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Wilde and Wilder

Daniel Brown
PMLA
Vol. 119, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 1216-1230
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25486118
Page Count: 15
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Wilde and Wilder
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Abstract

The use of Oscar Wilde's Salome as the ground for the silent-screen star Norma Desmond's film script and character is central to Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard but oddly neglected by the film's critics. This essay reads the film through its engagement with Salome, discussing its adoption from the play of a self-consciousness about the conditions of its art, which extend beyond the film's production to cultural history and film aesthetics. Norma asserts the image and ideology of the Hollywood star through her identification with the aestheticist figure of Salome, while Joe Gillis not only writes film scripts but, with his peers Betty Schaefer and Artie Green, also foregrounds narrative conventions in his efforts to organize and control his own life and experience in the film. Through its main characters, Sunset Boulevard presents an allegory of Hollywood cinema in which the complementary filmic principles of image and narrative culminate respectively in madness and death.

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