Rewatched Sunset Boulevard for the 1950's critforum list which I'm planning to particpate in. It still holds up pretty well, but it's still very much in the vein of very well made Hollywood films that are too airtight and ultimately disposable. But Wilder actually wanted that, proclaiming to be a moviemaker as opposed to a cinema maker. He made films for the audience, he loved doing what he did, but he most certainly wanted money and success out of it, but really who doesn't? He made sure his movies were understood, maybe even looking down on the audience sometimes.
His tactics here are interesting tho, particularly in the VO narration. I think it's more complex than what it gives him credit for. For one, it's coming from a dead guy which is already in itself odd. The funny thing about it is that the voiceover describes visuals that are already on screen, which Wilder himself forbid in press interviews. Its benefit tho is that based on the screenplay, it gives the film a clever irony in having Holden as a hack mediocre writer have a strange and utterly original story to actually live through, but Holden never really considers it for career ideas during the film. But I do believe it was also necessary for reasons that are probably not entirely self-conscious of Wilder. Like Bresson, it's not just to expose information, but to provide a sense of rhythm that just doesn't feel right to them. Rather than only concentrating on cutting to provide rhtyhm in its temporal structure, Wilder used voiceover to cover dead space, which in turn helped him become highly economical too. Why try to discreetly dramatize 20 minutes of screentime when 2 or 3 lines of vo narration can get to the point AND provide the desired snappy pace that Hollywood demands? And another thing that I've found the narration provides, based on his great films, is Wilder was a master of tone. There's a very narrow area that Wilder has consistently teetered on between the serious and the witty. I wouldn't call his films black comedies, which kind of evoke more polarizing reactions, but there seems to be a perfect integration of the two sides (most masterfully displayed in The Apartment) that comes across as its own whole and seems more true. The VO keeps the audience less vulnerable. It provides a kind of safe grounding for how odd/silly and sometimes frightening the film actually is. Holden's voice juxtaposed with the stark imagery keeps the Wilder tone at bay, without it, the film would feel oddly theatrical and decentered a bit too much to be taken seriously. The result I think, gives it a kind of Brechtian nature, but because of the content of the film, it falls on a state of equilbirum between audience awareness and immersion.
And of course the performances are great, with Swanson as perhaps one of the greatest in all of Hollywood cinema. She goes through somany emotions in the film, fluctuating between moments of melancholy (attempted suicide, unreciprocated love, anger) and utter glee (chaplin impersonations, blissful ignorance, control of an inferior being and bits of wanting to submit under masculine control). And then Holden, desperate to suffer through shit to keep a paying job in Hollywood, fighting himself to not hurt Swanson throughout the movie (the vo again providing an internal monolgue that we can compare with his actions).
If I had faults of the movie tho, it is entirely dependent on how Wilder treated his films. Because of the tautness of his scripts in translation to the film, even the characters, as extraordinary as they are, become dead after awhile. Hawks on the other hand, worked with his actors, letting them take over, while he observed and worked with them to better themselves, not caring if he had to change the script. That is why no matter how many rewatches, there are always actorly nuances that transcend his characters, where I feel like I'm actually watching people no matter how otherworldly his characters may be drawn. So it's best to watch Wilder films with adequate space in between because I do believe they were meant for quick reactions, but the mastery in its architecture are still there to savor despite its consumable nature. Wilder makes fast food, but he makes some of the best burgers around.