Film Noir and Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

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Film Noir, a term coined by the French to describe a style of film characterized by dark themes, storylines, and visuals, has been influencing cinematic industries since the 1940’s. With roots in German expressionistic films and Italian postwar documentaries, film noir has made its way into American film as well, particularly identified in mob and crime pictures. However, such settings are not exclusive to American film noir. One noteworthy example is Billy Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard, which follows the foreboding tale of Joe Gillis, the desperate-for-success protagonist, who finds himself in the fatal grips of the disillusioned femme fatale Norma Desmond. Not only does the storyline’s heavy subject matter and typical character structure suggest the film noir style, but also Wilder’s techniques of photography and empty, worn-down settings make for a perfect backdrop for this dark approach at filmmaking. Often, films made in the style of film noir present audiences with a rugged, cynical, and disillusioned protagonist. While Joe Gillis of Sunset Boulevard does not necessarily match up to this persona at the beginning of the film, the arc of his character eventually molds him into such traits through his hopeless situation and building encounter with Norma. At the start of his story, Joe is depicted by a desperation intense enough that he is willing to give up his own dignity and respect by first lying to bill collectors and fleeing them in his unpaid car, then proceeding to beg for a Hollywood producer to buy his trite stories, and upon the failure of that attempt, stoops so low as to ask this same producer for money. It is this series of actions which eventually lead Joe up to the doorstep of this film’s femme fatale—a frequ... ... middle of paper ... ... undoubtedly makes for a more somber tone to any scene. It is undeniable that from the first scene in which the audience is presented with Joe Gillis’s corpse to the last, where Norma walks boldly into the midst of newscasters, lost in her deranged world of eternal stardom, Sunset Boulevard was filmed with the technique of film noir. Overall, it is conclusive that Wilder’s picture Sunset Boulevard can accurately be recognized as a piece done in film noir style. With the customary cynical and brute protagonist that is discovered in the character of Joe Gillis, and the infamous presence of an unsuspecting femme fatale in the character of Norma Jean, it is evident that such archetypes belong in that style of film. Furthermore, the storyline which is fraught with dismal themes and gloomy, sinister visual effects make for the ideal film noir-styled motion picture.
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