How does Sunset Boulevard represent the Hollywood Studio System?

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Sunset Boulevard directed by Billy Wilder in 1950 is based on how Norma Desmond, a huge Hollywood star, deals with her fall from fame. The film explores the fantasy world in which Norma is living in and the complex relationship between her and small time writer Joe Gillis, which leads to his death. Sunset Boulevard is seen as lifting the ‘face’ of the Hollywood Studio System to reveal the truth behind the organisation. During the time the film was released in the 1950s and 60s, audiences started to see the demise of Hollywood as cinema going began to decline and the fierce competition of television almost proved too much for the well established system. Throughout this essay I will discuss how Sunset Boulevard represents the Hollywood Studio System, as well as exploring post war literature giving reasons as to why the system began to crumble.

I will begin my essay by looking closely at the narrative of Sunset Boulevard to see where and how the film represents the Hollywood Studio System. At the beginning of the film the audience is introduced to Joe Gillis, a script writer who is struggling to pay his rent as he in unable to sell his scripts to the ‘majors’ of Hollywood. The film follows Joe to ‘Paramount Pictures’ one of the major studios in Hollywood, which the film pays a large self reference to as the producers of Sunset Boulevard as well as representing the studio system.

An example in the film that highlights the demise of the studio system is when Joe pitches a script idea to a producer of Paramount. Joe is quick to say that the film only needs one main character, has many outdoor locations and can be made ‘for under a million dollars’ (Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard, 1950), which highlights the idea of saving money on a s...

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...ons as to why the studio system collapsed and how Hollywood tried to prevent this from happening. The Hollywood we see today is a reformed version of the old studio system, yet is still seen as the most dominant film industry in the world, despite its earlier collapse.

Works Cited
Richard Maltby (1995), Hollywood Cinema

David A. Cook (2004), A History of Narrative Film 4th Edition

David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson (2009), Film History: An Introduction 3rd Edition

Billy Wilder (1950), Sunset Boulevard

Britannia Encyclopedia, ‘Decline of the Hollywood studios’ [Accessed 02.12.09]

Tino Balio (1990), Digital E-Book Hollywood in the age of Television [Accessed 03.12.09]

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