Friday, March 30, 2012

Sunset Boulevard and Snow White

 With so many discussion of Snow White the tale, Snow White adaptations and retellings and Snow White on film, I thought it was a good time to post briefly on the connection I see with academy award winning film Sunset Boulevard.

It was Willa: An American Snow White that made me click to the connection. Being set in the theater with a beautiful but aging star in the role of the queen and an up and coming talented actress as Snow White (Willa) it wasn't too much of a jump to take the comparison to the movie business.

Since the connection occurred to me I can no longer see the classic Sunset Blvd without thinking of it as "the tale of the unfortunate huntsman-prince". If you keep Snow White in mind as you watch Sunset it's not too much of a stretch to consider it a Hollywood noir version of the Wicked Queen's story, as told through the eyes of the huntsman/prince (who becomes collateral damage). Although Gloria Swanson doesn't play a parent, she is a film role-model (both on-screen and off) for the wanna-be stars of the next generation and is as removed from, and aloof toward them as any self-involved queen could be.

Just as Snow White seems to be a definitive film in cinema history due to it's strong motifs/imagery and dark vs light character and story elements, so too, Sunset Boulevard can claim the same. It seems we continually return to this type of tale to define key times of both success and a (usually tragic) "changing of the guard", when one era and generation give way to the next.

The quote below further strengthens the connection to the darker, more unapologetic variants of Snow White for me:
Film writer Richard Corliss describes Sunset Boulevard as "the definitive Hollywood horror movie," noting that almost everything in the script is "ghoulish." He remarks that the story is narrated by a dead man whom Norma Desmond first mistakes for an undertaker, while most of the film takes place "in an old, dark house that only opens its doors to the living dead." He compares Von Stroheim's character Max with Erik of The Phantom of the Opera, and Norma Desmond with Dracula, noting that, as she seduces Joe Gillis, the camera tactfully withdraws with "the traditional directorial attitude taken towards Dracula's jugular seductions." (source)
Now Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass Apples, which doesn't change too many of the key elements of the tale at all despite the use of "the living dead" and other vampiric elements, seems even more natural of a retelling, doesn't it?

Ironically, this tragic character who's inevitable downfall we watch and can sympathize with, is probably more true to the tale than most happily-ever-after versions, since it gives an indication of the fall-out that can occur when a queen loses her throne. While the prince character has no chance of happiness with the rising star he's fallen in love with, like the fairy tale, we do see the beginning of the queen's dance in red hot iron shoes at the close of the film. Her delusions continue to a mental cracking of her inner mirror so reality and fantasy are no longer separated. All this is revealed, as is her crime, under the hot, hot spotlight of a ravenous news crew and police escort. She both gives herself up to her deserved fate and gives herself over to her consuming madness in her final famous line: "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." 

In true Hollywood style, she ensures her image is the one that will never be forgotten. Snow White - and every other hopeful - don't stand a chance.

I could make further parallels but it's probably best, considering the iconic nature of the film, to let you find your own unique connections to Snow White. I bet you'll find more than a few. Take a look at the plot HERE with this in mind. You'll see what I mean.
This poster, which everyone says captures the spirit of Norma Desmond and the driving force behind the story, reminds me of Medusa - another tale about being trapped by beauty and the power in reflection.

1 comment:

  1. Love this movies glamorized beauty of the 1950 and the acting of a very talented lady. Ms Gloria Swanson.