Sunset Boulevard (1950) Vs. Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

blogThis week I (unknowingly) watched two stellar performances. One, a certified classic while the other a recent biopic. The more I thought about writing two separate blog entries for both, the more I was convinced that the two movies were a close resemblance to each other, if not entirely.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you would have seen the first movie I’m gonna dive into. Sunset Boulevard; the highly acclaimed film-noir directed by none other than Billy Wilder, the man who gave us classics like Double Indemnity and The Apartment to name a couple amazing ones. The film is about a bothered script writer ‘Joe Gillis and a forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond’s weird relationship and the insaneness that surrounds them and the people around them. Don’t wanna give away the plot, because it is an utter gem that should be experienced by one’s own eyes.

This movie has some very eery moments because of some great cinematography. Black and white LA, star-dust, movie business and the life of an old “long gone” star is depicted beautifully by the director and cinematographer. Gloria Swanson embodies the character so perfectly and those eyes, have so much expression like you’ve never seen before. For me, Eric Von Stroheim stole the limelight. You never know what secrets a man is hiding under his male bravado until he falls in love and is destroyed forever. Stroheim showcased just that, and rightly so. We are made to see the story from Joe Gillis’ POV played by the very talented William Holden. And the fact that it’s a narrative (voice-over) makes it truly a piece of art (for me at least).

The next movie is a 2016 release Florence Foster Jenkins. Based on real life events. The film shows the inspiring true story of the world’s worst singer. A NY heiress Florence, whose dream is to be an opera singer, only she has no idea that she can’t sing.

The  film revolves around Florence (played to the T by Meryl Streep) and her husband St.Clair (Hugh Grant like you’ve never seen him before)  and the struggles he faces in maintaining an illusion of a world that respects and have high praises for his talented wife.

It’s a story about having dreams and letting go of them when harsh realities set in. It’s a movie about love. Hugh Grant quotes Shakespeare in the movie which is what he really practices in his love life;

“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,”

Technically, the movie is dazzling. The 1940s stage setting is brilliant, from the steep outfits to the elegant decor and old-fashioned automobiles that inhabit old-time New York. By the looks of the poster, many thought it would be a feel good comedy of the year.
Stephen Frears has taken a sad, tender story and made it surprisingly  fun and enjoyable without avoiding the melancholy. It has a beautiful message. A must watch!

Now, the real reason why you’re reading this (if you haven’t closed the tab already that is), the comparison I drew from both works. Let’s list them down:

  1. Delusional Star syndrome: Both the stories talk about the slightly delusional stars that still think that the audience wants them back as they’re truly mesmerized by their acts. Gloria Swanson and Meryl Streep play the delusional character so well that at some point, you start feeling sorry for them.
  2. Loving Husbands: We have Erin Von Stroheim and Hugh Grant doing their duty towards their mentally disturbed wives because their love is too strong and because both the husbands have dealt with the bad cards in the entertainment industry themselves and therefore, they personally invest in the talent (or lack there of) of their wives. Knowing that the outside world is mocking them both.
  3. Court Jesters: Ok, I don’t know why I put out this term to describe the external elements of the movies, but I guess this somehow described their characteristics. I’m talking about the outsiders in the movie (apart from the leading man and woman) who develops an interest in the “talented stars” for money. Although, they soon find themselves deeply invested in the talents of the ladies. In Sunset Blvd.  the court jester is William Holden’s character Joe. Who is initially taken up by Norma to be her personal editor (for great deal of money) but later on develops an intimate relationship with her. In Florence Foster Jenkins, the court jester is Simon Helberg’s character Cosme McMoon. Who is paid a lot (by St Clair) to play along with Florence’s fantasy as her Pianist. He too later on develops a great deal of love and admiration for Florence.
  4. Death: Both the movies end up with deaths (I won’t spill the beans about who dies though). This somehow showcases that life is but a stage and all men and women merely players. All the botheration about rights and wrongs are nothing when compared to the ultimate destiny of each one of us. So, we must play along with our  dreams and fantasy if that is what brings us pleasure.

Although, one is a fiction and the other, based on real life events; you cannot help but wonder if Life imitates art or it is the other way around.



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