Sunset Boulevard (film): A Star is Ageless

Let’s take trip to sunset boulevard and the city of stars… I sang, pressing play, spending my evening with Joe Gillis, the narrator, a man who suspends his writing career to pen a script for a former star, a dying star, and ends up being less of writer and more of her pet along the way. But that’s okay, because if you ask Joe he’ll tell you at least his making a living, especially in the day and age when talent didn’t or wasn’t paying the bills. Which brings me to the dying star, Norma Desmond: a woman so poor that all she has is money,  a woman who confuses being left behind with staying in the past,  a woman so desperate to rescue herself through film that she holds on to Joe for dear life (figuratively and literally) to help stage her final picture.

So! In those gratifying one hundred and ten minutes I compiled a list of some of my favourite dialogue and scenes from Sunset Boulevard. To read this, you’ll only hear what I saw, maybe feel it too, but if you decided to watch it and I recommend you do, you’ll know it all.

 

1.

GILLIS: I know your face. You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in the pictures. You used to be big.

NORMA: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

GILLIS: I knew there was something wrong with them.

NORMA: They’re dead. They’re finished. There was a time when this business had the eyes of the whole world. But that wasn’t good enough. Oh, no! They wanted the ears of the world too. So they opened their big mouths, and out cane talk, talk, talk….

GILLIS: That’s where the popcorn business comes in. You buy yourself a bag and plug up your ears.

 

2.

NORMA: How long is a movie script these days? I mean, how many pages?

GILLIS: Depends on what it is, a Donald Duck or Joan of Arc.

NORMA: This is to be a very important picture. I have written it myself. Took me years.

GILLIS:  Looks like enough for six important pictures.

NORMA: It’s the story of Salome.  I think I’ll have Demille direct it.

GILLIS: Uh-huh

NORMA: We’ve made a lot of pictures together.

GILLIS: And you’ll play Salome?

NORMA: Who else?

GILLIS: I didn’t know you were planning a comeback.

NORMA: I hate that word. It is a return. A return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen……….. Read it! Read it!

 

GILLIS (v.o): I had no pressing engagement, and she’d mentioned something to drink. Sometimes it’s interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be. This promised to go the limit…

 

3.

GILLIS (v.o):  I wanted the dough and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I thought if I really got going I could toss it off in a couple of weeks. But it wasn’t so simple, getting some coherence into that wild scrambled melodrama she’d concocted. What made it tougher was that she was around all the time, hovering over me, afraid I’d do injury to that precious brain child of hers.

NORMA: What’s that?

GILLIS: Just a scene I cut out.

NORMA: What scene?

GILLIS: The one where you go to the slave market. You can cut right to the scene where John
the Baptist—

NORMA: Cut away from me?

GILLIS: Honestly, it’s a little old hat. They don’t want that any more.

NORMA: They don’t? Then why do they still write me fan letters every day. Why do they beg me for my
photographs? Because they want to see me, me, me! Norma Desmond.

GILLIS: Okay…

 

GILLIS (v.o): I didn’t argue with her. You don’t yell at a sleepwalker, he may fall and break his neck. That’s it— she was still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost career— plain crazy when it came to that one subject: her celluloid self, the great Norma Desmond…

 

4.

 

GILLIS (v.o): "So much nicer than going out,” she’d say. The plain fact was that she was afraid
of that world outside. Afraid it would remind her that time had passed.

 

5.

(watching her old films)

NORMA: Still wonderful, isn’t it? And no dialogue. We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.There just aren’t any faces like that anymore. Well, maybe one… Garbo…

Those idiot producers! Those imbeciles! Haven’t they got any eyes! Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them. I’ll be up there again. So help me!

 

 

6.

 

GILLIS (v.o): She went through merciless series of treatments, massages, sweat cabinets, mud baths, ice compresses, electric devices. She lived on vegetable juices and went to bed at nine. She was determined to be ready, ready for those cameras that would never turn.

 

7.

 

NORMA: That’s a lie! They want me, they want me! I get letters every day!

GILLIS: You tell her, Max. Come on, do her that favour. Tell her there isn’t going to be any picture, there aren’t any fan letters, except the ones you write yourself.

NORMA: That isn’t true? Max?

MAX: Madame is the greatest star of them all…

NORMA: You heard him. I’m a star!

GILLIS: Norma, grow up. You’re a woman of fifty. There’s nothing tragic about being fifty, not unless you try to be twenty-five.

NORMA: I’m the greatest star of them all.

GILLIS: Goodbye Norma.

NORMA: No one leaves a star. ..That makes one a star… You’re not leaving me!