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Sunset Boulevard (free)

  • Central Library 201 West Mifflin Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

Perhaps the ultimate anti-Hollywood Hollywood film. Info


Merging elements of Gothic horror with film-noir fatalism, 1950's Sunset Boulevard is a brilliant, caustic look at the unsavory side of Hollywood. Writer/director Billy Wilder had emigrated from Austria in the 1930s, but quickly developed a cutting use of the English language and a keen eye for the darker aspects of the American Dream. Both are in full force in Sunset Boulevard, which stars William Holden as Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful and unscrupulous screenwriter. Stumbling onto the estate of reclusive former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson in a career-defining role), Gillis pretends to help revive the delusional actress' career. Becoming her live-in assistant/gigolo, he becomes embroiled in Desmond's nightmarish fantasy world with fatal results.

The highlight of Sunset Boulevard is Swanson's wild-eyed performance as Desmond, perfectly capturing the madness of a forgotten film star. Besides Swanson, the film also features icons of silent-era Hollywood such as Cecil B. DeMille and Erich von Stroheim as Desmond's sinister butler Max. Despite being a scathing attack on Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard was a massive success, receiving 18 Academy Awards nominations, and remains a widely respected classic today. Full of Wilder's trademark acerbic wit, Sunset Boulevard is a uniquely anti-Hollywood Hollywood film. —Ian Adcock

Earlier Event: September 2
Later Event: September 6
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