It is the last day of the year and, rather than doing a roundup of all major and most beautiful stories from 2016, here's a suggestion for you – (re) watch Sunset Boulevard (1950). Yes, a noir film may sound like a bleak suggestion especially after yesterday's colourful and festively joyous images, but this one has a lesson for the new year as well.
Written and directed by Billy Wilder, the film featured William Holden as Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as the reclusive silent screen star Norma Desmond and Erich von Stroheim (Swanson's actual director) as Max von Mayerling, Desmond's devoted servant.
There are also a few amazing cameos in the film, including Cecil B. DeMille as himself shooting Samson and Delilah, plus Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nillson, and H.B. Warneras, as "the waxworks" or Norma's bridge friends.
In the film Norma lives in a fantasy world, hoping to return at some point to the big screen. The hope strengthens when she meets by chance down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe, who becomes her own script doctor.
The star gradually falls in love with Joe, but disaster and madness are around the corner and, at the very end of the film, having lost touch with reality, Norma believes the cameras are there to shoot her own version of Salome.
Norma lives in a gothic villa that from the outside looks as if it were falling into bits and pieces, but inside it is preserved in all its gilded and lavish splendor (a set designed by Hans Dreier). Her legendary mansion doubles up as refuge and worshipping altar to celebrity gone and to the egomania of an obsessive and narcissistic diva.
In the film Swanson is a fascinatingly divine and sad character: her feelings, behavior, delusions and desires are embodied in her luxurious wardrobe designed by Edith Head.
For the occasion the costume designer referenced the 1950s New Look (to show that fashion-wise the star had kept up to date with trends…), accessorizing it with glamorous and tinkling jewels favoured by the screen idol (Swanson provided suggestions for the designer since she had lived and dressed through the years that made Norma famous).
Head cleverly referenced Swanson appearing in DeMille's Male and Female, in which the actress donned a costume made of white feathers (from peacocks' in DeMille's ranch View this photo) by adding a white peacock feather on the hat Norma wears to visit the Paramount Studios.
In the film there is also a very private and luxurious yet ominous New Year's Eve party, marked by Joe's final realization that the diva has fallen in love with him and by Norma's attempted suicide.
There are deeper lessons behind this noir film: Hollywood promised Norma to make her legendary, but forgot about her, letting her cynically drown in her own illusions and mental disorder, so this is mainly a tale about fame. But it can be read also as a suggestion to forget the past, adapt to he present, and look forward to the future, rather than basking in old glories and be swallowed by them (sadly, though projected towards the future, as stated in a previous post, the fashion industry is a bit like Norma Desmond...). You can't erase a year from your life, but make sure you remember the lessons it taught you, then get ready to move on and, rather than letting the cameras linger on the past, let them roll onto the next scene, whatever it may have in store for you.