Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard: The cruelty of the motion picture business


Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard: The cruelty of the motion picture business

Joanne Laurier

18 May 2018

Directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman, Jr.

Turner Classic Movies, in conjunction with Fathom Events and Paramount, recently presented Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic Sunset Boulevard in select theaters.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) in Sunset Boulevard

Wilder’s much-beloved movie centers on a struggling Hollywood screenwriter (played by William Holden) who accidentally stumbles upon a “golden opportunity.” He first becomes the personal editor, then later companion and kept man of a former silent film star (Gloria Swanson), one of the most popular of her day.

Sunset Boulevard, the street, stretches from Downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. It was associated with the silent film era in Hollywood, a period of excess and opulence as well as remarkable artistic achievement. The thoroughfare had been a symbol of the film industry since the 1910s and was the location of the area’s first studio (as well as many mansions). The “sunset” in the title, of course, also refers to the twilight (or even later hour) of that early glory.

Wilder (1906-2002) was born in what was then part of Galicia, Austria-Hungary (now Poland) to Austrian Jewish parents. In fact, his mother, grandmother and stepfather all died in the Holocaust.

Having emigrated to the US in 1933, Wilder was a significant figure in American filmmaking, first as a screenwriter and then as writer-director, for more than three decades. He was one of the most popular directors of the 1950s and 1960s in particular. His works include The Major and the Minor (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953),…

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