Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chicken-or-egg question

"Sunset Boulevard" is being shown in rotation on TCM these days, and it brings to mind a question I've never seen properly addressed: Which came first, Gloria Swanson's portrayal of the compensating, overly made-up past-it movie star Norma Desmond -- or the campy, overly made-up, deliberately outrageous drag queen who, explicitly or not, evokes her? Did the makeup artist on the film consciously or unconsciously imitate the way drag queens portrayed women, or did drag queens use "Sunset Boulevard," with its misogynist portrayal of a washed-up, delusional former star, as a Rosetta stone for their own complex portrayals of femininity and self-hatred? If Norma Desmond had never been conjured by Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson, would they have had to create her anyway? (Or was Joan Crawford enough?)

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