SUNSET BOULEVARD – Franz Waxman
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Director Billy Wilder and producer Charles Brackett created a brilliant film noir screenplay, which told the story of a once proud but now aged Hollywood actress who wished to end her seclusion and regain past glory. For the principle actors, Gloria Swanson was given the part of Norma Desmond. A young William Holden was selected for Joe Gillis and Erich von Stronheim was cast as Norma’s former husband and now butler Max von Mayerling. The story tells the tale of Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter down on his luck that drives into Desmond’s estate while fleeing a car repossesor. Norma, who has written a script to propel her comeback, hires Joe to create a screenplay. She lavishes her wealth and affection on him, which he freely and shamelessly accepts. Ultimately she falls in love with Joe and when he rejects her she shoots him. The story ends as a now elegantly dressed yet mad Norma descends her grand staircase to greet the police. Halfway down she pauses and announces proudly that she is happy to be making films again, ending with “All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.” The movie was both a commercial and critical success earning eleven Academy Award nominations, winning three for Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Score.
Franz Waxman and Wilder had long been friends, having met in Europe before the war; as such he was the natural choice to score the film. For the story Waxman created leitmotifs for the three principle characters. Joe’s Theme is born by saxophone and has a jazz identity; cocky, youthful and confident. Norma’s Theme, in contrast is emoted by solo alto flute mysterioso and is a study in minimalism. Within the paucity of its notes, its brevity, resides both mystery and a potent strength fully emblematic of its namesake. Illustrative of Waxman’s compositional gift and insight is how he mutates her theme with an increasing twisted dissonance as she begins her slow descent into madness. Next we have Max’s Theme, which is a simple rhythmic identity that conveys a feeling of toil. Lastly there is the Love Theme, a tender string carried line that speaks to Joe’s desire for Betty, who is engaged to his best friend.
Robert Townson and Varese Sarabande created a stunning re-recording of Franz Waxman’s 1950 Academy Award-winning masterpiece under the skillful baton of Joel McNeely and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. This release incorporates all of the surviving elements in the Paramount Pictures music archive, including the original “Prelude and Conversing Corpses” cue, which was excised from the film. Folks this score offers Waxman at his best and provides one of the finest scores of the Golden Age. He demonstrates mastery of his craft by providing us with a multiplicity of themes for which he creates exceptional interplay. The brilliance of his music cannot be overstated as it informs us of the psychology, and emotional drivers, which underpin this tragic story’s narrative. I highly recommend this score as an essential component for all lovers of film score music.
For those of you unfamiliar with the score I have included a Youtube link to the astounding Prelude; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksCvP7KGCtI&list=PLgQ5-j6D383oUlqtNh4j0r_eRlZj_gZUV
A comprehensive review of the score may be found in the MMUK Classics Section: https://moviemusicuk.us/2014/08/25/sunset-boulevard-franz-waxman/.
Buy the Sunset Boulevard soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Sunset Boulevard Prelude (3:51)
- Paramount Studio (0:55)
- Chase and Mansion (3:42)
- Norma Desmond (2:18)
- An Aging Actress (0:54)
- Reading the Script (2:34)
- The Strange Garden (1:56)
- Norma’s Gallery (1:24)
- The Waxworks and The Bridge Game (1:44)
- Afternoon Outings (1:00)
- Sacrifice of Self-Respect (4:07)
- The Old Bathing Beauty (2:29)
- Parading to Paramount (0:55)
- Old Friends (1:27)
- DeMille’s Companion (0:42)
- Norma’s Suspicions (3:55)
- A New Interest and The Studio Stroll (5:08)
- Her First Husband (2:56)
- The Showdown (4:14)
- Farewell (1:56)
- Joe Walks Out (5:22)
- The Corpse (1:11)
- The Comeback (4:24)
- Sunset Boulevard Cast (0:31)
- Prelude and Conversing Corpses (9:01)
Running Time: 68 minutes 36 seconds
Varese Sarabande VSD-6316 (1950/2002)
Music composed by Franz Waxman. Conducted by Joel NcNeely. Performed by The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Original orchestrations by Sidney Cutner, George Parrish, Leonid Raab and Leo Shuken. Recorded and mixed by Jonathan Allen. Album produced by Robert Townson.