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New in Print

Dallas author Sam Staggs writes with zeal and authority in his exposé of Billy Wilder's classic camp 'Sunset Boulevard.'

By Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., May 3, 2002

New in Print

Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream

by Sam Staggs

St. Martin's Press, 420 pp., $24.95 For decades, my sister and I have been devotees of what we call the "Kweenie Klassix": a handful of movies that includes, among others, The Women, Mildred Pierce, Queen Bee, Harriet Craig, Valley of the Dolls, All About Eve, and Sunset Boulevard. For countless hours we've worshipped before them, genuflecting at the altar of camp. A while back, I read a book called All About All About Eve: The Complete Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made by Dallas author Sam Staggs, and I knew I had found a kindred spirit. The book was riveting in its attention to detail, and though the depth of his delving was occasionally suffocating, it often soared to sheer brilliance. And now Staggs has returned with Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream. Again, Staggs demonstrates his encyclopedic knowledge of film and performs a complete dissection with the skill of a surgeon and the obsession of a true fan. His gift for interpreting nuance is formidable, and we learn everything we could possibly want to know about Sunset Boulevard and everyone connected with it. His lengthy summaries on the careers of Gloria Swanson, William Holden, and Billy Wilder place the film within the context of real lives, and the parallels are often staggering. Staggs writes with zeal and creates a dramatic narrative that refuses to let the reader go until the very last page. And when the book is over, the reader will want to view the film over and over again. So, what will it be next, Mr. Staggs -- Mildred Pierce?

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