I’ve always been a fan of the cinema called film noir : hard-boiled detectives, dark alleys, shadows, grit. It’s not the place you expect a happy ending. A high water mark of the genre is Sunset Boulevard  with Gloria Swanson as the delusional Norma Desmond and William Holden as the ill-fated hack writer Joe Gillis. Once again, life imitates art as IndyCar intersects with the characters of Sunset Boulevard.
At one time, Norma Desmond had the adoration of millions, the mansion on Sunset, money in the bank, a classic limousine, a pet chimpanzee, and her butler Max. The connections to IndyCar are clear: Norma is IndyCar. At one time, her star shone brightly. She was adored by millions, and the money rolled in. It was the same for the previous incarnations of IndyCar. Its place in the pantheon of sports was unrivaled. The names of the drivers were known by millions, and the mansion at 16th and Georgetown was nonpareil. The cars at the mansion were classic. The media and the fans fawned on Indy’s every action; Indy car racing was worshipped and admired, just like Norma Desmond.
But the good times don’t last, do they? In the movie, Norma Desmond, a silent film star, was left behind when sound came to the movies. She never came to grips with the fact that she was no longer a star. Poor IndyCar has suffered the same fate. Both Norma and Indy car are rich, but their popularity has waned. People just don’t seem to care as much. But Norma, losing her grip on reality, didn’t get it. She still thought she was a star. Similarly, Indy car was a star until the CART/IRL split. And just like the talkies left Norma behind, the split left Indy car racing out of the eye of an ever fickle public. Norma never accepted her fate, nor did Indy car racing. Both continued to wait for the elusive starring role to appear. IndyCar is still waiting. Norma says: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” Change a word or two, and you have IndyCar’s philosophy during the split.
And how about the character of Joe Gillis. Joe was seduced by the money of Norma. He had nothing, so he had nothing to lose. In many ways, you can say the hard-core fans and the media are Joe. His self deprecating comments and subtle snark toward Norma highlight the dark comedy of the movie. IndyCar has had its dark comedic moments recently: a wrong way truck at Baltimore, a rainy restart at New Hampshire, and poorly managed races at more than one venue top the list. The media and the fans, witnessing the the delusional behavior of a race control that continued to act as if nothing was wrong, rightly pointed out that the belief that all was well with IndyCar racing was a fantasy. Joe Gillis voiced his comments softly since he did not want to upset the Norma Desmond gravy train. IndyCar’s media and fans were much more vocal and much less subtle.
This all leads us to the final scene. Joe has decided to leave the increasingly erratic Norma, who believes Cecil B. DeMille wants to produce a script she has written. She shoots Joe as he is leaving. Norma is completely disconnected from reality now, and her butler Max, played by Eric Von Stroheim, coaxes her downstairs to the police, reporters, and cameras by pretending she is in a movie. To get her downstairs, he calls “Action.” Norma looks at the cameras and utters her famous line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Maybe I’m the one that’s delusional. Maybe I’m the only one that sees the connection. Randy Bernard is Cecil B. DeMille. He is the producer who is going to create the next big movie. The problem is he doesn’t want to have an aging, delusional IndyCar as his star. He needs something new, and he has it. The series has a new car, new engines, new teams, new drivers, new race director, and hopefully a new direction. As IndyCar descends the stairs for a new season, you know what is going to be said: “All right, Mr. Bernard, I’m ready for my close-up.” Let’s hope it’s a blockbuster. Lights. Camera. Action!
1. Just a little background on film noir (nwa) in case you want to know. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir
2. Here’s the story of Sunset Boulevard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunset_Boulevard_%28film%29