A Perfect Ending to the Year

1995 was the year I was obsessed with ‘Sunset Boulevard’ – mostly the musical, but my enthusiasm spilled over to the original movie (which has worn far better than the musical over the ensuing years – and probably before too). Granted, the musical is far from perfect, but this scene is. It features the original Broadway cast – which is the one my mother and I saw together. Glenn Close gave one of her seminal performances as Norma Desmond, and it really was her magic that stole my heart – she was frightening, feral, humorous, desperate, moving, melancholic, giddy, ferocious, hilarious, hopeful, and utterly mesmerizing. While Betty Buckley may have had the vocal prowess, and Gloria Swanson may have been the real thing, it was Ms. Close who moved me the most in this role. I recognized in her the frantic last grasp at happiness, the distorted and disturbed result of years of being loved and adored by strangers but not one specific person. There’s a loneliness like no other in that.

I usually post this clip of my favorite scene from the musical for New Year’s. The one seen above is the best quality of the show I’ve found thus far, and in it we get to see the many nuances of Ms. Close’s performance. From the opening entrance down that magnificent staircase to that ridiculous but somehow poignant feathered-hairpiece, the whole thing always brings tears to my eyes. It wasn’t the dramatic histrionics that moved me so, or the over-the-top trappings and costumes – it was the simple moment of falling in love with someone who didn’t love you back. Ms. Desmond storms into the scene all fiery hope and intensity, refusing to believe in anything other than the happy ending she has planned for herself and Joe Gillis. She does her best, pulling out all the stops, seducing alternately like an army sergeant and a little girl, tugging on the heartstrings and a passion that was never there in the first place. I cannot watch that futile act without feeling sad. She wants so badly to be loved…

At the 3:19 mark they begin their dance, and in her eyes is all the hope of the world, focused in her gaze, her giddy motion, her girlish glee. We’ve all danced like that in our hearts – at least, if we’ve been lucky once or twice. To not know that kind of unrequited love is to not have lived. I watch her happiness at that moment, the way she loses herself in their dance, and my heart breaks a little. Every year.

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