Film noir is one of the most spread tendencies in Hollywood cinema, popular during the World War II. This movie genre was usually used in Hollywood crime dramas and detective stories in order to underline human ambiguity and female sexuality.
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With the help of films noir, directors tried to find the connection between the problems of society and film making during the postwar period and emphasize the dark side of the reality in the whole world and cinema. There are lots of splendid masterpieces created in the style of film noir, and one of the most interesting ones is the work by Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd, presented in 1950. “Sunset Boulevard was all about has-beens. And about all has-beens.” (Staggs, 4)
Sunset Blvd is based on real facts from the life of Norma Desmond, a silent movie actress; this work, as any film noir, concentrates on sexual motivation and moral ambiguity; it underlines the hard reality that was so inherent to the cinema of the postwar period and the role of women in the society, their social status, and sexuality that allowed to be superior over men and even control them, their lives, and careers.
Hollywood cinema is considered to be one of the most exquisite forms of art in the world. By means of movies, directors have a wonderful chance to use all their imagination and present their stories from their own perspectives, and viewers have a great opportunity to enjoy these stories, beautiful actors, various plots, and ideas, and even learn a bit in order to improve their own lives and their future.
Sunset Blvd remains one of the most captivating and intriguing movies in the history of Hollywood cinema because of several reasons: (1) it is based on real facts from actress’s life, (2) people get a chance to analyze how own dreams and desires can transform the life into a terrible nightmare, and (3) this movie perfectly describes how Hollywood can use people and then, forget them with time, when these people get old and useless.
Billy Wilder makes a wonderful attempt to expose the raising of a new corruptive Hollywood and the decline of an old Hollywood and tries to unite facts, reality, fiction, and dreams in order to underline the bitter truth of cinema during the postwar period.
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond is really perfect and one of the most memorable characters, which have ever appeared on a big screen. Her desire not to be forgotten by the society she lives in, her passion to fame, and, at the same time, her madness – all this makes her really interesting and unforgettable to lots of viewers.
It is necessary to admit that the name of the major character, Norma Desmond, is a combination of early known Hollywood figures’ names: William Desmond, a silent-movie director, and his lover, a comedy actress, Mabel Normand. Desmond was shot, and his murder still does not solved. It is quite possible that the chosen name of the main female character in the movie is already an attempt to underline the tragic end, mystery, and numerous misunderstandings concerned with love affairs.
Also, it is quite possible that Mae West was another prototype of Norma Desmond. They both prefer to have monkeys as their pets; they both consider gigolos as very nice boys, who need a bit of care and support. So, the life of imaginary Norma was so similar to the life of real Mae that audience could hardly recognize where image making takes place, and where life making is.
Reality is a kind of disillusion, the way of how our life is actually made. People can do nothing with the reality, and this is why they just have to accept it as it is. With the help of movies, people have a wonderful possibility to make create their lives taking into account personal desires and preferences.
A film is an illusion that is created with the help of numerous images and different situations. In Sunset Blvd, Wilder takes into consideration the whole situation of Hollywood cinematography, analyzes the lives of famous and forgotten actors and actresses, stresses on the role of a woman in the society, and adds interesting realistic facts from life to make his work interesting and even educative.
A film noir can easily underline the hard and even dark reality of film industry. With the help of this very genre, directors concentrate on human bodies and their souls. Modern movies are full of different colors that can easily hide the true nature of a person. Film noir is something that provides the viewer with an opportunity to see the things as they are: there is always something good (white) and something bad (dark).
There is nothing more, and this is what captivates and amazes. “The noir film is black for us, that is, specifically for the Western and American moviegoers of the 1950s. It exists in response to a certain mood at large in this particular time and place.” (Silver and Ursini, 19) Someone may think that dark colors deprive people from the opportunity to enjoy this life and be happy. However, the peculiar feature of all films noir is an unbelievable possibility to express the ideas using only certain colors.
White bodies are in dark clothes – can it be something more than just a general image of a character? Of course, it can! Just imagine that all this cloth is the everyday masks that all people have to wear on in order to survive in this cruel world. Norma Desmond tries to underline her beautiful body and soul through the obligatory things she has to wear, however, lots of people cannot understand her choice and desire to help, and her behavior is near to be called mad.
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The typical femme fatale of film noir usually uses her sexuality and even cruelty in order to manipulate men and gain the desirable power, money, and independence. In noir movies, women have a chance to prove that they do not want to be house wives anymore.
