Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder: A Movie Description

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The Thematic Intentions of
Sunset Boulevard

The film Sunset Boulevard directed by Billy Wilder and staring the main characters of Norma Desmond, Joe Gillis, and Max Von Mayerling is ideal example of how important film making techniques help depict a movie's core theme intentions with vivid clarity. Classic Hollywood is the first thing that comes to mind when one speaks about this film's style. This signature category combined with the visual style of realism and it's continuity editing; detailed mise-en-scene and all of its characteristics; and lastly the use of reoccurring motifs with formalistic qualities make the audience grasp the central theme of just how vicious the actual motion industry can be to the individuals that keep its alive. I hope to convey all of this through a detailed explanation involving and about specific scenes included in the film and a direct tie-in of how the precise attributes above play such an important role in expressing that theme. The first scene that will be analyzed is that of opening credits and just how exactly this begins to set the stage for the main theme. In the very first frame, which also becomes the establishing shot, we come to a high angle shot that is zoomed in close on the words "Sunset Blvd" painted on a street curb as the image is also flooded with dramatic nondiegetic music. This becomes very important because the curb is also the gutter. Here, not even ten seconds into the movie, do we get our first glimpse of what the film is about; the mise-en-scene here involving a symbolic visual correlation to the central theme an this gutter frame is depicted through this entire establishing shot. Along with this we get more connection through the voice over actually describing, in an almost a sarcastic manner which should not be the case at all, about a murder on this high class, high status block. It's almost as if this is a clear depiction of the true chaos tied in with how this Hollywood life can and will be to the people involved with it. As the film zooms out to a long shot of Sunset, we see the police brigade come and wiz by through a very quick pan shot. The next thing is a cross cut to the actual mansion where more commotion is viewed at an obvious murder scene. Bottom line is that the mise-en-scene involved here does an excellent job setting up the movie's thematic intentions. The voice over in this scene becomes very important to the direction's introductory goals. As the voice of this man, later known as Joe, keeps speaking about the actual visual of all this commotion involving a murder scene, we hear him talk about the murdered man shown at the house. He says, "…poor sucker, he always wanted a pool." This here is our first look at one of the motifs involving the idea of a dream. Throughout the movie that motif is seen in several different ways, this is just one of them. In almost all of the depictions this "dream" is some how linked with being shattered or simply not being what it's thought to be all. The jest of it is the fact that it does draw a parallel to extreme negativity and it also begins to show specifically how Wilder uses formality in parts of his direction. For this establishing scene the realism is viewed simply through the continuity editing that I have already touched on in some detail about the actual shots, angles, and camera movements involved here. This "invisible" style that is seen in so many Classic Hollywood films makes it seem like what is shown definitely could happen in real life. The only thing here that might not go hand in hand with that is the fact that this type of depiction was definitely not what the industry and the audience in their own reality was used to. Therefore, the superior thing about this fact is that because we know that it was not normal for its' time, it takes that central theme of industry decryption and makes it even more poignant by itself and especially to the people that first saw this picture....
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