Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Happy Ending?

In some ways, life imitated art for Gloria Swanson after her award-winning role in Sunset Boulevard. In the 1950 film, Swanson plays Norma Desmond, an aging silent film star facing her own descent into obscurity. Gloria Swanson, like Norma Desmond, was also a celebrated silent film actress who had difficulty making the transition into talking pictures. As Norma says defiantly, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small." Somewhat surprisingly, after the phenomenal success of Sunset Boulevard, Swanson's career also began to fade. All other roles seemed inferior to that of Norma Desmond. Swanson worried that she would become a "parody of a parody"--a description that could apply to the character of Norma Desmond.

Seven years after the release of Sunset Boulevard, Swanson began to develop plans for a musical called Boulevard! In this musical, Joe Gillis and Betty Schaefer continue their romance--with Norma's blessing. The audience is left to believe that Joe and Betty live happily ever after. Parmount, which was in negotiations with Swanson over the proposed musical, quashed all plans, stating that this production would damage the reputation of the existing film.

Do you agree with Parmount? Would Swanson's musical have altered popular interpretations of the original film? Could it have been successful? With this change, would you have considered Boulevard! to be an interpretation of the original film or a new work that should be considered completely distinct from the original?