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Customer Review

on December 3, 2002
Billy Wilder is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers and SUNSET BOULEVARD is one of my all-time favorite films. As soon as I discovered it would be on DVD, I jumped at the opportunity and am so glad I did.
The image quality on this DVD is first-rate. The DVD case indicates that the film is presented in "full screen" format, which is somewhat misleading. It gives the false impression that the film has been "formatted" to fit a standard television. While the image does fit the screen without black bars on the top and bottom, the original aspect ratio of the film has been preserved. That is because it is not a "wide screen" film. Like most films of the period it was shot in standard 1.33:1 (or 4:3), which is the same aspect ratio as a standard television set, so cinema purists need not be alarmed. In other words, there is no annoying "pan and scan" of the image or parts of the frame cropped off to fill the television screen.
For those unfamiliar with the film, it is a scathing portrait of Hollywood and how it discards people when it is decided that they are no longer "useful." The casting of the film is inspired. It was if the parts were written for them. Gloria Swanson was indeed a faded silent film star, who had all but disappeared from the movies (although she was still active in the entertainment business). William Holden, while not a down-and-out screenwriter as depicted in the film, was a once promising young actor whose career was stagnating. Erich von Stroheim did in fact work in Hollywood as a director. Put this in the "art imitates life category": an excerpt of QUEEN KELLY, von Stroheim's ill-fated film starring Gloria Swanson appears in one scene. The cast also includes filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille as himself (who also worked with Swanson during the silent era) as well as several stars from the silent film era (e.g., Buster Keaton) in small roles.
From it's bold introduction to its classic ending, SUNSET BOULEVARD is a well-crafted masterpiece. One will be hard pressed to find a dramatic misstep in this film. The structure is classic and the execution is flawless.
As part of the DVD's release, several extras are included. Some are standard like the inclusion of the film's theatrical trailer, English subtitles and a French language track (the guy doing Max actually sounds like von Stroheim -- perhaps it was). Other features add up to make this a must buy for fans of the film. One is a map of actual locations used in the film. For example, the exterior of Norma Desmond's home was not actually located on the 10000 block of Sunset Boulevard as depicted in the film. Actually, it was located on Wilshire Boulevard near the corner of Irving Blvd. (one block east of Crenshaw Blvd.). For people who don't know anything about Los Angeles this is about six miles away.
Ed Sikov's scene-by-scene commentary on the film is very good if not excellent. In it he provides many insights into the making of the film for those unfamiliar with that aspect. His presentation is generally well-organized and carefully thought out, if a bit dry.
One added feature that I really appreciated are two script versions of the original opening sequence of the film. When the film was first previewed for an audience, they reacted unexpectedly, prompting the filmmakers to change the beginning. Also included are silent images of the deleted footage from that sequence. The images are silent because some of the original sound was lost. For those curious about the deleted scenes, they should get a real kick out of reading the script. In Ed Sikov's audio commentary, he reads the dialog over the scene that replaced it.
The documentary on the making of the film while not as in-depth is perhaps more interesting. For one reason it includes an interview with Nancy Olson, who presumably is the only principal involved with the film that is still alive. Billy Wilder who of course, wrote and directed the film, died last March at the age of 95. One could only imagine what he would have said about the film over fifty years after its initial release. Needless to say, there are no archival interviews with any of the principals involved with the making of the film. Perhaps this was due to licensing issues, but would have certainly enhanced this DVD release. The closest the DVD comes to utilizing archive footage as it relates to the film, is the inclusion of a fine documentary on Edith Head, the costume designer who worked on numerous Billy Wilder films including SUNSET BOULEVARD. However, in the end, while one appreciates the "extras" in the film, it is ultimately the film itself that should be the primary motivation for buying this or any DVD.
Overall, this DVD is a good value for the money. You get an excellent transfer of the film with enough added features to warrant buying on DVD. A fan of the film or not, this DVD is definitely worth serious consideration.
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