The aesthetic value in Sunset Boulevard

A theatrical poster for Sunset Boulevard made by Billy Wilder.

A theatrical poster for Sunset Boulevard made by Billy Wilder.

For my first movie chosen for this blog, I have chosen Sunset Boulevard directed and written by Billy Wilder. The movie was 110 minutes long in length and was released in theaters August 4th, 1950. The movie had a budget of $1.75 million and made $5 million dollars in the box office.  The movie was listed as an American Film Noir that was named after the boulevard that ran between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, California.

The movie was about an unsuccessful screenwriter by the name of Joe Gillis, who meets a silent movie star named Norma Desmond who is way past her prime in acting. Norma somehow lures Joe inside her fantasy world of someday making it back into acting in Hollywood, with her butler and first husband Max Von Mayerling.

Desmond ultimately wants something more than just to make a movie with Gillis, and begins to have feelings for him as the partnership continues.  Gillis wants nothing but a partnership for the possible movie with her, and ends up becoming interested in his former script reader Betty Schaefer and leads to jealousy by Norma because of it.

Norma sends her possible script idea to close friend Cecil B. DeMille at Paramount Studios, but ultimately decides to visit the studios with Max and Joe by her side. Norma later assumes that DeMille will use her again for a possible movie idea involving her script, however Max and Joe find out that DeMille is only interested in using Norma’s 1920 vehicle for a scene in his current movie.

Later in the movie, Joe tells Norma the truth about the fact DeMille is only using Norma to get to her car for the film he is shooting.  Joe invites Betty over to the Desmond Mansion to see for herself that Joe is enjoying his time there, and pretends to be a gigolo.

Betty leaves in tears, Joe ultimately decides to pack and leave to return to his old job in Ohio working for newspaper. He also confesses to Norma that she is old, her fan mail is written and delivered to her by Max, and that she will never be making a comeback on stage.

Norma retaliated by shooting Joe three times outside of her mansion, and his body ends up floating in her pool. The movie ends with Norma being questioned by police and media about the murder, however she is in her fantasy trance about still becoming a Hollywood actress.

The aesthetics in this movie were used exceptionally well. There were scenes with both color and black and white which changed up the aspects of the movie itself. Wilder used a lot of dark colors inside the Desmond Mansion to bring out the “old” atmosphere of the house and the person living in it. Also, there are a lot of fast-moving and quick shots in and out conversations between the characters, that allows the viewer to see the facial expressions in the characters faces. I feel that Wilder made this movie a hit by changing between colors for each character. For Joe and Betty, Wilder used brighter colors which I think expressed the youth in them. For Norma and Max, Wilder had them wearing dark-colored clothes showing the “old” atmosphere in them compared to Betty and Joe.

Also, the happier scenes between Norma and Joe, the shots usually were brighter and had sunshine in the background if they were at Norma’s pool or outside. And during the feuds between the two of them, the color scheme got darker and  used for grey and black colors. I feel that the aesthetics were used successfully and ultimately played a big role in this movie being a fine film to watch.

Here is an interview with Billy Wilder on ParisReview.org that includes his opinions on a lot of his movies including Sunset Boulevard and his career in general. I used this interview for Wilder’s opinion on the movie itself and what he thought about the idea of the movie as a whole. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1432/the-art-of-screenwriting-no-1-billy-wilder

This is my opinion on the aesthetics on Sunset Blvd. and I hope this gives you a better understanding on the movie as a whole.

Thanks for reading,
LH

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