Billy Wilderís SUNSET BOULEVARD ($25) is the legendary director's cynical, tragic masterpiece about Hollywood and the darker, slightly decayed side of this glamorous world. SUNSET BOULEVARD tells the story of faded Hollywood icon Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), from the point of view of an out of work writer named Joe Gillis (William Holden), who crosses paths with the silent film actress and finds himself drawn into her world. As Norma Desmond, Swanson gives the performance of her career, and as such, has become one of the greatest cinematic icons of all time. Actually, Swanson was perfectly suited to the role of Norma Desmond, having be a silent film star herself and a genuine silver screen beauty. The beauty of Swanson's youth remains quite apparent throughout the course of SUNSET BOULEVARD, but it is the fading quality of her looks that greatly enhances the tragic nature of her character, especially when Desmond embarks on an ill-fated attempt at a "return" to the screen.
William Holden brings a great sense of irony to the tragic events as they unfold. As Holdenís character, Joe Gillis, becomes ever more entangled in Norma Desmondís somewhat delusional existence, one canít help but chuckle at Joe's reactions to some of the more unusual events, especially when one takes into consideration Joe's unwillingness to leave the life of a kept man after the 50ish actress falls in love with him. Of course, the most bizarre character in this menagerie has to be Norma Desmondís fiercely loyal Butler Max (Erich von Stroheim), who does everything within his power to protect his employer from the realties of the world and a Hollywood that has passed her by. Von Stroheim, a silent film director of legendary and tragic stature, gives a riveting portrayal a man whose intense devotion to the actress borders upon obsession. The cast of SUNSET BOULEVARD also includes Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Jack Webb, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner, Ray Evans and Jay Livingston.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made SUNSET BOULEVARD available on DVD in an absolutely stunning black and white transfer that frames the film in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. Previous to this release, SUNSET BOULEVARD has never looked particularly good on home video. The film elements used for previous releases were never up to snuff, which did a complete disservice to this cinematic classic. For this release, SUNSET BOULEVARD has been "meticulously restored frame by frame" and the DVD looks every bit as good as one might expect from such a declaration.
Utilizing the services of Lowry Digital Images, the same company responsible for restoring NORTH BY NORTHWEST and CITIZEN KANE, Paramount has produced a virtually perfect, blemish free presentation of SUNSET BOULEVARD on DVD. The immaculate image is quite sharp and beautifully defined. Blacks are perfectly inky, while the whites appear crisp and clean. Contrast is generally excellent and the grayscale is very, very good. Digital compression artifacts were seldom to be seen on this smartly authored DVD. Perhaps the only flaws in this gorgeous looking presentation were the occasional, brief shimmering of a background and a couple of the darker scenes, which seemed to lack fine detail. Overall, Paramount has done an dazzling job with SUNSET BOULEVARD and deserves a standing ovation from each and every movie buff out there.
SUNSET BOULEVARD is presented on DVD with a very nice sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. All traces of pops, clicks and crackle have been cleaned off the track, leaving it very clean and crisp sounding. Applying amplification to the track doesnít introduce any noticeable distortions, although a very faint bit of background hiss will become appreciable at higher levels. Considering the age of the recordings, it comes as no surprise that the track offers limited fidelity; however, Franz Waxmanís haunting score still manages to sound quite good. Dialogue is always fully intelligible and the actorsí voices maintain a good sense of character. A French language track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís highly attractive interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a very nice supplemental section. Starting things off is a running audio commentary by Ed Sikov, the author of On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder. As one might expect from his credentials, Sikov is an expert on this particular movie and his commentary provides significant detail on the film and its director, however, causal listeners may find the track to be a bit too scholarly and analytical.
The Making of Sunset Boulevard is an absolutely terrific twenty-five minute program that traces the filmís production and offers interviews that include surviving cast member Nancy Olson, film critic Andrew Sarris and author Ed Sikov (again). The Music of Sunset Boulevard is a fourteen-minute program that offers a look at the work and career of composer Franz Waxman. Edith Head - The Paramount Years is a thirteen-minute look at the career at the most famous costume designer of Hollywoodís golden age. Also included on the DVD is a very cool interactive map of Hollywood and Paramount studios, as well as a terrific still gallery, script pages from the movie cut prologue sequence and a theatrical trailer.
Without a doubt, Billy Wilderís SUNSET BOULEVARD is a true cinematic masterpiece. Movie buffs have waited a long time for the movieís arrival on DVD, and their patience has been rewarded with a spectacular, fully restored presentation of this classic. The folks at Paramount deserve all the accolades that can be heaped upon them for their efforts in bringing SUNSET BOULEVARD back to its full luster. Combining the superb presentation with the excellent supplemental materials makes SUNSET BOULEVARD a must have DVD for any movie collection. Absolutely recommended.
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