monday song #53: close-up


william holden is face down in the swimming pool.

the police arrive followed by the press.

flashbulbs pop. questions go unanswered.

gloria swanson creeps down the stairs. an elderly spider, patient, arms held at unnatural angles, ready to dance or cast a spell. her head tilts off center; her once lovely face pulled tight by a humming tension. her moment, her final scene, the climax.

like a fog, norma desmond descends.

explosions of light. voices quiet, faces look in wonder, worshipping the fallen goddess. the room hardens, frozen under her dark spell. she creates her own silent film.

but this is a talkie, and when she speaks, hers is the only voice: “alright, mr. demille. i’m ready for my close up.”

there is no time for pity or recrimination. there is only horror as she moves into the camera, her face swallowing up the screen.

the obsession.

the madness.

those eyes.

her close-up smothers the lens and kills what was left of the light.

the screen goes dark.

“the end.”

for a moment you can hear the dvd spin. then back to the chapter page.

michelle turns to her eight-year-old daughter: “well, what did you think?”

“it was pretty good.”

“pretty creepy, huh?”

“she had a very scary face.”

“yes she did.”

“what do you think is going to happen to her?”

for all the times she had seen ‘sunset boulevard,’ she had never thought about what might happen next. as the universe of the movie ended, and billie wilder’s jaundiced eye turned its gaze elsewhere, she had only ever reveled in the perfection of the moment. of the morality tale, where everyone stabs each other in the back until they all die of blood loss.

“i guess they’ll have to take her to jail.”

michelle can tell her daughter’s disappointed. “oh.”

“what do you think should happen next?”

“i don’t know what should happen. but i would want her to get famous again. and get to make another movie. she seemed so sad. and she was such a great actress. seems like jail would be too much.”

“you’re right: jail is pretty harsh in general.”


silence. michelle gets that familiar rush, like she’s in the presence of genius. this is always followed by a quick reality check: she’s bright, and i am beyond smitten. but though she would never admit it, she always lets the possibility of genius kindle at the back of her mind. why not her?

“okay, let’s get ready for bed.”

as they climb the stairs out of the basement family room, her daughter finally says, “when i die, i want to be able to tell the story of my death.”

“that only happens in movies.”

“i know.”