CLOSE UP ON SUNSET BOULEVARD by Sam Staggs

CLOSE UP ON SUNSET BOULEVARD

KIRKUS REVIEW

Staggs follows up All About All About Eve (2000) with a similar, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production history of Eve’s frequent companion on revival-house double bills: Sunset Boulevard.

The sink would probably have been in there too if we’d ever caught a glimpse of a kitchen in Billy Wilder’s famously mordant portrait of Old Hollywood meeting and murdering New. Staggs retains his annoying habit of including vast swaths of dubiously relevant material, from three paragraphs on why opera has no true divas anymore (inspired by a list of the Broadway divas who played Norma Desmond in the musical version) to three pages on My Fair Lady (Sunset Boulevard ingénue Nancy Olson was married to lyricist Alan Jay Lerner). Presumably enough movie trivia nuts enjoyed this approach the first time around for Staggs to get a new contract and publish a second title with no attempt made to rein in his excesses. The author’s catty tone is amusing, and he gets in all the famous stories about this poisoned love letter to the movies, from Wilder’s instruction to the art director, “Just make it an everyday funeral for the average Hollywood monkey,” to enraged mogul Louis B. Mayer telling the director after the screening, “You should be kicked out of this country, tarred and feathered.” The author displays proper respect for Gloria Swanson’s ferocious incarnation of silent screen queen Norma Desmond and William Holden’s subtle one of cynical but not heartless screenwriter Joe Gillis; he conveys the virtues of Wilder’s script with longtime collaborator Charles Brackett; he give a sense of the shock the movie gave 1950 audiences, separated from silent films and their stars by only as many years as today’s public is from The Godfather. But it’s all so excessive and obsessive—which is probably the point.

Die-hard camp followers will clap furiously; everyone else will be squirming in their seats. (16 pp. b&w photos)

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-27453-X
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2002




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