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Blu-ray Reviews

Sunset Boulevard Blu-ray Review (Highly Recommended)

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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted November 10 2012 - 06:10 PM

Paramount Pictures brings one of cinema’s greatest films to Blu-ray for the first time. Sunset Blvd., Billy Wilder’s enthralling  examination of crumbling desperation and the selfish tendencies of people trying to succeed speaks more of society at large than just the Hollywood characters that populate the slight mystery. Brilliantly framed from scene to scene and featuring the Paramount studios and actor and filmmaker faces, such as Cecil B. DeMille and Buster Keaton (briefly), the film is a triumph of excellence. The Blu-ray is gorgeous and packed with a healthy dose of special features.

Studio: Paramount Pictures Year: 1950 US Rating: Not Rated Film Length: 109 Minutes Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition, B&W Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Audio: English Mono Dolby TrueHD, French, Spanish and Portuguese Mono Dolby Digital Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese   Release Date: November 6, 2012 Review Date: November 10, 2012

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small”

The Film

5/ 5 Sunset Blvd. announces its darkness in the opening moments, as the camera pulls away from the stenciled Sunset Blvd. sign on the pavement gutter and on up to a lavish estate, to the pool where a poor soul has met his unfortunate end. The narrator positions that this man’s story be told before the media frenzy, obscured by those involved, set about ignoring the circumstances that led to the man’s demise. We are introduced to Joe Gillis, a mediocre Hollywood writer down on his luck and desperate for cash, who strikes out when looking for work from the movie studio and, leaving disappointed, how he is pursued by men looking for his car payment. Joe is in trouble. The debt collectors give chase and Gillis ducks his car up a strange driveway along Sunset Blvd. A seemingly abandoned mansion with qualities that suggest it was once of envious palatial quality. But now it is in disrepair. Gillis will soon discover that the home is indeed not abandoned but rather the home of one the great stars of the silent era. A peculiar yet ostentatious woman by whom Gillis is pressed to provide his writing services to finish up the screenplay she has long-been perfecting. It is the screenplay that she intends to ‘allow’ her filmmaker friend Cecil B. DeMille to make and provide her the means to mark a grand reentrance into the lights and adoration of Hollywood stardom. In need of the money, the immediately ill-at-ease Gillis acquiesces to her request. It is a dangerous decision. Isolated, smothered, suspicious and ever-resistant, Gillis nonetheless gives way to all better judgment, selling his soul a little day by day, unable to pry himself away from the discomfort and lure of the creature comforts, as he smacks away at the typewriter under his ‘employers’ heavy eye. Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and D.M.Marshman Jr. constructed a biting and exquisite screenplay. Between the cracks of wit and banter rule blistering portrayals of a former star unaware she has been forgotten and a failing writer unaware that his artless dodging of his debts would ultimately rob him of far more than money.   At the film’s beginning, Joe Gillis, played superbly by William Holden, is lost more seriously than even his myopic sensibilities would have him know.  Holden had seen a little of his glory vanish in the 40s as several of his pictures underperformed. Sunset Blvd. would give his career a significant second wind and he would appear alongside his Blvd. co-star Nancy Olson three more times as well. The most outstanding performance in the film comes by way of Gloria Swanson. Swanson, a former Silent star herself, may not have been the first choice for director Wilder, but her casting is the absurdly perfect core for this tragic story. At first a grandiose performance seemingly reaching for the rafters, Swanson imbues her Norma Desmond character with an unsettling mix of obliviousness and despair as the film progresses, grasping at the glories that have long since passed her by while scratching madly for the chance to rekindle the flame she openly refuses to acknowledge has flickered out.   Wilder, clearly one of cinema’s greatest auters, confidently and swiftly unravels several lives beneath the secondary shadows of Hollywood lights. Sunset Blvd. was immediately embraced by critics and played well in metropolitan areas though it struggled to connect with broader audiences in places like the Midwest. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning three (for Best Score, Art Direction and Writing, Story and Screenplay), it remains timeless. Sunset Blvd. is an extraordinary piece of cinema; a surprisingly modern and relevant tale of desperation, the curse of fame having discarded a fleeting partner, and the shadowy part of our souls that can so easily lead us to places beyond our ability to pull ourselves back. It is a story of exploitation (as Nancy Olson astutely stated) and an intriguing tale of Hollywood’s glamour and glare having the covers peeled back to show that not all is magic in the land of dreams.

