Yes, Norma Is That Crazy Sunset Boulevard constantly and persistently advances the theme that Hollywood creates movie stars that become engrossed with their own fame and then abandons them, leaving behind only their outlandish and outdated fantasies. The case of Norma Desmond is no different. Her out-of-touch relationship with reality is given form through her desire to make her “greatest picture yet. ” The segment of Sunset Boulevard that will be analyzed in this essay is significant because, through the use and interplay of cinematography, editing, elements of Mise-en-Scene, and the dialogue, Norma’s delusions are highlighted and magnified.
The first few moments of part one of the segment use specific elements of Mise-en-Scene and the dialogue to begin the reinforcement of Norma’s delusions. As her lavish and fanciful car pulls up to the studio door, Norma asks Joe if he would like to accompany her into the studio to meet with Cecil B. DeMille, but Joe refuses. Joe is dressed fairly normally whereas Norma is wearing a fancy coat and hat to match her equally fancy car. This use of the costumes and makeup suggest that Norma is somehow out of place or out of time because her clothes do not match the occasion.
When Joe declines to join Norma in the studio, he explicitly states, “It’s your script, it’s your show. ” This part of the dialogue seems to suggest a separation between Norma and Joe. Norma is excited to meet with DeMille and discuss her movie whereas Joe is content to wait outside with Max and the car – Norma is alone. The next few moments of part one also contain some key lines of dialogue that seem to emphasize the anachronism of Norma Desmond and her fantasies. As she is hugged and greeted by DeMille, she recalls the last time the two had been together.
When Norma asks if he has read her script, DeMille waits for her to break eye contact before looking down and admitting in a rather exasperated and annoyed tone, “Yes, I did. ” DeMille’s facial expression as he says this is key to understanding the distance between him and Norma. He is somewhere between anger, impatience, and confusion, whereas Norma is looking off-screen, seeming quite pleased with herself. DeMille leaves Norma in his director’s chair as he tells one of his assistants to get him on the phone with Gordon Cole, whose calls lead to Norma’s arrival at the studio.
The difference between DeMille’s and Norma’s facial expressions and tone reinforce the idea that Norma is living in a fantasy and is separated from reality. The next section of part one uses costumes, lighting, and specific shot angles to reinforce Norma’s delusions about her current importance. A high angle shot of Norma in DeMille’s director’s chair is combined with the use of a spotlight to further Norma’s fantasies about her current importance. When the lighting man puts the spotlight on Norma and exclaims that it’s Norma Desmond for everyone in the studio to hear, the people in the studio surround Norma.
Most are dressed for the picture that is being made by DeMille, but there are also a few policemen and normal people as well. The crowd around Norma that is showering her with affection is almost entirely comprised of people in strange clothes. This would seem to suggest that Norma’s sense of self-importance isn’t based in reality. Rather, it is a product of the fantasy world she lives in. In the final moments of part one, non-diegetic music is combined with the dialogue to show that Norma has no idea why she was being called by Gordon Cole.
While DeMille is on the telephone with Cole, non-diegetic music is used to heighten the tension and suggest that a revelation is about to be made about the true purpose of the calls to Norma. When Gordon reveals that he was only interested in renting Norma’s luxurious car for a picture that is being made, a sudden burst of non-diegetic music is inserted. This music accentuates the difference between Norma Desmond’s reality and actual reality. DeMille pops the fantasy bubble Norma is in by breaking up the crowd of her fans around her and getting the spotlight taken off her.
Norma’s fantasy is contrasted with DeMille’s reality when he tries to explain the mix up. She begins weeping out of gratitude for her fans whereas DeMille is trying to let her down as easily as possible. He highlights how detached Norma is when he says that pictures have changed quite a bit since she had been a star. The first half of part two uses cinematography to contrast the Norma’s past and the present. As Max tells Joe about Norma’s old dressing rooms, the camera remains on the car. Joe doesn’t look up at the offices. He doesn’t even seem all that interested in Max’s story.
Only when Joe notices Betty does the shot cut away from the car. Max is still talking but Joe is much more interested in Betty. This use of shot control seems to suggest that Norma and Max’s past is irrelevant to Joe – all he cares about is Betty. The second half of part two uses dialogue to reveal to Max the true nature of the Paramount visit, which shows just how deluded Norma is. Two studio workers walk up to the car as Max is waiting for Joe and Norma to return and ask if they can take a look at the “funny old car Gordon Cole was talking about. ” Max defensively asks what is so funny about the car.
He cannot seem to notice how very out-of-place and out-of-time the car is, just as Norma is. The first section of part three uses lighting to contrast with part one. In part one, the inside of the studio is very dark, whereas part three is lighted very well. Betty’s office is well-lit through the open windows and doors, which seems to suggest an air of new life and positivity. DeMille’s studio is quite dark while Norma is present. This contrast seems to highlight the difference between reality and fantasy. Joe and Betty are living in reality – their lives are healthy and growing towards the future, hereas Norma is still living in her past fantasy. Throughout part three, the cinematography and editing, the choice between reality with Betty and fantasy with Norma for Joe is highlighted. Whenever there is a significant portion of Betty’s window visible in the shot, Norma’s car is also visible through the window. As Betty and Joe discuss how to fix up Betty’s script, we can still see the studio workers walking around the car, examining it. Part three also makes significant use of diegetic sound and dialogue to contrast fantasy with reality.
As Betty asks Joe to meet with her to work on the script, a car horn begins to honk, calling Joe back to Norma’s fantasy world. Joe takes heed and tries to wrap up the meeting with Betty as soon as possible. Betty, however, is quite insistent and pesters Joe to meet with her. The longer she keeps Joe waiting, the longer and louder the car horn honking becomes. This seems to suggest that Norma’s fantasy world is calling Joe back, keeping him from fully engaging with the present reality. Part four mostly uses non-diegetic sound and music to finish the contrast between reality and Norma’s fantasy.
After Max explains to Joe the true reason for the Paramount calls, the camera immediately cuts to Norma and DeMille exiting the studio through the same door they entered earlier in the segment. As Norma insists she isn’t worried about anything and DeMille tries to ship her off without indicating his knowledge of the situation, dark and mysterious music plays. Everyone knows except Norma – not that she cares. Norma is stuck in her fantasy world, convinced that it will become reality. She never picks up on the subtle clues that DeMille gives throughout their interaction that he has no intention of making a movie with her again.
Sunset Boulevard’s theme that Hollywood creates movie stars that become engrossed with their own fame and then abandons them, leaving behind only their outlandish and outdated fantasies, is excellently exemplified through Norma Desmond. Her out-of-touch relationship with reality is given form through her desire to make her “greatest picture yet. ” This segment of Sunset Boulevard is significant because, through the use and interplay of cinematography, editing, elements of Mise-en-Scene, and the dialogue, Norma’s delusions are highlighted and magnified.