Hollywood: the Example of
Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard
Keep it out of focus – I want to win the foreign picture award.
Billy Wilder to his cinematographer
Cinema, like all other forms of writing, leaves something behind, something involving material effects that cannot be hidden.
Peter Brunette and David Wills
Sunset Boulevard (dir. Billy Wilder, 1950) concerns the life – and death – of Joe Gillis, a struggling Hollywood screenwriter. It also focuses on the death-in-life of Norma Desmond, a once famous actress of the silent screen, and now parody of her previous incarnations, as she lives amongst her memories, delusions, and the remnants of a ghostly Hollywood past. Gillis, attempting to save his car from being repossessed, turns into the driveway of Desmond's run-down Sunset Boulevard Mansion. At first, for some inexplicable reason, he is mistaken for an undertaker, the corpse in question being that of the actress's dead chimpanzee. However, on learning Gillis's real profession, Norma invites the writer to stay, to look over an unwieldy melodramatic script retelling the story of Salomé, on which Norma Desmond has been working. Agreeing, Gillis finds himself also agreeing to stay at the house, ostensibly for convenience sake, but, in reality, to avoid the debt collectors. Once there, he finds it increasingly difficult to free himself from the claustrophobic situation into which he has been dragged. Eventually, following a love affair between the has-been actress and never-was writer, an evasive encounter between Norma and director Cecil B. De Mille, a series of melodramatic arguments, and a failed