Maybe that was why Joe Gillis had writer's block. He had too much to say. So much so, that he had to narrate his own story from beyond the grave.
I was tempted to say that the famous opening scene shot of William Holden floating on the pool's surface is the film's Best Shot, because I see no reason to include the prologue (and, frankly, Joe's narration) in the film at all other than the fact that it presents practically the whole story of the film in one image. Because the fact is, Sunset Boulevard is perfect, but the story and performances are so engrossing that we really don't need the whole thing to be a flashback. Except that it's too good. The film's story proper opens with Joe evading officials, and from that moment it's clear he's pretty low, but not quite at rock bottom yet. The whole film, he's looking down and slowly sinking into that pool, and he doesn't even know it... except that he does, because he's narrating his own story from beyond the grave.
Narrative semantics aside, I found myself most surprised this go-round on Sunset Boulevard that it's largely about the dangers of hero worship. That makes it incredibly timely given our increasingly obsessed celebrity culture... or maybe that culture hasn't really changed at all, only that it takes less and less to actually be a celebrity. But there's a reason why the film ends with Norma not just creepily walking towards the camera, like a vampiress (seriously, Gloria Swanson is giving some serious Bela Lugosi realness in that final shot) coming for her prey, but with her delivering the last third of her closing monologue straight into the camera, directly to the audience.
She's doing it all for us, you see. It's all our fault. You want to know why Sunset Boulevard didn't win Best Picture and Best Actress in 1950? That right there. It directly implicates the audience in Norma Desmond's downfall. Without a public, those "wonderful people out there in the dark," she wouldn't want to make a
|BEST SHOT RUNNER-UP|
As Norma adjusts herself in the mirror, her reflection is looking straight at the audience. It's almost as if she can see us - that she doesn't spy herself in the mirror so much as the people watching the film, and realizes that she still has the pieces of her beauty regiment on (and actually, earlier in the film she runs right by the mirror without even noticing it). She cannot present herself to her public (or Joe) like this! She she takes them off, adjusts herself, and continues on with the scene.
But enough about all that, because according to Nathaniel we aren't allowed to pick the last shot as the film's Best Shot. And I toyed with making that mirror shot the best, but it will have to settle for runner-up status this time around.
Each time we watch a movie it becomes a little different; different circumstances in our lives cause our sympathies to bounce around between characters, another plotline or detail of set design attracts our attention, etc. This time I had to pause the film during the New Year's Eve party Norma throws for herself and Joe, so when I came back and started the film up again, I was paying closer attention than on previous viewings. And as Joe storms out of the house, this happens.
A little insignificant detail, but Joe's watch chain getting caught in the door, I realized, is a perfectly sly way of setting up the end of the film. He's already too attached to Norma and her gifts. He's tangled up in her life, and there's no getting out now. He won't even get out for long that night, as Norma's suicide attempt brings him running right back. It's reiterating what we know from the prologue - that poor Joe is a dead man - but it's a clever, surprising way of doing so. I don't know whether this happened by accident or not, but either way, it's what makes Billy Wilder one of the greats.
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...AND now that that's done, I'm just going to leave this here, without commentary, just because.