adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT
adbl_ms_membershipImage_includedwith_altText_B076FLV3HT

1 title per month from Audible’s entire catalog of best sellers, and new releases.
Access a growing selection of included Audible Originals, audiobooks and podcasts.
You will get an email reminder before your trial ends.
Your Premium Plus plan is $14.95 a month after 30 day trial. Cancel anytime.
Buy for $27.97

Buy for $27.97

Pay using card ending in
By confirming your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and Amazon's Privacy Notice. Taxes where applicable.

Publisher's Summary

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, a classic film noir and also a damning dissection of the Hollywood dream factory, evokes the glamour and ruin of the stars who subsist on that dream. It’s also one long in-joke about the movie industry and those who made it great - and who were, in turn, destroyed by it. One of the most critically admired films of the 20th century, Sunset Boulevard is also famous as silent-star Gloria Swanson’s comeback picture.

Sam Staggs’s Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard tells the story of this extravagant work, from the writing, casting, and filming to the disastrous previews that made Paramount consider shelving it. It’s about the writing team of Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket - sardonically called “the happiest couple in Hollywood” - and their raucous professional relationship. It’s about the art direction and the sets, the costumes, the props, the lights and cameras, and the personalities who used those tools to create a cinematic work of art.

Staggs goes behind the scenes to reveal: William Holden, endlessly attacked by his bitter wife and drinking too much; Nancy Olson, the cheerful ingenue who had never heard of the great Gloria Swanson; the dark genius Erich von Stroheim; the once famous but long-forgotten “Waxworks”; and of course Swanson herself, who - just like Norma Desmond - had once been “the greatest star of them all”.

But the story of Sunset Boulevard doesn’t end with the movie’s success and acclaim at its release in 1950. There’s much more, and Staggs layers this stylish book with fascinating detail, following the actors and Wilder into their post-Sunset careers and revealing Gloria Swanson’s never-ending struggle to free herself from the clutches of Norma Desmond.

Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard also chronicles the making of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical production of Sunset Boulevard and the explosive diva controversies that dogged it. The book ends with a shocking example of Hollywood life imitating Hollywood art. By the last word of this rich narrative, listeners will conclude: We are those “wonderful people out there in the dark”.

©2002 Sam Staggs (P)2021 Blackstone Publishing

What listeners say about Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    17
  • 4 Stars
    12
  • 3 Stars
    5
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    1
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    20
  • 4 Stars
    6
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    15
  • 4 Stars
    8
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    1

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

ABRIDGED VERSION BADLY NEEDED!

I should have heeded the reviews. This book is just too long. The subject matter is interesting and the story is well researched. But the author has added way too much minutia and trivia. Staggs covers all of the major players in “Sunset Boulevard” - cast, crew, writers, composers and studio executives. The problem starts when he veers off course, adding irrelevant info. For example, if the chapter is about the lighting director, we have hear his entire biography. That’s not so bad but he goes into a deep dive about his WIFE, his PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER, her HUSBAND, his ancestors and the DOG. He names every play or film that opened around the time of the film in 1950. Then there’s all the subsequent versions of the classic film. Stagg gives us insight into “SunSex Boulevard”, a gay porn version. And one in French that Stagg forces us to sit through a clip for 2 minutes. Let me not forget mentions of every EVERYTHING that used the line “Ready for my close up”! From porn flicks to ads for digital cameras! I love a super-long book, so I could have dealt with SOME of the extra stuff. However, Stagg’s side stories lack continuity and editing.

Overall, this COULD be a great book. It made me watch the film again to catch the kazillion things I missed in my first 10+ viewings. But, as an inveterate reader, I can safely say that this is work best served ABRIDGED! By 50%! It is reminiscent of the 38 hour labor with my son. I knew there was something great inside but the ordeal getting there was excruciating! 😩

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

More about the movie, please

I should have been forewarned. This author also wrote about another classic film, All About Eve, which was short on actual information on the actual making of the film. The same with this book. I really wanted more about the movie itself, not so much about the aftermath and the countless spin-offs. Good narrator.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Meandering But Good

As many others have said, with a little bit of editing, there is a great book in here somewhere. But to finish with the production and release of Sunset Boulevard and only be about halfway through your book? It's excessive, and not necessary. Kudos to the level of devotion and detail on the part of the author, and the narrator does a fine job, but this finely-researched, finely-written book needs an editor badly.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Musings of a self-indulgent sycophant

