and not everyone is on board with those changes. People will miss the past and people fall from the spotlight. But the way the film world is run is the same as it always was and that makes the entirety of the film completely accessible to any generation of film lover.

A solid masterpiece in film. One that has all the wit and charm of Billy Wilder as well as the heart of any decent drama. It is a movie in which the viewer can say, 'what would I do in that situation?' Nothing is unbelievable and that's what makes it so good. This could happen. This sort of thing did happen. This is the real world on the silver screen, just not daily life. Fantastic performances, fantastic script, fantastic movie. A must see for all film lovers.

Best bit? There was something horridly enjoyable about watching Norma dance around in a Charlie Chaplin outfit. A funny scene but the dark undertone showing that Norma just cannot leave the silent era in the past.

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