We all know the famous closing line from Sunset Boulevard. If you don’t, educate yerself here:
After all, in cinema the close-up is the means by which we – those ‘wonderful people out there in the dark’ - fall in love with the figures on the screen, and Desmond wants nothing more than the unconditional love of a silent, distant audience. How many people in our lives do we see so intimately? In normal social interactions, eye contact is brief, respectful, and we don’t get up in people’s personal space. But in the cinema, we’re free to study and drink up beautiful or interesting or sympathetic or repellent faces to our heart’s content. In real life, we can only indulge such curiosity with family members, or a lover. This is the erotics of the close-up, one of the most inviting and addictive aspects of the cinematic aesthetic: whether it’s Maria Falconetti, Juliette Binoche, or Ryan Gosling, we can attentively register every betrayed and involuntary emotion they experience, as if in bed with them.
In early silent movies, stars like Greta Garbo were often photographed using lenses smeared with Vaseline to soften the resulting image and remove any unwanted blemishes from the actors’ faces. Essentially a more primitive (but often more flattering) form of Photoshop, it gave the close-ups of romantic
Film theorist André Bazin postulated that the frame of the cinematic image should not be conceived of as a window, as had been previously asserted, but a mask, showing us a little, but hiding the rest and making us aware as viewers that something is always being withheld. Consequently, the fact that Desmond’s pale visage, plastered in ghoulish, unconvincing make-up, resembles a death mask in this close-up is entirely appropriate: just as her face is a kind of whited sepulchre, hinting at her inner corruption and decay, Wilder’s closing shot intimates quite bluntly the ugliness and rotten core of the Hollywood dream factory behind its seductive surfaces.
Desmond’s swansong mocks the false intimacy of the
Here's one more very powerful close-up: