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It's The Pictures That Got Small, Not Sunset Boulevard

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 21, 2012 9:15PM

2012_09_21_sunset_boulevard.jpg There had never been a film quite like Sunset Boulevard when it was released in 1950 and nothing quite like it since. Considering the adjectives that pop up to describe it—"bleak," "caustic," "sardonic" come to mind—that is probably for the best.

Billy Wilder's twisted tale of Hollywood's dark side is a film noir in which the corpse is the narrator, the victim is the American dream and the murder weapon was the callous reality of Show Business itself. Is it a surreal tragedy or a comedy so dark that the laughter sometimes gets stuck in your throat? Sunset Boulevard was both welcome and unexpected when it it was released—the film is today acknowledged as one of the greatest ever.

It's not just William Holden's pitch perfect weariness as the washed up screenwriter or Gloria Swanson's obvious relish in depicting the aging the forgotten starlet of the Silent Era who takes him in. There are delights from the beginning to end: Eric von Stroheim as the butler who turns out to be more than a butler; Swanson's Charlie Chaplin imitation; Buster Keaton showing up among "the waxworks" who play Bridge with Desmond; the final scene where Swanson declares "I'm ready for my closeup." There is something here for everybody.

If you have never seen Sunset Boulevard, then catching it Sunday at the Portage Theater is a great opportunity to treat yourself to a viewing on an appropriately big screen. If you've seen the film before, then the fact that the screening is a fundraiser for the Silent Film Society of Chicago complete with a champagne lunch buffet, music by Charles Cameron's Great Lakes Trio, and backstage and production booth tours of the Portage available mean it's a great opportunity for you to see a film that doesn't ever get old, and then some.

Sunset Boulevard screens at noon on Sunday, September 23 at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.