05 February 2010

I am ready for my close-up

Norma Desmond is a forgotten silent star, who lives in her grotesque mansion together with Max von Mayerling, her butler. Max von Mayerling is himself a forgotten silent film director. He also used to be Norma's husband.
Max screens for Norma the films from their grand past.
When a young writer who takes refuge in the mansion recognizes Norma, he tells her that she used to be big.
I am big, she retorts. It's the pictures that got small.
Gloria Swanson's performance in the role of Norma in Sunset Blvd indeed makes an impression as if pictures are too small for her. In the last scene of the film (as posted above), Norma irreversibly descends out of the mansion into her own mind.
There's nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr DeMille, I am ready for my close-up.
Those wonderful people are us, and we cringe back in our chairs, terrified, as she reaches for us.
Sunset Blvd is a superb film noir directed by Billy Wilder (1950). It stars Gloria Swanson, herself a faded silent star at the time, and Erich von Stroheim (by then a faded silent film director). There is a touching moment in the film when Norma and Max are watching Queen Kelly, a silent film also in reality directed by von Stroheim and starring Swanson (1929).
By 1950, von Stroheim could as well have been forgotten to the point of a butler. His caricature appearance in a sound film about a silent film director directed by Wilder also resonates of Max von Mayerling who, showing the young writer to his guest room, explains: "It was the room of the husband."

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