Billy Wilder’s timeless noir about the tragedy of fame attained and denied provides up-to-the-minute commentary on the Passion of Lindsay and her latest closeup, but that’s not the angle I’d like to pursue today. Instead, let me draw your attention to a connection that took me by complete surprise last night (yes, I screamed.) Compare and contrast:
The film-within-a-film Gloria Swanson and William Holden are watching is a 1929 silent called Queen Kelly. The actress in the movie is in fact a younger Swanson, and Queen Kelly is directed by Erich von Stroheim, who also plays Norma Desmond’s storied butler Max in Sunset Blvd. It’s a delicious bit of recycled cinema that functions as inside joke and helps deepen Norma Desmond’s character.
Lynch’s reasons for quoting both movies halfway through INLAND EMPIRE are more obscure. Because the character, known as the Lost Girl (Karolina Gruszka), is speaking Polish, the caption from Queen Kelly is rendered in subtitles. Without knowing anything about its provenance, I found that it summed up the dark undercurrents of INLAND EMPIRE so well that I used it as a title for my original review.
On frieze.com, Kristin M. Jones writes that “[the Lost Girl] may represent the souls of ambitious actresses stolen by their dreams.” The intrepid interpreters on the INLAND EMPIRE forums believe that the scene is a good starting off point for theories about the film — after all, both Sunset Blvd. and INLAND EMPIRE concern Hollywood stars in spectacular houses with strange butlers, champagne and caviar, and movies that have the power to kill. Like Nikki Grace, Norma Desmond is “a woman in trouble.” Come to think of it, so is Linsday Lohan.
Sunset Blvd. Billy Wilder, 1950. *****