A short analysis of the 1950's film,
Sunset Boulevard


"Sunset Boulevard" is a self referential film that critiques Hollywood's star system. This 1950's film uses many former Hollywood stars who more or less play themselves and in doing so sheds light on the dark aspects of the star system. It also takes the viewer inside the studios and depicts studio executives and studio pawns. It is a look at the writer and the game of writing and filmmaking in Hollywood. It depicts a lack of respect for the art of writing, and the lack of humanity in the Hollywood system.

"Sunset Boulevard" is a movie made in Hollywood that is about making movies in Hollywood, in that, it is self referential. The main female character of the film plays a washed up actress from the silent age of Hollywood. And the actress who plays that role is in fact a famous silent film actress who had very few roles in speaking films other than this one. In this main female character the movie exposes a sad picture of the dark side of the star system. The star system exploits an artist's skill by creating a constrictive persona for an actor or actress. The Hollywood system, the image makers, the press and the studios would construct a person's persona as they saw fit. When that actor or actress became obsolete, or lost their appeal to the public, the system would cut them free. In this movie the main female character had become obsolete as talkies became the norm. The viewer gets the impression that she had a dependence on being in the limelight and that the Hollywood system provided her with a certain stability. Now that that was gone she went mad trying to uphold that life for herself. She became more and more "out there" as the movie went on. In the end she commits murder to protect her fantasy. The Hollywood system constructs a life for its stars but won't sustain it if the box office revenues aren't high enough. It drives the lonely stars mad. The same story is evident in the case of the protagonist of the movie. He had been a some what successful writer (he had a few B movies to his name) but Hollywood was no longer interested in him. He couldn't borrow money to save his life and was abandoned by his agent.

In that the movie is a critique of the Hollywood star system the casting puts the filmmaker's money where the film's mouth is. Like I said above, the main female character in the film was a former silent film star, and they cast a former star director as her servant, Joseph von Sternberg. There were also cameos by other notable out of work silent film stars.

There is a scene in which the protagonist goes to a studio producer for a loan, or a job. The producer is depicted as somewhat heartless and oriented toward box office revenue (money, an easy way to make a character look bad). The producer is un-sympatheic to his situation and needs, and even aloof. The writer pitches an idea and the producer tears it to pieces. The studios have little respect for the writers artistic intentions.

This film expresses a cynical attitude toward Hollywood, by showing the main character of the film face down in his dream pool; killed, in a round about way by the Hollywood system. It is too humorous to be seen as propaganda against that destructive system, which still functions today.



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