Tag Archives: Sunset Boulevard

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 229 – Fedora

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Stardom, beauty, the machinery of Hollywood, madness, age – 1978’s Fedora sees Billy Wilder occupying much of the same thematic territory of his 1950 classic, Sunset Boulevard. William Holden’s has-been film producer attends the funeral of Fedora, a reclusive former film star, and thinks back on the recent trip he took to Corfu, attempting to track her down and coax her out of retirement. What unravels is a mystery, a conspiracy, a twisted mother-daughter relationship, and another in Mubi’s strand of “perfect failures”.

Wilder’s struggle to finance Fedora is apparent, José suggesting that in every part one can imagine a superior actor. Though that’s perhaps scant defence of the tedious visual design – Dutch angles don’t cost money, and the film is crying out for more visual expression than it offers. Mike explains his problem with the plot structure and particularly his dislike of “two weeks earlier” hooks, and we consider the way in which we’re asked to believe in Fedora’s incredible stardom while not really having it explained to us satisfactorily. And José takes particular issue with the casting of Michael York as himself, finding him a blank, while Mike is more content with it, but perhaps that’s largely because whenever someone says “Michael York” it makes him laugh.

Despite the film’s many problems, it remains an intriguing exploration of stardom, identity, the lengths to which people will go to support their own delusions. Mike suggests that Fedora and Sunset Boulevard share a low opinion of women, that their themes of self-obsession, fame and beauty are particularly aligned with their stars’ gender. José describes Fedora‘s relationship to reality, in particular the ways in which it echoes Marlene Dietrich’s extraordinary fame and subsequent withdrawal from the public eye, and how Wilder’s experience and understanding of this and other inside stories informs the film.

And finally, Mike takes a moment to bring up two things he doesn’t like about Sunset Boulevard, because he wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t take one look at a great masterpiece of cinema and explain what’s rubbish about it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Born Yesterday (George Cukor, 1950)

born yesterday

 

Of the films I´ve been seeing recently that I loved as a child, Born Yesterday has been the most disappointing. It´s relative of course. The film is certainly interesting and entertaining; and the political satire, a relatively brave choice for a popular entertainment in the midst of the McCarthy era, seems more relevant than ever. The travelogue elements of how we´re shown Washington D.C. must have been a real attraction then and still work now. And surely playing writers chased by Gloria Swanson and Judy Holliday in two of the hit films of that year — Sunset Boulevard was the other one —  is what must have catapulted William Holden into being a proper box-office star? Still that said, the film is overly pat and a little preachy, Broderick Crawford´s performance is a bit coarse, and Holliday, whom I adore, seems overly rehearsed. She´s great — it´s her most celebrated performance — but not quite real, every line reading fuelled by a clearly visible intention for very particular effects. The revelation of the re-watching has been Holden: A subtle performance, really understated and yet bringing charm and liveliness to a completely thankless role.It makes me uneasy also that the villain is a working class self-made millionaire who´s worked since he was twelve. The faith in the system is touching, its mythification less so. There are reasons the Garson Kanin´s play isn´t much revived: everything´s a bit pat and mechanical, though Cukor´s direction is controlled, masterful really, and opens up the play in interesting ways. 

 

The Arrow Academy transfer is lovely and Pam Hutchtinson´s introductory essay is excellent. But talking-head discussion, even by prominent academics, make for quite dull extras. A disappointment, if only in relation to my memory of it. 

José Arroyo