Yes, Norma Is That Crazy
Sunset Boulevard constantly and persistently advances the theme that Hollywood creates movie stars that become engrossed with their own fame and then abandons them, leaving behind only their outlandish and outdated fantasies. The case of Norma Desmond is no different. Her out-of-touch relationship with reality is given form through her desire to make her “greatest picture yet.” The segment of Sunset Boulevard that will be analyzed in this essay is significant because, through the use and interplay of cinematography, editing, elements of Mise-en-Scene, and the dialogue, Norma’s delusions are highlighted and magnified.
The first few moments of part one of the segment use specific elements of Mise-en-Scene and the dialogue to begin the reinforcement of Norma’s delusions. As her lavish and fanciful car pulls up to the studio door, Norma asks Joe if he would like to accompany her into the studio to meet with Cecil B. DeMille, but Joe refuses. Joe is dressed fairly normally whereas Norma is wearing a fancy coat and hat to match her equally fancy car. This use of the costumes and makeup suggest that Norma is somehow out of place or out of time because her clothes do not match the occasion. When Joe declines to join Norma in the studio, he explicitly states, “It’s your script, it’s your show.” This part of the dialogue seems to suggest a separation between Norma and Joe. Norma is excited to meet with DeMille and discuss her movie whereas Joe is content to wait outside with Max and the car – Norma is alone.
The next few moments of part one also contain some key lines of dialogue that seem to emphasize the anachronism of Norma Desmond and her fantasies. As she is hugged and greeted by DeMille, she recalls the last time the two had been together. She describes the time as “very gay,” suggesting that it is a very happy memory. She also remembers waving to DeMille and dancing on a table. It would seem that Norma still associates her relationship with DeMille, and consequently her career as a movie star, with fantastic memories of the past. DeMille mentions that many other people were dancing on tables as well, since Charles Lindbergh had just landed in Paris. This seems to suggest that Norma’s experience (and consequently, her past) is not as special and unique as she would like to believe, but Norma seems ignorant to this subtle suggestion because she is still engrossed by that memory.
In the next section of part one, the dialogue between and the behavior of Norma and DeMille heightens the disparity of understanding between the two Hollywood greats. Norma behaves like classic Norma – pretentious with an inflated sense of self-importance. DeMille seems to be walking a line between careful respect and impatience. When Norma asks if he has read her script, DeMille waits for her to break eye contact before looking down and admitting in a rather exasperated and annoyed tone, “Yes, I did.” DeMille’s facial expression as he says this is key to understanding the distance between him and Norma. He is somewhere between anger, impatience, and confusion, whereas Norma is looking off-screen, seeming quite pleased with herself. DeMille leaves Norma in his director’s chair as he tells one of his assistants to get him on the phone with Gordon Cole, whose calls lead to Norma’s arrival at the studio. The difference between DeMille’s and Norma’s facial expressions and tone reinforce the idea that Norma is living in a fantasy and is separated from reality.
The next section of part one uses costumes, lighting, and specific shot angles to reinforce Norma’s delusions about her current importance. A high angle shot of Norma in DeMille’s director’s chair is combined with the use of a spotlight to further Norma’s fantasies about her current importance. When the lighting man puts the spotlight on Norma and exclaims that it’s Norma Desmond for everyone in the studio to hear, the people in the studio surround Norma. Most are...
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