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8.18.03 Sunset Boulevard

Sunday night we watched Sunset Boulevard: once-great movie star Norma Desmond seduces the starving screenwriter Joe Gillis. His life is cramped and thwarted, but he sure does drive a nice car. He tries some real writing again in an exciting partnership -- a secret -- but Norma finds out and shoots him in the back.

It's a movie about classic Hollywood and possibly an allegory about what the classic big Hollywood studios did to ambitious young talent.

Wasn't there a time when writing for Hollywood was considered "selling out"? Then maybe it was writing for television. Does anyone worry about "selling out" anymore? We seem to have just emerged from an era when working for a booming large conglomerate was the smart thing to do. Having a start-up that gets bought out by a conglomerate was the new American dream.

One of the commentators said Sunset Boulevard was about the consequences of opportunism. It doesn't take much imagination to play that out in today's world. I am seeing it every day now -- bright ambitious people terrified of biting the clawed hand that feeds them. It's a twisted game. The Joe Gillises think they are "building relationships" and "laying the groundwork" for the big sell. If Joe sleeps with Norma just a few more times, maybe he can convince Norma to see the world his way -- maybe she'll underwrite one or more of his visionary projects. Ha. Norma may be grotesque -- a self-parody -- but she is still a rock-solid citizen of her own universe. She still brims with her own vitality. And she still has all the money.

There are a few departments in New York State that might adopt Norma Desmond as their patron saint. And a few human service agencies that might do well to meditate on the fate of Joe Gillis.

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