They have enough skills and imagination to make their own dreams come true. Women in film noir reject the idea of being devoted wives and mothers and the norms prescribed by the society.
Femme fatale can easily break all social norms in order to achieve the desirable goal, she can easily step over many people, and forget about relatives. Unfortunately, at the end, such women are usually punished: they do not have families because they have already sacrificed so many things before, men are afraid of these women and do not want to serve them anymore, and the society just forgets them in order to provide other people with such opportunities to conquer the world.
An independent woman can easily have the whole world in her hands, and, with the same ease, can lose everything in several seconds. Women sexuality is not constant. With time, women get older, and their bodies are not so attractive. In films noir, women gain recognition only by means of their beauty and charm. With time, their charms cannot work any more, and these women are forgotten.
Norma Desmond’s social status and sexuality serves as good means to gain the desirable fame. She was a famous actress; lots of people recognized her, and this was what made her happy. As it was mentioned above, time may play with successful women. When Desmond gets old, all her admires forgot about her. Several devoted people, such as Max von Mayerling, support Norma.
The other, weak people, such as Joe Gillis, are eager to use her in order to use her money and past fame. “Often a seductive femme fatale lured the protagonist into a dangerous mission for hidden purpose of her own.” (Bordwell and Thomson, 428) Of course, Norma has her own purposes as for Joe Gillis, however, his betrayal is terrible, and he has to be punished. Even if the woman is not too young, she has enough powers to take revenge when her dignity is hurt.
On the one hand, Gillis’s murder cannot be justified: Norma commits a crime and has to be punished. On the other hand, her reasons and her situation can be understood, specially, in noir movies. Sunset Boulevard changes people, and these changes are not predictable. This is why each situation, each crime, and each life should be analyzed from a separate perspective in order to find the necessary truth.
With the help of Sunset Blvd, it is comprehensible that film noir is all about sexual motivation and moral ambiguity. This black-and-white visual style attracts lots of people and extols Hollywood cinema. Among different genres of films, the noir movie is really unique due to its camera works, dialogues, and characterization. In such works, each detail should be under a strict attention.
The point is that the plot of the story may be not perfect and even senseless, but each character and object should be just perfect. There is no place for some additional or extra details. In these movies, it is easier to underline and analyze moral ambiguity. People words and thoughts are not similar. The thoughts, people have, and the actions, people take, are quite different, and films noirs help to comprehend the essence of why people do this or that. Sexual motivation is another peculiar feature of film noir.
Beautiful body and pleasant smile can make mountains move. It is unnecessary to underline that women’s beauty can make men do absolutely different things and not think about the consequences. Sexuality allows women to become independent and powerful. In real world, women did not have a chance to use their charm in order to conquer the world.
Their major role was keeping the house and bringing up children. The noir movie provided women with a chance to feel freedom and ability to follow own dreams. Sunset Blvd may be called father of numerous socially oriented movies. It contains the ideas of both sexual motivation and moral ambiguity. A woman can step over lots of things and people, however, the time, when all those people step over that woman, will also come, and it is necessary to be ready for this.
The works of Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd in particular, deserve people’s attention and analysis. It is a film about films, film making, and actors, who have to work and then be forgotten by the others. The world of cinematography is rather cruel, and Wilder did not afraid to show its true nature.
The sadness of actors’ lives is real and is perfectly described in the movie. Sunset Blvd may be also considered as a tragedy that is so inherent to Hollywood actors and their passing fame. It is a story about uncertainties in cinematography, and black-and-white colors underline these uncertainties properly as they are.
Norma Desmond is a wonderful and powerful woman. She does not want to accept the truth that her time has already passed; she tries to find another way to become necessary for the society. She understands that Joe Gillis is her only chance to come back. She uses him and faces disappointments only. Her sexuality cannot help her anymore, and she has nothing to do but leave this world in a perfect and unforgettable way in order to prove that she is independent and powerful, and can still control someone’s lives and destinies.
Sexual motivation and moral ambiguity are two important peculiarities of all noir movies, and are the basic themes of Sunset Blvd; Billy Wilder made a wonderful attempt to describe women’s role in society, their powers, and desires to be independent, and Norma Desmond serves as the brightest example of such image.
Bordwell, David and Thomson, Kristin. Film Art: An Introduction. McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008.
Silver, Alain and Ursini, James. Film Noir Reader. Limelight Editions, 1996.
Staggs, Sam. Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.
Image: Sunset Blvd, IMDb.com, Inc. 1990-2009. Web.