Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is an excellent satire on the declining standing of the old studio system in the 1950s. The character of Norma Desmond represents the aging shell of the silent film era while Betty represents the lively spirit of the new film era to come. Joe Gillis is used by Wilder as a character to be sympathized by the audience. Gillis is at a crossroads, much like the film’s viewers at the time of production. There is a clear dichotomy present in this movie: the relics of the silent era competing with the energetic newness of sound in films.
Wilder uses many elements in creating this cutting satire of Hollywood. Humor is the main element that grabs the audience’s attention. This humor mainly is at the expense of the vanity of Hollywood, especially in Norma Desmond’s behavior. She owns a lavish estate, spends money manically, and takes in Joe Gillis in order to save what we can only assume was a great amount of celebrity. As a viewer, I could only laugh at Norma’s behavior because it is so outlandish that is more humorous than sad. Joe Gillis, as an embodiment of the audience, casually throws in barbs about Norma’s spending behaviors, her delusional behavior, and her eccentric lifestyle.
Other emotional elements beside humor do come in to play in Sunset Boulevard. Norma Desmond, as I have mentioned before, is used as an emotional foil to varying degrees throughout the film. Wilder almost seems to be wistful about the era of silent film. He shows Norma as a character that should be both slightly amusing and, more importantly, looked to as a vivid memory of the origins of film.
Norma is portrayed as eccentric but the reasons for this seem to be immediately related to the new film industry. Norma, like Wilder and others, looked to the silent era as the purified version of film as art. Sunset Boulevard is essentially a commemoration to the silent era and a cautious acceptance of sound in film.
My favorite scene in this film is the final scene with Norma being arrested by the police for killing Joe Gillis. What I liked most about it was that Wilder really showed his true colors through this scene. Norma’s servant (and former director), Max, convinces Norma to come downstairs because she is going to get her chance at a comeback.
This is obviously a ruse to get her into the custody of the police, but her lust for fame blinds her ability to reason. Wilder reaches a crescendo in his satire, singling out Norma as she walks down the stairs and meets her “adoring” audience. Max, once a great film producer, uses his old skills in order to deliver a star of the old school into the hands of reality. Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is a good work of satire that looks critically at the studio system and seeks to show the conflicts at work within the film industry.