The Video

4/5 Paramount has been delivering a wonderful slate of classic films on Blu-ray over the last few years. Wowing with greats like The Ten Commandments and Wings, it would seem to be a golden age for the Golden Age. Sunset Blvd. continues the same loving, careful and faithful treatment of some of cinemas most important films. The original negative is alas no more, thus Sunset Blvd’s road to high definition home media comes by way of dupe negatives. As Robert Harris quite rightly says in his valuable ‘A Few Words About…” thread, deriving from duplicate negatives can be dodgy proposition, but the work that has gone into preparing Billy Wilder’s Oscar winning classic is to be celebrated. Black and white films are still too rare on Blu-ray, and watching Sunset Blvd. demonstrates once again that such a lack of B&W on HD is a shame. The image is beautiful with impressive shadows, lovely crispness and grain intact. Presented in 1080p and framed at 1.37:1, you won’t be disappointed.

The Sound

4/5 Paramount provides Sunset Blvd with a solid Dolby TrueHD mono track. Heavily focused on dialogue, with Waxman’s score providing the fullest use of the audio, the sound is entirely fitting for the film. For a mono track the sound is surprisingly full and the narration that opens the film – and continues through – draws us in.

The Extras

4/5   Audio Commentary: On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder author Ed Sikov provides a thorough examination of the film, covering everything from the performances, Franz Waxman’s score, the filmmakers and just about everything in between. The delivery may be a tad stilted (Sikov is reading), but the analysis is terrific. Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning (22:47): Producer A.C. Lyles begins this piece discussion Billy Wilder and others, including Stefanie Powers, Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan), and others talk about the greatness of the writer/director. Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back (25:52): Author Ed Sikov and others (including Nancy Olson, A.C. Lyles, film critic Andrew Sarris) talk about the original opening sequences (scrapped because test audiences found it funnier than it was intended to be), the great Cecil B. DeMille’s participation, and how the terrific shot of the man floating in the pool, seen from beneath the body looking up, was accomplished.   The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard (14:19): Joseph Wambaugh, a former LAPD detective, talks about his fascination with Sunset Boulevard and his families excitement over Gloria Swanson whom they knew of from her silent film days. Wambaugh discusses his attraction to film noir and how Sunset Blvd. deploys certain noir techniques. Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic (14:28): Again, many of the same folk from previous special features here offer their thoughts on how Sunset Blvd. ascended to greatness.   Two Sides of Ms. Swanson (10:37): The actress is remembered by her Granddaughter and others discussing her life in front of and away from the camera.   Stories of Sunset Boulevard (11:22): Critics, authors and actors talk of the film’s opening and how Billy Wilder worked. Some repetition.   Mad About the Boy: A Portrait of William Holden (11:13): William Holden is fondly remembered. Recording Sunset Boulevard (5:51): Franz Waxman’s menacing and lyrical score is discussed by film critic Andrew Sarris and album Producer Robert Townson.   The City of Sunset Boulevard (5:36): The street is home to a number of classic movie scenes. Franz Waxman and the Music of Sunset Boulevard (14:27): Film historian and son of Franz Waxman, John Waxman, and others discuss the composer and his work. Morgue Prologue Script Pages (HD): A look at two existing versions of the script for the original morgue opening. Deleted Scene (1:26): The Paramount Don't Want Me Blues. Hollywood Location Map (HD): Click on map icons to watch videos on the different locations.   Behind the Gate: The Lot (5:05): A look back at how Paramount Pictures began and how the wonderful Paramount lot grew from humble beginnings.   Edith Head: The Paramount Years (13:43): Designer Edith Head who designed costumes for Paramount films, including Sunset Blvd.   Paramount in the '50s (9:33): A brief retrospective of Paramount’s films from the 1950s.   Galleries (1080p): §  Production §  The Movie §  Publicity   Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts The stars are aligned in Sunset Blvd. Snappy and fraught dialogue, fascinating characters, brilliant performances, a gorgeous score by Franz Waxman, and performances that deserve high praise. The film is absorbing from the opening scene and through its unusual conclusion remains a dark and tragic tale. Paramount must be commended for working to prepare and release Sunset Blvd. with such care. A must own for fans of the film and a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the medium of cinema.

Overall (Not an average)

4.5/5   Neil Middlemiss Kernersville, NC

"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
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#2 of 8 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted November 10 2012 - 07:26 PM

Thanks for the review. I love this movie, and I saw the musical version on Broadway with the original cast (including Glenn Close as Norma Desmond). Now that is something I would like to see again.

