Saturday, August 20, 2005
I was flabbergasted to see the names Erich von Stroheim, Cecil B. Demille, Hedda Hopper, and Buster Keaton flash onscreen during opening credits to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, which surprisingly, stupidly, along with Double Indemnity, I had never seen before last night (American films of the 1930s through 50s, noirs especially, are a blind spot in my film knowledge). Why have I avoided seeing these films for so long? I was instantly enraptured. Watching them, I felt little pieces of cinema history and pop culture fall into place (Oh! So that’s where “I’m ready for my close-up now, Mr. Demille” comes from…Mulholland Drive makes so much more sense to me now…Barton Keyes…Barton Fink). It was the same feeling I had a few years ago hearing a fairly decent Beatles tune I had somehow never heard before ("Hey Bullfrog"). The mix of comedy and suspense in Sunset is masterful. With every line and every scene my jaw dropped a little lower. That there was a monkey-in-the-coffin bit was especially delightful. Double Indemnity, more straight noir, was also excellent, though I was initially disappointed to see the same story flashback structure used in both films. I suppose these films are old hat for most filmgoers, so please excuse my excitement, and slap me for my negligence.