Tag Archives: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Fedora: Billy Wilder’s recurring Hollywood nightmare

William Holden is drawn into the dysfunctional, secluded household of a fading Hollywood star, seduced and horrified by what he finds. In his familar crisp voice-over, he tells a sad story of Hollywood brutality. This beautiful screen siren, her heyday far behind her, has a terrible secret, but despite her advanced age, she remains fascinating, almost irresistible…

No, it’s not Sunset Boulevard, but Billy Wilder’s penultimate movie Fedora, which is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Masters of Cinema on Monday 26 September. Made in 1978, Fedora belongs to a different era than 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. “The kids with beards have taken over,” as Holden’s character laments, referring to those cinematic titans who were once movie brats: Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese. And Fedora is not a silent movie star either. She belongs especially to the 1930s and 1940s, when she made woman’s pictures, a genre that has gone out of date in 1978. But still, her career was suspiciously long.


It’s said that Wilder may have modelled Fedora on Pola Negri – she is Polish, aristocratic and melodramatic, and she was one of the women approached to play Norma Desmond way back then, too. Negri also retired to live quietly with a lady companion, after a couple of brief comebacks in the 1940s and 1960s. But Negri’s latter years were spent in San Antonio, Texas, devoted to Catholicism. Fedora skulks in an island villa in Corfu, and her end is much less pleasant. Wilder refused to pin this character down though. “I have known Garbo, Swanson, Dietrich, Lombard, and Monroe,” he said. “Fedora is a fictitious combination of them all.”In the opening sequence, in fact, Fedora looks like a much earlier screen goddess, Musidora, as she sprints in a fluttering black cloak towards her fate.

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Sunrise and Sunset: Silent London speaks

As regular readers of this blog have probably guessed, I dwell in splendid isolation in a Hollywood mansion. Occasionally I kidnap a passing blogger to help me refine a post or two, but normally the only people I see are my pet leopard and Georg Wilhelm the butler. So it makes a nice change to be leave the house and talk about silent cinema in the presence of the beautiful people of London. I am doing that twice in the near future – so read all about it.

The fabulous Phoenix Cinema in Finchley is hosting a silent cinema festival on the weekend of 15-17th July, which promises to be very special. On the Saturday they are showing Steamboat Bill Jr, in a special kids screening,with Neil Brand, and also Why Be Good? with the wonderful Colleen Moore and a “live flapper performance”. On the Sunday, Ian Christie introduces a selection of archive films of north London with music by John Sweeney, followed by a screening of the cockney silent East is East, with Lillian Henley at the piano and Gerry Turvey introducing. On Friday 15th July, Stephen Horne is accompanying one of the greatest films of all time, the magical Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and I will be on introduction duty. Expect much inarticulate swooning from me, and sumptuous music from Mr Horne.

Read more about the event, and book your tickets here

Sunrise (1927)
Sunrise (1927)

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The Women of Old Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard (1950)

When the tintypes first galloped westward in the 1910s, what was it like to be a woman working in the film industry? A special event at Conway Hall, part of the Looking In Looking Out festival of film and philosophy, hopes to find out. The evening will take a look at the earliest days of Hollywood, the era of Lois Weber, Frances Marion, June Mathis Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand and Clara Bow.

We’ll be asking questions such as: how much did women contribute to the formation of the cinema as we now know it? Were there more opportunities for women in the then-new industry or did broader social ideas about women’s roles hold them back? Do the films that women made during this period represent a specifically female or even feminist point of view? Have women been written out of cinema history? But we’ll also be celebrating the many fantastic achievements by women both well-known and obscure in silent-era Hollywood.

The LILO event will comprise, first, a panel discussion chaired by Bidisha and featuring Kira Cochrane, Jenny Hammerton and Muriel Zagha as well as um, me. This will be followed by a screening of Billy Wilder’s sublime Sunset Boulevard (1950), with its unforgettable lead performance by Gloria Swanson as the embittered silent film star Norma Desmond.

6.30pm Bidisha leads a high-kicking whirl through Hollywood history and a celebration of the brilliant women who co-founded Hollywood, with film experts, critics, Old Hollywood fans and film lovers Jenny HammertonMuriel ZaghaPamela Hutchinson and Kira Cochrane.

8pm Sunset Boulevard (1950) Gloria Swanson’s career-defining performance in Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s Oscar-winning tragic tale of a star in decline. As much a reflection on the idea of Hollywood itself, as it is on love and loss.

So please, come one, come all – this should be fun. The Women of Old Hollywood event takes place at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London on Tuesday 3 July 2012. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets cost £10 and are available here. You can read more on the Conway Hall website, or on Facebook. There’s a Twitter feed too. And if you want more, here’s a very smart feature from the clever chaps at Real|Reel Journal introducing the festival.