inTRoDucTion
A Philosophy of Urbanism
The history of American houses shows how Americans
have tried to embody social issues in domestic architecture,
and how they have tried, at the same time, to use this imagery to
escape a social reality that is always more complex and
diverse than the symbols constructed to capture it.
—GWenDolyn
WRiGhT, Building the Dream: A Social
History of Housing in America
If Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950)1 is the quintessential fties
lm about the last gasps of old Hollywood, in the persona of Gloria
Swanson’s character, Norma Desmond, and her fellow silent-era “wax-
works”—most notably Buster Keaton and Erich von Stroheim—it is
also very much a lm about the New Hollywood that emerged after
the 1948 Paramount Decision. As the lm venomously looks back to
the then largely forgotten silent era, it looks forward to the blockbuster
epics of Cecil B. DeMille, himself a potential waxwork who nonethe-
less thrived in fties Hollywood. In the lm, DeMille plays himself as
a director who recalls his past with Swanson/Desmond, but has con-
tinued working, making the transition into sound and beyond. DeMille’s
scenes in the lm, shot on Stage 18 on the Paramount Lot, where he
actually was lming the biblical epic Samson and Delilah, point toward
one tendency in fties cinema—large-scale epics intended to compete
with TV. Of course, Sunset Boulevard itself points toward a darker, more
cynical tendency in fties lms, refl ected in fties noir, social problem
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