Sunset Boulevard and the seductive truth

As Gillis effectively becomes a toy boy for Desmond, he increasingly feels guilt and contempt at getting sucked into the lie. Yet, out of a perverse combination of pity and enjoyment at the lavish lifestyle he’s growing accustomed to, he feels powerless to leave. Until of course, he meets an idealistic and attractive young writer called Betty Schaeffer (Nancy Olsen) whose high- minded approach to the industry mirrors his own.

The crux of Desmond’s dilemma is that she turned 50, even though Cecil B De Mille (in a knowing cameo role playing a version of himself) is still working as a director in old age.

Billy Wilder, who co- wrote here with Charles Brackett, understood the ephemeral nature of Hollywood, always driven by trend and novelty seeking. He also cut through the cynicism, seducing the audience by pointing out the emptiness of seduction, of how we can get what we want, but it’s never enough. Champagne of the highest calibre doesn’t cure hangovers; bon bons still cause cavities.

The film split critics, with some blanching at a film that would so audaciously critique the very nature of the film industry. But others regarded it as a brilliant takedown of the fickleness of fame, and how the beautiful people can be broken, when the work dries up and the celluloid dream fades with the credits. It still holds up well today, with its dry humour, slick script, crisp cinematography and stinging psychological barbs.

It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, narrowly beaten to best picture by All About Eve… Not a bad way to go.

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