We had faces then : Sunset Boulevard and the Spectral
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 authored by Grayson CookeGrayson Cooke
Sunset Boulevard (1950), a product of the Billy Wilder / Charles Brackett writing team that also produced Double Indemnity (1944) and The Lost Weekend (1945), is one of the enduring classics of mid-20th century Hollywood cinema. It is a film about film, a Hollywood film about Hollywood, packed with an ironic self-referentiality that never falls into postmodern ennui, but remains firmly within a dry yet theatrical noir tradition. Most importantly, it is a film about the female star and the most valuable ‘asset’ of the female star, her face. As such, the film presents us with a scenario in which to examine the mechanisms of stardom, and highlights the importance of youth and beauty to the star system, with the face of the star at the centre of the system. Further, in its depiction of a silent-movie star enmeshed in the memory of her own cinematic image, Sunset Boulevard invokes what we will call a “cinematic apparatus of the face”, an apparatus that dictates the experience of possessing, or being possessed by, a face.