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March 03, 1984 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1984-03-03

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9:
4
9
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ARTS

The Michigan Doily

Saturday, March 3, 1984

Page 5

The Shadows of 'Sunset Boulevard'

By Paul Clipson
ILLY WILDER'S classic, Sunset
Boulevard, made in 1950, remains
in one's memory like the sound of a den-
ist's drill tearing into a decaying tooth.
To put it better, this film noir master-
piece, made by one of Hollywood's most
cynical, brash directors, is so ingenious
ingapturing the essence of its subject,
the tragic myth of Hollywood, that it
has become the archetypical "film
about film." This bizarre work
displays Billy Wilder's talent for un-
covering the seedy, unmentionable
hypocrisies that lie beneath some of
aoiety's most revered and idolized en-
vironments. In this case, those which
usually remain hidden behind the gates
and hedges of Hollywood's most famous
lane, Sunset Boulevard.
,Wilder wastes no time in setting the
tone of the film, as voice-over narration
(that of the main character) introduces
us to the setting. Our first glimpse of
Joe Gillis, played with sarcastic charm
by William Holden, is of him floating
face down in a swimming pool, dead.
Gillis then proceeds to narrate the
events that lead to his death in a flash-
back which is the rest of the film. This
imaginative opening jars the viewer
and gives an oppressively fatalistic
mood to the scenes that follow.
One can only imagine the effect of the
original opening Wilder shot but didn't
use, in which, after the credits, the
camera was to have tracked down the

hallway of the city morgue, passing
various corpses until stopping at the
lifeless body of William holden who sits
up and recounts his tragic story.
Gillis is an out-of-work hack writer
searching for success in Hollywood. He
goes from one studio to another, hoping
to raise interest in a script he has writ-
ten. Nobody is interested. He is tired
and bitter towards the money-hungry
world of commercial filmmaking.
Referring to the best script he ever
wrote: "It was a beautiful script about
Oakies in the dust bowl. When it
reached the screen it took place on a
torpedo boat."
Gillis wishes he was back in Dayton,
Ohio, his hometown, where he once
wrote for a local newspaper. He wants
to be free of the transparent per-
sonalities and fake glitz of Hollywood.
Behind on his car payments, Gillis is
chased around L.A. by two creditors
who want to confiscate his car. He tur-
ns into a driveway on Sunset Boulevard
in Beverly Hills, and hides his car in the
garage of an old, run-down mansion.
The estate still seems to be inhabited,
though, as Gillis is greeted by Max the
butler (Erich von Stroheim). Max
mistakes Gillis for the undertaker who
is to attend to the pet chimpanzee that
has died recently, and is to be buried in
an elaborate coffin by the mansion's
owner Norma Desmond (talk about
seedy situations!). Desmond (Gloria
Swanson) - once a great silent film
star, now forgotten movie queen of the
past - spends her idle days lamen-

ting over her legendary fame. Lear-
ning that Gillis is a screenwriter, she
enlists his aid in finishing the script that
is to be her great comeback. Gillis, fin-
ding Norma rather hideous and the
script; terrible, agrees anyway, for the
money.
But the situation is stranger than you
think! Norma Desmond, crazed in her
lust for success, believes that she is still
as famous as she once was. As Gillis
remarks when he recognizes her: "You
used to be big." Norma retorts: "I'm
still big, it's the pictures that got
small !" Gillis spends his time working
on the script and lives in the mansion
with Norma. At night they watch Nor-
ma's old films and play cards with
Norma's friends, a grotesque trio of
forgotten silent stars, whom Gillis
calls the "waxworks."
As Gillis beginsrto recognize Norma's
false "delusions of grandeur," he
realizes his need to free himself from
the sick influence of Hollywood and the
characters that inhabit it.
Billy Wilder's Hollywood is a
decaying town of rat-infested swim-
ming pools, shadowy rooms and sleezy
types who accentuate the film's
pessimism, an identifiable trait of the
popular film noir genre of the time.
Part of the film's power stems from
the ironic truths lying beneath much of
its effective elements. Both Gloria
Swanson and Erich Von Stroheim,
superb in their characterizations, prac-
tically portray themselves; Swanson, a
great silent star and Stroheim, a

dynamic and influencial film director,
lost their careers with the advent of
sound.
Stroheim in particular, in some ways
a genius, was broken by the capitalist
Hollywood executives, who saw his
films as uncommercial.
One of the saddest ironies in the film
was Wilder's casting of Buster Keaton
as one of the "waxworks" that visit
Norma. Unlike Swanson, who actually
did make a comeback with this picture,
Keaton, another star destroyed by the
sound age, almost passes unnoticed.
Likewise his career, until the 60's and
70's when his comic brilliance became
more appreciated shortly before his
death.
These casting choices that Wilder so
carefully made in creating this film,
reveal much of its tragic meaning and
Wilder's own personality.
Sunset Boulevard is the greatest film
about Hollywood ever made. Its biting
denouncement of the town's false ap-
peal and the people that are destroyed
by that appeal, those both good and
bad, rank it as a most passionate and
unique American film.
The film is being shown by
Mediatrics tonight at 9:00 p.m. in the
Modern Languages Building.

