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Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream Paperback – February 4, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Staggs serves up another round of popcorn in this highly enjoyable follow-up to All About "All About Eve," plumbing the depths of the noir homage to the silent era, Sunset Boulevard. The book traces the film's history from the studio pairing of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett as screenwriters to the Academy Award disappointments to the film's rebirth as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the 1990s. Staggs's research is impressive: in addition to traditional print sources, he tapped unexpected sources, such as the film's previously uninterviewed supporting actress Nancy Olson, and explored nifty locales, like Norma Desmond's would-be neighborhood. The intrepid reporting results in little-known film facts: how co-art director John Meehan conceived and set up the face-down water shot of the dead Joe Gillis (William Holden) and why then-megastar Montgomery Clift did not want to play opposite older female character Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Also entertaining are Staggs's descriptions of the many behind-the-scenes cat fights. Some of Staggs's film analysis such as his take on the "crowd-pleasing kitsch" sound movies of Cecil B. DeMille is standard, but his opinions on the Wilder-Brackett and Wilder-I.A.L. Diamond pairings are sharp and original. There are also plenty of edifying sidebars on topics such as the history of Norma Desmond's exotic car (the Isotta-Fraschini), changes made to the script and "Smiling Franklyn Farnum," the silent western star who plays Norma Desmond's pet undertaker. Staggs has succeeded in presenting another remarkable film study. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

From the author of All About All About Eve comes another intense look at a film classic. Written in a campy, opinionated style, this is everything you ever wanted to know about Sunset Boulevard and some things you might not. It includes a history of the Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett screenwriting partnership, actual Hollywood locations where the film was shot, intimate details about the stars, and even a history of Gloria Swanson's Isotta Fraschini, the ultimate star car. Nothing about this film seems to have escaped the author. He even can't resist pitting the actresses who played Norma Desmond in the musical version against each other to determine who was the ultimate "Singing Norma." This is no doubt a fun read, and Staggs knows his material; it is just difficult to believe that many patrons out there have the same passion for this film that he does. For comprehensive film collections. Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312302541
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312302542
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,227,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Stagg is a very good writer with a very worthy subject. The research is meticulous and the information he presents on the film and the people who made it make this book a winner- just like his companion study of "All About Eve". Some of the complaints here, though, are the same as with that very worthy book. Stagg gives at least equal weight to the film's afterlife, particularly the lightly-regarded Broadway version, as to the mega-classic 1950 Wilder film. And once again, the tiresome emphasis on certain obsessions- camp, divas, catfights, and cross-dressing- not that there's anything wrong with that- do tend to distract from the work as straightforward film history, at least for those of us less titillated by those aspects of the film's following. And finally, Staggs attacks Billy Wilder- the greatest filmmaker of all, in my opinion- with a preposterous theory that Wilder's work after ending his collaboration with Charles Brackett (including "Stalag 17", "Sabrina", "Witness For the Prosecution", "Some Like It Hot", and "The Apartment") doesn't hold up!
What makes this book a must-own anyway is the great information about the film itself- the art-directors, musicians, actors and actresses, designers, and shooting locations, as well as the behind-the-scenes look at Paramount in its heyday. The interview with Nancy Olson is a particular highlight. And if you're into camp, divas, and catfights, change that rating to five stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Sunset Blvd is my favorite movie, and I came away from the book terribly disappointed. Despite having access to Nancy Olsen and (the author claims, although I saw no evidence of it) Billy Wilder, as well as many others who knew those involved in the movie, there are few or no details about the making of the movie that haven't been revealed elsewhere, particularly in Ed Sikov's excellent Wilder biography. And a lot is omitted -- for example, though Staggs mentions Gloria Swanson's youthful appearance (as well as a pointless & tactless rumor about it), he doesn't mention why she looked so young -- because Swanson avoided going out into the sun.
The structure of the novel is likewise confused. The first part bounces back and forth between analysis of the movie and the making of it. The analysis is thin and uninteresting. Of the many questions that a serious discussion of the movie would include, one of the few that is asked is: why does Joe Gillis push away Betty at the end? Staggs' answer: because of the production code. Please. The last part of the book is dominated by an extended, boring discussion of the musical made from the movie.
There's a theme to the book, and it isn't subtle: that Wilder's best work needed Charles Brackett. This leads to some strange passages. Staggs has some faint praise for Some Like It Hot but his criticism of Stalag 17 is bizarre (a "misbegotten" mix of comedy and drama?), to say the least, and the comments on The Apartment are worse. Staggs calls The Apartment "dated" (wrong, of course) then goes on to gush about what is possibly the most dated of Wilder's movies, The Lost Weekend.
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Format: Hardcover
I haven't had this much fun reading a movie book since Sam Staggs' last book, All About All About Eve. That was one of the best books I ever read about Hollywood, and I've read just about all of them. This one is on the same level. Yes, Staggs puts in everything but the kitchen sink, but it's all enjoyable, so I didn't mind--the more juicy tidbits the better, as far as I'm concerned. And to think that Gloria Swanson's final years, as Staggs relates in one of the final chapters, was spent with a much younger man in much the same way as Norma Desmond--what delicious, and sad, irony. Anyway,it's full of fascinating characters and great scenes, just like a great movie. Loved it.
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Format: Hardcover
is a famous line from the darkly camp classic, Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard". Sam Staggs book manages to recreate the story behind the film, not only the making of it, but the world which existed during the making of it. Hollywood itself is a major player in "Sunset", that artificial and arrogant place, dasher of dreams, and fame beholder.
In Stagg's first book, "All About All About Eve", the author seemed to dwell too much on minutia and ponitless facts (his fascination with Zsa Zsa Gabor's hair color still resonates with me), but now he seems to have learned his lesson. Close Up is rich with information, and moves along at a brisk pace, chapters closing, leaving with you the feeling of wanting more. He recounts the making of the film in a somewhat linear fashion, moving along topics as they seemingly come up.
You learn about the great Gloria Swanson's involvement with the film, and the role she played in shaping the great Norma herself. Cecil B. DeMille comes across as a great, crusty old man. Nancy Olson, one of the surviving actors, brings her personal stories and charm to the book.
Stagg's sense of humor was enjoyable throughout the book. A couple of times, I found myself laughing outloud at some of his comments. While I agree with a reviewer's claim that he does inject himself into the book, it didn't bother me. It's a story of Sunset Blvd. but also a story about how he came to find out all the information; both are interesting.
In the end, I had trouble putting down this book. Staggs learned much from his thick opus "All About Eve", thank goodness for bringing this classic movie back to life.
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