The sun should never set on this noir-ish Hollywood masterpiece

Updated 23 May 2018
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The sun should never set on this noir-ish Hollywood masterpiece

  • “Sunset Boulevard” still remains Billy Wilder's crowning achievement

PARIS: “Sunset Boulevard” is, of course, a movie named after a street. Yet so unforgettable, iconic and perceptive is this film — so devastating and endearingly prescient its portrait of Hollywood and the people that live there — that the make-believe and reality are imperceptibly, mythically intertwined.

It’s a noir-ish set-up. We meet our narrator — a hack scriptwriter played by William Holden —floating face down in the pool of a grotesque Hollywood mansion. We learn that six months earlier, he stumbled upon the home of forgotten silent movie star Norma Desmond — played by Gloria Swanson, herself a silent movie star — and was soon seduced into the life of a tragically kept man, a soul-selling script doctor mercenarily feeding his benefactor’s illusions of a dramatic comeback.   

The meta is ubiquitous. Silent comic pioneer Buster Keaton shows up as one of the “waxworks” at Desmond’s has-beens’ card games. Erich von Stroheim, the auteur of silent masterpiece “Greed,” plays Desmond’s unnervingly devoted butler/driver (and the sole source of her continued inbox of fan mail). Heart-creakingly, von Stroheim once directed Swanson in “Queen Kelly” (1929) before being outcast from the chair — footage from which his character rolls in Desmond’s private cinema.

By 1950, director Billy Wilder had already authored a definite film noir in “Double Indemnity” (1944) and would soon be remembered for later crafting some of the most enduring comedies in Hollywood history — “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), “Some Like It Hot” (1959) and “The Apartment” (1960). But for its gritty mix of style and substance, self-referential poise and psychological insight, “Sunset Boulevard” remains Wilder’s crowning achievement.


What We Are Reading Today: Explain Me This by Adele E. Goldberg

Updated 22 January 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Explain Me This by Adele E. Goldberg

  • Adele Goldberg explores how these creative but constrained language skills emerge from a combination of general cognitive mechanisms and experience

We use words and phrases creatively to express ourselves in ever-changing contexts, readily extending language constructions in new ways. Yet native speakers also implicitly know when a creative and easily interpretable formulation — such as “Explain me this” or “She considered to go” — doesn’t sound quite right. 

In this incisive book, Adele Goldberg explores how these creative but constrained language skills emerge from a combination of general cognitive mechanisms and experience.

Shedding critical light on an enduring linguistic paradox, Goldberg demonstrates how words and abstract constructions are generalized and constrained in the same ways, according a review on the Princeton University Press website. When learning language, we record partially abstracted tokens of language within the high-dimensional conceptual space that is used when we speak or listen. Our implicit knowledge of language includes dimensions related to form, function, and social context.