Gloria Swanson looking back to her past glory.

Some modern martyrdom graces 'St. Joan'

By Emily Montgomery
T. JOAN OF THE STOCKYARDS
(1930), by Bertolt Brecht, is a play
which, in typical Brecht style, requires
its audience to think. It is a tragedy set
in Chicago during the collapse of the
meat packing market, yet, as is also
afat her
NEW YORK (AP) - Rolling Stones
singer Mick Jagger and his longtime
girlfriend, Jerry Hall, became parents
Thursday, and the proud mother said
the newborn girl "has the cutest lips -
just like her daddy."
Jagger was present for the 1:37 a.m.
birth of the 8-pound, 2-ounce baby at
Wenox Hill Hospital and said he was
"very happy." Mother and daughter,
who has not been named yet, were
reported doing fine. Miss Hall, a 28-
year-old model from Texas, has been
Jagger's girlfriend for several years.
Jagger, 40, has been with the Stones
since their inception in England'in 1962.
The self-proclaimed "World's Greatest
Rock 'n' Roll Band" last toured the
United States in 1981, and their current
Ibum, Undercover, broke the
illboard Top Ten and spawned the
single "Utndercover of the Night."
The lead singer has another
daughter, Jade, 12, by his ex-wife Bian-
ca. He also has a 13-year-old daughter
by actress Marsha Hunt, whose pater-
nity suit against Jagger ended with a
judge's declaration that Jagger was the
father.
lCorrection
Yesterday's Weekend Magazine article
entitled 'No Tall Tales' was by Mark
Kaplowitz. The article did not include
his byline.
ANNI ARBOR
2 INDIVIDUAL THEATRES
5th, A.v of lsb.,ty 7114700 '
$2.00 SHOWS BEFORE 6:00 P.M.
DAILY 1 P.M. SHOWS MON. THRU FRI.
ACADEMY AWARD NOM.
INCL. BEST PICTURE
(PG)
FRI., MON. 1:00, 7:00, 9:25
SAT., SUN. 1:00, 3:30, 7:00, 9:25

Brecht's way, St Joan is exceptionally
entertaining.
An enjoyable tragedy would seem to
be a contradiction of terms, but with a
writer of Brecht's skill, the potentially
awkward appears to be perfectly ac-
ceptable. Of course, without a decent
cast and the right direction any play
can fail. Luckily, this is not the case
with the Brecht Company's production,
which opened Thursday night at the
Residential College auditorium in East
Quad.
The Brecht company, presently under
the direction of Bob Brown, has had
problems in the past with undeservedly
modest turnouts. Hopefully, the
significantly larger audience present at
the Thursday performance was not just
an opening night fluke.
There are a number of fine actors
associated with the Brecht Company.

The first to come to mind is professor
Martin Walsh who portrays Pierpont
Mauler, king of the meat industry. Con-
trolling, and ultimately captivating, the
moment he stepped on stage, Walsh, as
Mauler, literally stole every scene he
was in, as he shifted back and forth
from impulsive humanitarian to
coldhearted capitalist. At times, when
he opened his eyes wide enough, one
could imagine seeing green dollar signs
where his pupils should have been, and
his "Groucho Marx style" side-steps
were very amusing. He is a master who
should not be missed.
In what is undeniably a most
challenging role, Liz Marrel, as Joan
Dark, the Black Straw Hat and
crusader for the rights of the poverty
stricken, fared very well. One cannot
help but feel drawn to her tragic cause,
even though it is so apparently doomed

from the start. Thrown into a societyof
deviants and the destitute, she lacks the
invincibility she so needs to survive in
her self-appointed task.
As Slift, Mauler's prompter/partner
in crime, Blake Ratcliffe (Rat-cliffe)
gives new meaning to the word. (Sorry
about that). He attempts to convince
Joan of the laborers' immorality by
manipulating them into betraying each
other with the promise of free food and
possible promotions. His plan back-
fires as he ends up exposing his own
subhuman qualities instead - he was
splendidly sinister.
the rest of the Brecht ensemble,
although too numerous to list, should be
commended. Most of them handled
multiple roles, for the sake of making
the crowd scenes realistic, and handled
them well.
Two impressive performances to be

mentioned were those of Jeff Wine as
M. L. Lennox, a meat packer, and
Katayoun Amini as Mrs. Luckerniddle,
a worker whose husband has
mysteriously disappeared. Both are
strong and believeable in their parts.
The play runs approximately 22
hours, with one intermission, yet it
passes quickly with Walsh's antics to
carry it along.
Although the underlying plea for
communism in St. Joan is a slight one,
it is still there. Watching it reminded me
of the Upton Sinclair novel, The Jungle,
another tragic tale addressing the same

subject. It's a -quote from Sinclair
which I think sums up the feeling of St.
Joan.
"There is one kind of prison where
the man is behind the bars, and
everything that he desires is outside;
and there is another kind where the
things are behind the bars, and the man
is outside."
Performances of St. Joan of the
Stockyards will continue Thursday -
Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at
2:00 p.m., this week and next. Bring
your student I.D. for a $1 discount off
the $5 admission.

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