Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

WHO: Silent film star Gloria Swanson was re-immortalized with this picture, and this time it stuck.

WHAT: Oh come on. Everyone knows this film, right? Even if you don't know it, you know it. Have you ever been "ready for your close-up"? Ever repeated the notion that in Hollywood "it's the pictures that got small"? Or that silent films didn't need dialogue because they "had faces"? Sunset Blvd. is one of those Hollywood classics that has seeped not-so-subtly into the popular culture. Even a canon-smasher like Mark Cousins is forced to contend with it. It's so ubiquitous, you may already feel a little sick of it. If that's happened, you know it's time to see it again with a fresh set of eyes. This is one classic that deserves every accolade and echo into our collective psyche it gets. Well, except for its transformation into an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical; no movie deserves that. 

WHERE/WHEN: At the Castro Theatre today only with two showtimes: 2:50 & 7:00 PM.

WHY: If you've been at the Castro this weekend you may feel a bit bruised and battered by the brutality, darkness & intensity of the films that have played so far. We've seen an adrenaline-fueled truck-driving duel that makes strong political points about competition, cooperation and corruption (Hell Drivers). We've seen a seedy-as-hell morality tale that whips the viewer into wanting the term "ex-convict" to be abolished, at least when applied to anyone resembling Lawrence Tierney's title character (The Hoodlum). We've seen two masterpieces from 1950, both of them based on true-crime events and both of them getting great mileage out of their application of a near-documentary style in certain sections (Gun Crazy and Try And Get Me). After all that, it's the perfect time in the festival to drop another 1950 masterpiece that's no less brutal, dark, or intense, but that applies these qualities a little further from everyday reality for most of us, focusing instead on the brutal, dark, and intense side of the Hollywood movie-making machine. Consequently, it's easier to enjoy Sunset Blvd. as escapism than it is to enjoy most of what we've seen so far that way.

HOW: Today's Sunset Blvd. screenings are the first time in eleven years that Noir City is trumpeting the world premiere of a restoration not presented from a newly-struck 35mm print but a newly-created DCP drive. Sunset Blvd. is one of four such digital presentations at the festival, also to include Experiment in Terror on Wednesday and the pair of 3-D films on Friday. For some this may feel like the beginning of the end of an era for a festival that has almost never utilized digital projection for anything other than its pre-feature montages, and a betrayal of this year's terrific poster image and slogan "keeping it reel".

But Noir City, through its preservation offshoot Film Noir Foundation, is proving its continued commitment to striking 35mm prints of noir films by world-premiering three brand-new 35mm restorations that would not have been completed without their efforts (including the gorgeous print of Try and Get Me shown last night, the excellent co-feature for today, Repeat Performance, and the closing film High Tide). Not only that, but last night the FNF's Eddie Muller was joined onstage by the sister of film preservationist Nancy Mysel, who died far, far too young this past June, to announce that a fund in her name is being set up to train new preservationists and preserve more films.


  1. Brian: I'm glad you refer to this classic by its correct title. This may seem pedantic but something I learned from Leonard Maltin is that you should name a movie by the way it reads on the title card. Too often it is discussed as "Sunset Boulevard" though that's not how the credit goes.
    I'm NOT glad Eddie is showing a
    DCP, some of us would argue that is a worse indignity than being tinkered with by Andrew Lloyd Webber, especially as the DP is
    John F Seitz, famous for his work
    with Rex Ingram and later a specialist in noir lighting (He
    shot the movie your blog is named
    after!)His work is meant to be seen
    on celluloid.Period.

  2. Thanks, Larry. I'd never think of referring to Sunset Blvd. any other way- the spelled out version grates on my nerves just to look at! Not sure I'm as consistent as I should be the title-card issue though. Already I can't remember if last night's screening of Try And Get Me used the alternate title Sound Of Fury or not, and being pedantic about it might help me remember something like that.

    I too wish this new restoration were available as a 35mm print, but clearly Paramount intends this to be a digitally-distributed work from now on. I saw it first on home video where it made quite an impression on me, and am glad I've seen it on 35mm at the Stanford since then.

    Seitz is truly one of the all-time greats, his work for Preston Sturges being particularly undervalued. I'm glad we'll get to see his excellent work for Robert Siodmak on Fly By Night on Noir City's final day, on celluloid as you say.

    Being that Sunset Blvd. was one of the last films shot in Hollywood using nitate film stocks, I wonder how Seitz thought the safety prints made in later years looked in comparison to his original. And I wonder what he would think of the DCP technology as well.