I suppose if an author is such a huge fan of a film, or of film in general, they may be forgiven for being a bit hyperbolic about it. But there's a limit. I imagine the author likely harbored dreams of being a great artiste himself, as he indulges in flights of fancy with his interpretations on the major (and minor) players of the film. There are extended tangents into the lives and backgrounds of Charles Brackett, Wilder, Holden, Swanson, von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, and more. Occasionally relevant, more often filler, pining over a lost golden age of Hollywood, while co-opting the Desmond sentiment that the pictures have gotten smaller. It's very much a book written by a fan stuck in time, unable to escape his own fandom. It could have potentially played as ironic that the writer is his own Norma Desmond, but it utterly lacks any self-awareness for that. (Which I suppose means then, it is truly ironic?) These limitations drag the book further down from what is already an uneven effort, alternating from fawning to bitchy on a dime. While his interpretations are certainly gleaned from long study, the smug delivery of his convictions is off-putting.

The author must believe that nobody reading or listening has ever seen a Billy Wilder or William Holden picture before. He might be more on the mark that Gloria Swanson is lesser known. But the catty nature of his assessment of Wilder's post-Sunset Blvd. career is hollow, and worse, flat out wrong. There's an odd deference to Charles Brackett (to the point one thinks that perhaps the man's estate had editorial rights over the book), which seems to seek to diminish Wilder (and certainly his collaborations later with I.A.L. Diamond) as lesser quality than with Brackett. I disagree wholeheartedly. With the exception of Ninotchka, in my opinion, Wilder's best work came later. Similarly with Holden, the actor's private life may not have been rosy, but his career after this film was anything but cursed (as the author obliquely implies a Norma Desmond-esque existence for the actor). Holden reached much higher peaks in later years, The Wild Bunch being the crowning achievement, in my opinion. It's a measure of the author's churlishness, that it occurred to me while listening, that this film is probably not in the top 5 of my Wilder or Holden films. Stalag 17 being a superior film, in my opinion, on both lists. (The author predictably hates it). Nor, as I consider, is it even really in my top 10 noirs. It's an impressive film, a very self-referential, if not always flattering, Hollywood story. But I'm not sure it really stands up to the adoration this author gives it. A less fawning effort may have allowed me a more sympathetic remembrance of the film.


Addendum: The last few chapters go from ridiculous to stupendously ridiculous

It becomes clear that the author harbors a palpable misogyny, in the way that gentlemen like him obsessed with stars of a previous age often are (in this case a fictional character). Amongst his targets: Ida Lupino, Faye Dunaway (destined to be known for one movie, Mommie Dearest… what? Not Bonnie & Clyde?), Carol Burnett (lame TV comedy), and any other number of actresses who’ve attempted to play Norma Desmond. Even Dolly Parton is a victim. It’s meant as a favorable comparison to Betty Buckley, but the cattiness comes through. I don’t know about anyone else, but a person who can find fault with both Carol Burnett and Dolly Parton has serious problems.

But the weirdest part has to be when, while savaging legitimate Sunset Blvd. re-iterations, he glows when sharing a drag queen’s persona of Abnorma Desmond and the gay porn of “Sunsex Blvd.” Not presented as kitschy or subversive, but as legitimate homages. This isn't prudish on my part, but after eviscerating virtually everything and everybody non-Swanson or non-Brackett related, there is an unrepentant hypocrisy from the author. It’s just weird.

And there is interminable blathering about Broadway shows, which strain the patience, as it ventures further and further away from the subject of the book.

And finally out of nowhere, during yet another hatchet job on Billy Wilder and partner I.A.L. Diamond (rather than Charles Brackett), haymakers land squarely on the jaw of Jack Lemmon. He clearly despises Lemmon, and doesn’t hold back with attacks he typically saves for the women.

The last several chapters are absolutely atrocious. It shows the narrowness and pettiness of the author’s worldview. And I have no other choice to re-evaluate my rating (down.)

1 person found this helpful

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for rugbyrebel
  • rugbyrebel
  • 03-07-22

Loved the Film; Love the Audio book

Brilliantly narrated in the style of Joe Gillis/ William Holden. Although I’d hoped to hear more about the day to day filming of Sunset Boulevard this was still a fascinating listen.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for paul cowley
  • paul cowley
  • 01-26-22

A thought provoking read

a true in depth disection of the subject matter,perfectly narrated.finally someone who can read a book and make it sound fascinating with good pacing.