THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILER MATERIAL ABOUT THE MOTION PICTURE SUNSET BOULEVARD. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN SUNSET BOULEVARD, BUT PLAN TO DO SO, THIS IS NOT THE PIECE FOR YOU. THE MOVIE IS SIXTY YEARS OLD, FOR GOD’S SAKE. IT’S A CLASSIC. WHY HAVEN’T YOU SEEN IT? IT’S YOUR FAULT I HAVE TO WRITE THIS DUMB SPOILER ALERT. YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY THE TYPE OF PERSON WHO SPENDS ALL OF HIS OR HER TIME PAINTING TINY CERAMIC UNICORNS.
Let’s start the day with a song. (It is indeed the start of my day here in the vast frozen wasteland AKA The Farm. I know it’s a vast frozen wasteland out there because Bob Johnson’s water bowl must be de-iced, which involves bringing it in from the front porch to the kitchen sink and running hot water over it until the solid hemisphere of ice slides into the sink with a satisfying clunk.)
The song popped into my head when I looked in the refrigerator a few minutes ago and saw a plate with last night’s leftover carrots on it. For some reason I saved this untouched serving of cooked carrot slices. Here are the lyrics to my new song about carrots. The song is called “Carrots.”
Who likes carrots?
Few like carrots
Do you know a dog who likes to eat carrots?
“Carrots” is a much better song if you imagine the accompaniment of a good-sized, fairly accomplished marching band. I put “dog” in there at the end because I was singing to Bob Johnson. (New readers: Bob Johnson is a Lab mutt. This is a parenthetical aside. I am fond of Bob Johnson, parenthetical asides, my conscientious and hardworking colleagues at BBL&L, Smartfood Popcorn, Sigourney Weaver, Ernest Borgnine and SweeTARTS.)
As far as Bob Johnson is concerned, I’m the greatest lyricist in the world. He thinks I’m Jay-Z, Bob Dylan and Stephen Sondheim rolled into one big puppy-pleasing package.
When I start singing, he sits at attention, his large yellow head tilted to one side in astonishment. I’m that good. Bob Johnson listens to me sing in much the same way I would listen to Sigourney Weaver read columns of random seven-digit numbers.
Because I don’t have any other scientific experiments to carry out today, I microwave the plate of leftover carrots for two minutes and then put them in Bob Johnson’s food dish.
Who likes carrots? Bob Johnson, that’s who!
You know it’s going to be good day when art and science combine in such an efficient manner. (“It’s a song. It’s a science experiment. It’s a song and a science experiment!”)
It’s good I’m finally accomplishing a few things, because it is, after all, December. Another year in the bag. I guess the trick is to accomplish just the right amount of stuff on a weekly basis, and not try to take over someone else’s country. (If you are contemplating an invasion of another country, please keep in mind it usually ends badly for all parties concerned.)
This week I also picked out the photo for my Christmas e-card. It’s from Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. If I’m channel surfing, Sunset Boulevard (1950) is one of those movies I absolutely have to stop and watch. I’ve watched it so many times I can almost go word for word with the terrific cast, which includes Nancy Olson (Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress), Jack Webb (the future star of TV’s Dragnet in a winning turn as a happy-go-lucky assistant director) and famed director Erich von Stroheim. Gloria Swanson and William Holden are both mesmerizing in their lead roles, of course, but, for me, Stroheim’s Max is the real jewel in Sunset Boulevard. What a performance!
Last night, while watching Sunset Boulevard for the 98th time, I actually had some stunning new insights. First, Norma Desmond (Swanson) was great with a pistol. At the end of the movie, she shoots Joe Gillis (Holden) three times. That’s three shots and three direct hits on a moving target, at distances up to thirty yards!
If I were going to remake Sunset Boulevard, I’d have her miss at least once. But I’m not going to remake Sunset Boulevard, and neither should you, because some things are fine just the way they are, even if the ballistics don’t add up.
The end of the movie, which bookends the opening scene, jolted me with a spectacular new theory about Sunset Boulevard. (Someone else has probably come up with this before, but don’t tell me if they have. Let me be the happy genius of my household for once, already.)
Okay, this is my theory. Well, this is what it is – my theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, is mine … (Bonus points for Python drop.)
Nobody dies in Sunset Boulevard. That’s my theory. Because, in the world of the film, Sunset Boulevard is only a movie. It’s the movie somebody makes from the screenplay Joe Gillis writes when he gives up on Hollywood and returns to his crummy newspaper job in Dayton, Ohio.
As evidence, I give you Joe’s monologues in the aforementioned scenes. He’s dead, right? So how can he be talking to us? This is either a lame movie trope (in an otherwise razor-sharp story) or a sly tip-off that, far from being face-down and full of holes in Norma’s swimming pool, Joe is pecking away at his Underwood typewriter back in Dayton, sticking it to Hollywood, slathering melodrama and cynicism across the page with a bitter trowel. This is exactly what his character would do. (By the way, if you are the person who borrowed my bitter trowel without first asking permission, please return it immediately.)
I tried out my new theory on Bob Johnson, who listened semi-attentively and then went outside and destroyed a plastic bowl, turned over a garbage can and barked at the moon for five hours.
Sunset Boulevard is rightfully heralded as one of the best – and most acidic – screen commentaries on Hollywood mores. It’s a sterling piece of film noir. But if I’m right?
It’s also The Hack’s Revenge.
John Hicks is taking next week off from his contributor duties to drive aimlessly around the Deep South. He will return Dec. 24 with The Bob Johnson Christmas Special.