Friday, February 11, 2011

James Ellroy--L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia

Based on the infamous case of Elizabeth Short, who Ellroy later claimed to be his mother.  Almost as brilliant as Ellroy's L.A. Confidential, and in some ways it's superior.  The time, the pitch, the pace, the plot, the dialogue and characterization--all among The Mad Dog's best.  As with L.A. Confidential--perhaps even more so--by the time you're done reading it, you'd swear that every member of the L.A. force was hopped up on something, boozing, brawling, sleeping around, or just plain going crazy in the 50s.  (Turns out, it was just the author.  You've got to be feelin' it like that to write like this consistently.  This wasn't great editing; it was a mindset.)  Ellroy's lost a little steam over the years--Who could keep it up?--but he's probably healthier after his breakdown.  L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia are probably the high water marks of this kind of thing in the latter 20th Century.  And if you don't believe me, just ask Ellroy himself.  He'll tell ya.

L.A. Confidential

In terms of perfection, I give this one a slight nod over The Black Dahlia, and the only reason I can give you is that I got that feeling as I was reading it.  You just get this strong sensation that you are reading something great, something unique that will stand as the best of its type.  Perhaps some of it is in retrospect, as I finished this long ago, and certainly the excellent movie helps the idea.  (The movie is perhaps a classic of its type as well.)

To give you an idea of how complex the plot is, the movie based on it was dumbed down in a severe way, and those I watched the movie with in the theatre said it was one of the more complicated films they'd ever seen.  I don't know about that--Chinatown also seemed a bit convoluted to me--but these people were not morons by any means.  The kitchen scene with Spacey and James Cromwell was too simplistic for me, but what else can you do to get the Rollo Tomassi thing out there?  The plot as in the book certainly had to get watered down.  No complaints here about that, and I usually will harp on that.

And casting James Cromwell, the farmer from the (very good) talking-pig movie Babe, was inspired casting.

Ellroy's other books pale in comparison to L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia, but in this genre, whose wouldn't?  Though it is slightly disturbing to admit that his writing was more...energetic, lucid, inspired, and, yet, fluent...while he was spiraling out of control.  Life inspires art, right?

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