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Sunday, July 23, 2000

I've been trying to think what I have to say about Sunset Blvd, the movie I saw at the Rialto this afternoon. It's a movie about the movies, full of witty dialogue and memorable scenes and subtle, seamless performances. William Holden: brilliant as both star and wry narrator from beyond the grave. Gloria Swanson: courageous, for playing an aging movie star who can't let go of her fame, at about the same point in her own career. Erich von Stroheim: an icon of the early days of Hollywood, maybe the best director of the silent era, reduced by studio politics and his own difficult personality to occasional acting jobs. Here he plays a former directing giant now working as a butler, a role that's heartbreaking in the kernel of truth portrayed.

The movie was made in 1950, co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, and it turns a dark mirror on the Hollywood myth. It's wickedly comic and achingly real, with everything from a twisted love triangle to a funeral for a chimpanzee, and it must have turned the town on its ear in its day.

And despite its evocation of the silent era and its discarded legends, it doesn't have the dated feel of most movies a half-century old. Maybe that's because there are still filmmakers out there trying to make something this good. Most of them are not in Hollywood, though, and it's miraculous that a film like American Beauty surfaces every so often to resurrect the look and feel and attitude of this classic.

But you don't get to hear lines like these very often.

"I'm still big; it's the movies that got small."

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."

"If you need any help with the coffin, let me know."

So I spent some time this evening wondering what there was to say about Sunset Blvd that hasn't been said. The truth, of course, is that there's nothing, but here I've gone and said it nonetheless. I think it's a great film; maybe that's all I needed to say.

Anyway, I made today special by sitting in the dark for two hours and watching a classic film on the big screen. Mom likes old movies, even if they have a bit of an edge to them, a little noir quality, some melodrama, but she won't go see What Lies Beneath. She wants to be sure it's something that will make her feel good (like The Kid last week) or something familiar, like Sunset Blvd. Anything else I usually end up seeing by myself. It's not quite the same experience, when you don't have someone to talk with about it afterward, which is why I don't go as often as I'd like. I still want to see Hamlet, but this week is booked and Thursday's the last night. I might make it, though.

After the movie we walked next door to Mary's Pizza for a couple their famous pasta dinners. The food was good, as always, even if the service was numbingly slow. You go in and seat yourself, with a nod to the hostess. And then you wait (or we did, anyway) for twenty minutes until they remember you're there and bring you a menu. (Okay, it probably just seemed like twenty minutes. But I nearly got up and walked out, and for someone who hates a scene, that's coming close to crossing a line.)

That's pretty much my day. Special, no? Or, in the words of Jack Arnold, "A day's a day."

Suzanne got home from the lake this afternoon. She called about six, every bit as exhausted as I was - and she's been on vacation for two weeks! It's the first time in several years I haven't made it up there in July, but hopefully there will be a chance later in the summer. I'm glad to have her back, even if she wishes she were still floating on the water.

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