‘Sunset Boulevard’ screening coming up

NEW ULM — Anyone ready for close-up analysis of “Sunset Boulevard” should attend the film’s screening, Tuesday.

The New Ulm Film Society will show the 1950 film noir at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13, in the library basement. The screening is part of the film society’s film noir series.

“Sunset Boulevard” is told in flashback by Joe Gillis (William Holden). The viewers are introduced to Gillis after seeing his dead body floating in a swimming pool. The film is Gillis recounting the six months leading up to his death. From the start, audiences know this story is not going to have a happy ending. 

The flashback begins with Gillis’ chance encounter with Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a long-forgotten silent film star. As a screenwriter, Gillis begins to work as a script doctor for Desmond. She is plotting a career comeback, which Gillis knows is unrealistic. The more time Gillis spends with Desmond, the more he understands she’s lost touch with reality and is growing unhinged which will likely prove deadly.

“Sunset Boulevard” never fit into one specific genre. The film is a hodgepodge of film styles ranging from dark satire to horror and melodrama. The term film noir was first created in 1946, four years before “Sunset Boulevard” was released. The genre was being developed.

Writer and Director Billy Wilder was attempting to create a melodrama and dark comedy. He borrowed elements from his previous film “Double Indemnity.” Later film theorists cited his two films as two early examples of film noir.

“Sunset Boulevard” features many of the tropes of film noir, such as expressive black and white light, voice-over narration, a femme fatal and fatalist attitude. Many of the film’s themes and imagery would appear in future noir stories. 

One specific trend started by “Sunset Boulevard” was its critical portrayal of the Hollywood film industry. It was one of the early films to satirize filmmaking. The movie was created by Paramount and directly references the studio as well as famous director Cecil B. DeMille. 

Not everyone in the film industry appreciated the pointed criticism, but others appreciated it and emulated it in later works. To this day, film noirs have frequently used the dark underbelly of Hollywood as a setting for stories. 

“Sunset Boulevard” was a hit on its first release. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won three Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Music. Swanson was nominated for Best Actress. 

In the nearly 70 years since its release, “Sunset Boulevard” has become a classic film. It was among the first 25 films added to the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The last line of the film “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” has gone to be one of the most famous lines in film history.

The screening begins at 6 p.m. in the New Ulm Public Library basement. The New Ulm Film Society will facilitate discussion before and after the film.