Sunset Blvd. (1950)

The most caustic of European émigré directors, Wilder explored the movie industry and the delusions of stardom in Hollywood’s great poison pen letter to itself.

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“From the opening, this highly unusual work announces itself as a bleak but irresistibly sardonic motion picture, a trenchant observation of Hollywood’s most bizarre human artifacts.”
Julie Kirgo, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, 1992

Narrated in flashback by the corpse of luckless screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) floating facedown in a Los Angeles swimming pool, Wilder’s audaciously dark examination of the Hollywood dream factory cruelly casts faded silent-movie star Gloria Swanson as has-been silent star Norma Desmond. Festering in the grandeur of her old dark mansion and daydreaming of comeback, the character is a brutal warning about the unchecked egotism of superstardom. “I’m still big!” she insists, “it’s the pictures that got small.”

Other real-life giants of the silent cinema –Erich von Stroheim, Cecil B. DeMille and Buster Keaton – fill out the murky corners of Wilder’s vision, which would later inspire a stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

In 2001, David Lynch used another iconic L.A. address to title his own fantasia on the dangerous allure of movie stardom: Mulholland Dr.

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