#3 of 8 OFFLINE   dpippel


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Posted November 19 2012 - 07:17 AM

I finally had the opportunity to sit down and view this last night. What a gorgeous presentation of a truly remarkable film. Well done Paramount!   I do have to say that I'm somewhat disappointed with several of the extras. There is a lot of repetitious material in Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning, Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back, and Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic, to the point that some of the same interview segments appear in all three pieces, either exactly or as audio voiceover. Although these featurettes were fascinating, it made watching them a bit tiresome and detracted from the experience. A surer hand in the editing room here would have been most welcome.

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#4 of 8 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted November 19 2012 - 08:03 AM

Originally Posted by dpippel /t/325104/sunset-boulevard-blu-ray-review-highly-recommended#post_4003322 I finally had the opportunity to sit down and view this last night. What a gorgeous presentation of a truly remarkable film. Well done Paramount!   I do have to say that I'm somewhat disappointed with several of the extras. There is a lot of repetitious material in Sunset Boulevard: The Beginning, Sunset Boulevard: A Look Back, and Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic, to the point that some of the same interview segments appear in all three pieces, either exactly or as audio voiceover. Although these featurettes were fascinating, it made watching them a bit tiresome and detracted from the experience. A surer hand in the editing room here would have been most welcome.
You have time to watch bonus material?  Wish I did as I have barely enough time to watch the film themselves.               Crawdaddy



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#5 of 8 OFFLINE   dpippel


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Posted November 19 2012 - 08:26 AM

Not always Robert, but for a film like Sunset I try. :D

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#6 of 8 OFFLINE   JParker


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Posted February 21 2013 - 11:09 AM

An essay posted recently with information I didn't know:
The Dawn of Sunset Boulevard by Steve Sailer Posted Image Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, with Gloria Swanson as a silent-screen legend plotting a comeback and William Holden as her toy boy, remains one of the most famous movies ever. Yet Sunset Boulevard’s origins in an Evelyn Waugh novel have been forgotten. This cultural amnesia is curious since the reactionary novelist and the refugee writer-director are still two of the more talked-about figures of the mid-century. Until recently being surpassed by Woody Allen, Wilder was Hollywood’s most honored writer-director, with eight directing and thirteen screenwriting Oscar nominations. Despite not being fluent in English until after arriving in America as a refugee from Hitler in 1934, Wilder quickly became a master of American smart-aleck vernacular. One source of his popularity with Americans was that even though he was an exile from highbrow Europe, he took on a disarming Average Joe air. (For example, to keep Paramount from noticing too early that his new project was going to be a send-up of the movie business itself, Wilder’s working title for Sunset Boulevard was Can of Beans, a self-parody of his blue-collar tough-guy affectations.) Still, Wilder was less an auteur than Hollywood’s leading collaborator. He needed somebody else’s initial spark, and Waugh provided much of Wilder’s impetus for Sunset Boulevard. Seeing a revival screening of Sunset Boulevard at Glendale’s Alex Theatre, a 1925 silent-movie palace suitable for Norma Desmond herself, reminded me of how much Wilder’s 1950 showbiz horror-comedy is an inversion of Waugh’s 1948 satire on Hollywood and Forest Lawn, The Loved One. The imprint of Waugh’s macabre tale on Wilder’s dark comedy is unmistakable, even though Wilder and his colleagues reversed many elements. The transpositions that make Sunset Boulevard the more enduring work illuminate some insights into audience appeal. That Waugh’s The Loved One kick-started Sunset Boulevard wasn’t originally a secret. Although an extensive Google search finds almost no mention of the connection in recent years, Sunset Boulevard‘s cinematographer John Seitz told film historian Kevin Brownlow of Waugh’s influence on the movie, saying that Wilder and producer Charles Brackett “had wanted to do The Loved One, but couldn’t obtain the rights.”

#7 of 8 OFFLINE   usrunnr


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Posted July 23 2013 - 05:18 PM

Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" is playing this week, Thursday-Sunday in the Los Angeles area at Musical Theatre West, Cal State Long Beach, with Valerie Perri as Norma. It's outstanding in all regards. July 25-28, 2013. David Burnham ("Light in the Piazza") is Joe.


#8 of 8 OFFLINE   Ken Volok

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Posted March 15 2014 - 12:00 PM

Posting mistake.

Edited by Ken Volok, March 15 2014 - 12:01 PM.

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