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Case Study 2: Characterization in the Films of Billy Wilder

The Original Material:

Most of [Wilder's] characters are obsessive personalities. Indeed, some are pushed to the edge of caricature, and a few are almost gargoylelike in their grotesqueness. For example, Sunset Boulevard centers on a former silent movie queen (Gloria Swanson) whose career was destroyed by the advent of sound. She is so steeped in vanity and self-delusion that she scarcely deigns to acknowledge the world Since Then—the talkie revolution. When the protagonist (William Holden) stumbles accidentally into her private world, he suddenly realizes who she is. "You're Norma Desmond. You used to be big," he grudgingly admits. "I am big," she hisses, "it's the pictures that got small." Though such characters are individualized to an indelible degree, they can also be viewed as personifications of such vices as pride, hypocrisy, and lust.

Source: Giannetti, Louis. Masters of the American Cinema. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981. 324-325.

Note that some of the information in this passage can be taken as "common knowledge". For example, that Gloria Swanson played the character of Norma Desmond in the movie Sunset Boulevard, directed by Billy Wilder, is common knowledge. Simply viewing the movie will tell you this fact, so it would not be necessary to cite Giannetti if that were the only information you were using.

However, the passage also includes Giannetti's interpretation of the character of Norma Desmond, which he uses as a specific illustration of his theory about characterization in Wilder's movies. If you incorporate any ideas that belong to Giannetti, you must cite the specific source.


Writing Sample 1:

Many of Billy Wilder's characters can be seen as personifications of their own vices. In Sunset Boulevard, former silent movie star Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) lives in self-delusion, hardly condescending to acknowledge the outside world since the talking picture revolution that ended her career. While she remains a strongly-defined individual, her obsession and vanity ("I am big," she says, "it's the pictures that got small") push her characterization to the edge of grotesque caricature.

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Writing Sample 2:

Louis Giannetti (1981) suggests that many of Billy Wilder's characters represent personification of such vices as pride, hypocrisy, and lust. Norma Desmond, the reclusive former silent movie queen of Sunset Boulevard, is so steeped in vanity and self-delusion that she is "almost gargoylelike in [her] grotesqueness" (324). Nevertheless (as Giannetti briefly suggests), she remains a strongly individualized character. This can be seen in her vulnerability and developing attachment to the protagonist. She is not merely a caricature but a victim of her own vices, and we feel pity for her reclusive situation and fragile mental state.

Does this writing sample display academic integrity? Click on your answer.

green checkmark   Yes

banned circle   No


arrow image   The last example deals with web-based sources.   Go on to Case Study 3.

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