Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend delves into adjacent queer and queer headlines from the past that deserve a watch or re-watch.
Diva’s Duel Part I: Sunset Blvd.
This weekend here at Screen Gems, we thought we were offering something a little different. In 1950, two actresses gave two of the greatest performances in history and faced off for the Oscar. We suggest it’s time to revisit their two respective films, and again face the question: who did better?
boul. Sunset lands on all of the greatest of all movies lists, and for good reason, it doesn’t get much better. The story follows a starving writer, Joe (William Holden). Pursued by ticket collectors, he finds himself in the aisle of former silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a recluse in her fifties who hasn’t worked since the sound arrived. . Locked in with her creepy butler Max (Erich von Stroheim), Norma began working on a screenplay for her triumphant return. Sensing a payday, Joe offers to help him with the script. Over time, Norma begins to become obsessed with Joe, whose profession begins to look less like a writer than a gigolo.
William Holden gives a fantastic performance as a cynical and self-deprecating Joe, although the story will forever record Sunset Blvd. as owned by Norma Desmond and Gloria Swanson. As a former Silence Star herself, Swanson brings a unique flair to her performance, walking the line between pathos and camp, madness and sanity. Norma also acts like a monstrosity much of the movie, but thanks to Swanson, we can’t help but pity and even support her at times. boul. Sunset also has one of the meanest senses of humor on record, often embodied in Max’s sexual addiction. We won’t reveal too much here, other than to say that his servant-master relationship with Norma has many levels. The film also leaves open the debate on who is the master of whom?
Shot in rich black and white, loaded with gorgeous performances and some of the most cited dialogue of all time, the movies are no better than Sunset Blvd. Watch it, fall under its spell and let the debate begin: If Gloria Swanson gives one of the greatest performances of all time, could anyone be better that same year?
Streamed on Paramount +, Amazon, YouTube, and VUDU.