Hit Me WIth Your Best Shot: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Screen shot 2015-07-11 at 9.56.41 p.m.

By picking Sunset Boulevard for this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot, our dear Nathaniel unknowingly helped me get rid of one of my most embarrassing cinematic blind-spots. That’s right, I had never seen Billy Wilder’s classic melodrama about the cruel afterlife of Hollywood celebrity. But that’s not all, in order to make things even more interesting, he made it clear that we were not allowed to pick the film’s iconic last shot, which as he wisely put it, is one of the most iconic final shots in the history of the medium, and no one wants to see all of the participants picking the same damn shot.

Being completely honest, I don’t know if I’d had chosen that final shot of faded silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) enchanting the camera as she relishes in the close-up she is suddenly ready for, but there is no denying the tragicomic nature of the image, which ends the film with a haunting yet melancholic period. Because let’s be honest, we might be entering the movie’s world through William Holden’s character’s point of view, but unlike him, we *are* here to see Norma Desmond. She is what the movie’s reputation has promised, and she is what the movie delivers.

Truly, Swanson gives one of the best performances in history in the way she seamlessly fits into the acting style of the fifties while filtering her performance through the mannerism of silent movie acting. One of my favorite touches is how she uses her mugging and overreacting to milk as much comedy out of the situation as she possibly can, which in turn brings in the necessary pathos to make Norma’s story even more tragic.

Needless to say, my pick for the best shot revolves all around Norma Desmond. It comes from somewhere in the middle of the movie, when our writer protagonist and the movie star sit down to watch one of her classic movies. Norma is transfixed by her own acting. She can’t understand why she’s no longer the biggest name in Hollywood. Of course she is such an outsized personality that one gets the feeling she ends all the screenings of her movies the same way she does this one, which is by jumping off her seat and promising in true Scarlett O’Hara fashion, that she will be up there again and show these stupid producers what a real star looks like.

Seconds after making this forceful promise, she turns around, and bathed in the light of the movie projector, we see Norma Desmond. The high contrast shadows, the expressive face, the pointed chin and nose. It’s the taste of greatness that has swallowed up this woman’s life. These are the remains of what Hollywood thinks she’s lost, but she so painfully clings to. Now we see what all those fans saw. Now we see the profile of a true movie star.Screen shot 2015-07-11 at 10.44.13 p.m.

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10 comments

  1. frankalrich · July 14, 2015

    I like your review style, Conrado. Would love to have you also share your reviews on reviewcreep.com and get you some free exposure. The easiest way to get started is by using your existing review blog posts since you’ve already done the work… just enter your wordpress blog url when it asks for it during the quick signup… it will make it easy to add all your existing reviews. Our marketing team is going to be sending out the top reviews in a daily/weekly curated email to our entire list.

  2. smilingldsgirl · July 15, 2015

    Great shot! I’m glad you finally got this off your bucket list. It’s very good movie and Swanson is unforgettable. You should check out the musical if you ever get a chance.

    • Conrado Falco · July 15, 2015

      I’ve only heard of the musical (and the drama about its Broadway transfer), but yeah, I’m really curious to see how this translates to the stage.

      • smilingldsgirl · July 15, 2015

        I didnt know about the drama. I guess they came up with something good in the end. Oddly drama seems appropriate for this story to stage. :)

      • Conrado Falco · July 15, 2015

        I was mostly the fact that Patti LuPone played Norma in the London production and was furious when they replaced her with Glenn Close for the Broadway transfer.

      • smilingldsgirl · July 15, 2015

        Ah didn’t know that. Again seems very fitting for the part. :)

  3. Nathaniel Rogers · July 15, 2015

    I love this choice and I very nearly went with it but opted for something a smidge earlier and later — i needed two shots to say what i wanted to say.

    fine writeup sir. and you’re right though it’s still weirdly miraculous, that in amping up the comedy she also serves the tragedy. it’s such a feat of alchemy this performance, at once completely mannered and false as it is wholly real.

    • Conrado Falco · July 15, 2015

      Wow, thanks for the compliments. It’s so funny ’cause I almost chose the shot you picked.

  4. joelnox · July 16, 2015

    That is a great pick, one that I considered as well. The film is just so loaded with magnificent shots and great acting. Even with all her insecurity the one thing Norma is sure of is the greatness of NORMA DESMOND up there on that screen.

    I chose a shot later in the film, when Norma has come to see DeMille thinking he wants to do her picture she is waiting for him in a studio chair and as she waits a her true enemy the microphone grazes the feather in her hat, before she pushes it away she gives it a look of scorn that speaks volumes. It so eloquently captures one of the major themes in a single moment.

    • Conrado Falco · July 21, 2015

      that’s such a great moment you’re describing. One of my favorites for sure.

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