TALKING FILMS

A Billy Wilder double bill kind of Saturday: Revisiting ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘Fedora’

The celebrated American director’s films have twinned themes and a yearning for ‘the way movies used to be’.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) is Billy Wilder’s macabre expose of art imitating life. It opens with dead leaves at the kerb and a corpse floating in a private swimming pool. It fades out on a psychopathic diva reaching for an audience that has long vanished.

Not without discomfort, opportunist-turned-gigolo Joe Gillis sums up the self-reflexive story: “It’s a very simple set up. Older woman who’s well to do, younger man who’s not doing too well. Can you figure it out yourself?”

Scriptwriters Charles Brackett, DM Marshman Jr and Wilder create film noir at its most mind-bending by adding cruelty to eeriness. The reel cast play versions of their real and near- fading selves. Silent film star Gloria Swanson, who had not been seen since 1941, gutsily plays Norma Desmond, a forgotten silent screen star planning her return (she hates the word “comeback”). William Holden, whose broad shoulders hadn’t carried much since The Golden Boy (1939), plays Joe Gillis, an out of work script writer. Film director Erich von Stroheim plays Max von Mayerling, Norma’s one-time director, husband and now butler. Extras on sets are played by real life extras. Cecil B de Mille and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper play themselves. Can a meta movie get greater?

It can and it does.

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Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Norma’s dark lair is 10086 Sunset Boulevard. As Gillis takes his first fateful steps towards it, his voice over sums up a yesteryear Xanadu “stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis, out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion”. Rather like its owner whom “30 million fans had given the brush”.

Drunk on denial, 50-year-old Norma surrounds herself with paintings and photographs of her prime (Gloria Swanson in stills from her early films). She has a projection screen running her pictures every other night. The audience? Just herself and Max and later, Gillis, because Norma is “mad about the boy” and cannot let him out of her sight. Norma travels in a grand Isotta-Fraschini with leopard skin seats. On her finger, she wears a bizarre contraption for a cigarette, around her throat she wears ropes of jewellery and her bed is designed like a gondola.

Art direction (John Meehan and Hans Drier), costume (Edith Head), set design (Sam Comer and Ray Moyer), and music (Franz Waxman) give Sunset Boulevard all that it takes for cinematographer John F Seitz to assemble a furtive chiaroscuro. Shadows form bars of “that peculiar prison” Gillis ultimately allows himself to be trapped in. Giant mirrors reflect a claustrophobic inner world. Also built into the screenplay is a chilling and recurring motif of watching, whether it is Norma gazing through the blinds at Gillis or the voyeuristic audience peering through eye like sockets of lockless doors.

For all this and the performances which are outstanding (Swanson even does a jaw-dropping impersonation of Chaplin), the real draw of Sunset Boulevard is Wilder’s stinging and witty dialogue. “You say the cutest things,” a desperate Gillis tells collectors from the auto finance company just before he gives them the slip. Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) is a script reader who can see when a screenplay is “written from hunger”. After Gillis finishes a swim in her pool, Norma rubs him down with a towel and asks Max about a phone call he has just attended to. Max says it was “someone asking about a stray dog” – probably what he views Gillis to be. And of course, there is Norma herself who imperiously informs us of her eternal presence: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

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Sunset Boulevard (1950).

In Fedora (1978), Wilder’s “tepid imitation” of his earlier masterpiece, independent producer Barry Detweiler (played by an older William Holden) spells out that success in Hollywood is all about “sugar and spice on the outside and cement and stainless steel on the inside”.

Fedora begins in medias res. A melodrama that is part narrated and part stumbled upon by Detweiler himself leads us to Countess Sobryanski (Hildegard Knef), a Machiavellian battleaxe who holds the secret of the glamourous Fedora (Marthe Keller). Now locked up in a villa in Corfu and guarded by German Shepherds both human and canine, Fedora has had all 51 mirrors taken down from the villa walls and drawers have been filled with new, white gloves.

Based on a novella by Thomas Tryon, Fedora relies on the same techniques as Sunset Boulevard – flashbacks, voice-overs and actors (Henry Fonda and Michael York) playing themselves. This time, the yearnings are not for silent cinema of the ’20s but for the films of the ’40s, which earned the world famous Fedora valuable fan mail from Winston Churchill and Jean Paul Sartre, among other luminaries.

The indubitable Janet Maslin describes Fedora as “old-fashioned with a vengeance, a proud, passionate remembrance of the way movies used to be, and a bitter smile at what they have become”.

True as this is, production designer Alexandre Trauner, composer Miklos Rozsa and cinematographer Gary Fisher do not give Fedora the sense of foreboding or the sinister ambiance of its monumental predecessor. Exteriors are often overexposed and contrasts are washed out. There is one unforgettable blue Santa Monica sunrise, however, before we lose sight of eye candy Stephen Collins (the young Detweiler). Vando, (Jose Ferrer), the accidental vandal of the charade, gets some smart lines and Marthe Keller plays her role with panache.

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Fedora (1978).

“You find my body boring?” Fedora asks young Detweiler, point blank after she has done a nude scene on set.

“No,” Detweiler blushes. “I think you have a very nice body.”

“I do not.”

“No?”

“I have a terrific body.”

Fedora has its moments for sure, but 67 years later it is Wilder’s devilishly clever Sunset Boulevard, a film on failures that makes for resounding success. That is what explains Glenn Close as Norma Desmond making a spectacular return after 22 years in the Rice-Lloyd Webber opera of Sunset Boulevard whose lyrics rely heavily on the words of the original screenplay.

“No one ever leaves a star!”

Right you are, Ms Desmond. And we are ready for your next close-up.

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Glenn Close on playing Norma Desmond.
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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

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Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

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The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.