ACF #30: The Black Dahlia

 

After Chinatown, we turn to another wonderful neo-noir vision of the foundation of Los Angeles, or rather its turning into Hollywood, the dream factory: Brian De Palma’s parting shot to Hollywood, The Black Dahlia. The movie came out in 2006, had a great cast: Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart, and Scarlett Johansson, was based on a James Ellroy novel, whose L.A. Confidential had wowed audiences and critics in 1997, and was filmed beautifully by Vilmos Zsigmond, who was nominated for the Oscar for his work. Nevertheless, the audience didn’t really love it and the critics even less–it’s a more tragic story about Americans chasing after beautiful dreams and finding a horrible cruelty hiding behind splendor. But it’s precisely this tragic character that makes the film so impressive.

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There are 12 comments.

  1. Doug Watt Member

    Thanks Titus for an interesting essay. The inspiration for the Black Dahlia comes from James Ellroy whose own mother was a homicide victim. His books “The Big Nowhere” , and “The Black Dahlia” are classic LA Noir. They feature hard core LAPD homicide detectives as well they should. Hard men doing a tough job, solving crimes, and speaking for victims that no one really cares about .

    Thanks again.

    • #1
    • September 5, 2019, at 7:06 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. kylez Member

    A few months ago I watched I Am the Night, part fact, part fiction. Based around the granddaughter of the very likely Black Dahlia killer, George Hodel, a repugnant man even if he didn’t kill Ms. Short.

    • #2
    • September 6, 2019, at 12:40 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Ellroy fan!

    Yeah, I think the issue of doing justice to the vulnerable is crucial. The police is involved in something no one else is here–so long as each person is held to be as important in America as Christ says we all are, then justice is going to get people to question all forms of organization or technology.

    • #3
    • September 6, 2019, at 12:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    kylez (View Comment):

    A few months ago I watched I Am the Night, part fact, part fiction. Based around the granddaughter of the very likely Black Dahlia killer, George Hodel, a repugnant man even if he didn’t kill Ms. Short.

    The one turned in by someone in his family?

    • #4
    • September 6, 2019, at 12:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. kylez Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    kylez (View Comment):

    A few months ago I watched I Am the Night, part fact, part fiction. Based around the granddaughter of the very likely Black Dahlia killer, George Hodel, a repugnant man even if he didn’t kill Ms. Short.

    The one turned in by someone in his family?

    His son. Not turned in as he was already dead. 

    • #5
    • September 6, 2019, at 1:06 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Old Bathos Member

    There is something magical about film noir in that the actors seem to especially enjoy and inhabit their roles. The worldly tough hero clinging to a code, to some vestigial but durable moral fiber in a world that seeks to dissolve it; the woman of mystery, lost virtue with a hard shell and a thinly suppressed desire but fading hope that both vulnerability and passion will be renewed by the right man; the array of odd, quirky characters and McGuffins who infuse, drive and enrich the story; and a rich powerful villain pulling strings like a spider who may not be the ultimate culprit in what looks a crime of a passion born of secrets. And the contrast between Hollywood the image (sunshine, palm trees, riches, glamour, fame and power) and its underside (night, exploitation, perversion and lies) is unsurpassed as a film noir setting.

    But Black Dahlia does come up a tad short. Hillary Swank gets it and her character straight out of the 1940s made every other actor in the film seem a bit incompetent. I wanted to like Aaron Eckhart and Josh Hartnett more but could not. They were not just looking for a killer but for parts of their respective characters.

    In a film noir world there is a logic to both good and evil. It is a genre all about flawed characters somehow finding, preserving, affirming truth and virtue in a cynical, jaded world. So motives (once uncovered) make sense. However, when the crime is insanely pathological, has no rational motive, when evil begets inhuman psychosis, the film noir format does not really work. The Third Man or Touch of Evil are distinct from Halloween or Friday the 13th. I think the deeply pathological nature of the Elizabeth Short murder made it hard to incorporate that whodunnit into a film noir context.

    • #6
    • September 6, 2019, at 6:37 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Suspira Member

    I have only one question—and it’s crucial for me: Is “dahlia” pronounced correctly? That is, with a short “a.” 

    • #7
    • September 6, 2019, at 8:21 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Yes.

    • #8
    • September 6, 2019, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Jack Dunphy Contributor

    I was well acquainted with James Ellroy during the time this movie was filmed and released. He spent a lot of time on the set and was hopeful the final product was something he could be proud of. But after seeing it for the first time, he said he was disappointed. “I couldn’t follow it,” he told me, “and I’m pretty familiar with the story.”

    • #9
    • September 8, 2019, at 7:10 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Jack Dunphy Contributor

    Suspira (View Comment):

    I have only one question—and it’s crucial for me: Is “dahlia” pronounced correctly? That is, with a short “a.”

    The Brits pronounce it with a long a.

    • #10
    • September 8, 2019, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Percival Thatcher

    Jack Dunphy (View Comment):

    Suspira (View Comment):

    I have only one question—and it’s crucial for me: Is “dahlia” pronounced correctly? That is, with a short “a.”

    The Brits pronounce it with a long a.

    I’m not taking pronunciation lessons from anyone who puts five syllables in “aluminum.”

    • #11
    • September 8, 2019, at 7:26 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Jack Dunphy (View Comment):

    I was well acquainted with James Ellroy during the time this movie was filmed and released. He spent a lot of time on the set and was hopeful the final product was something he could be proud of. But after seeing it for the first time, he said he was disappointed. “I couldn’t follow it,” he told me, “and I’m pretty familiar with the story.”

    I read somewhere in the press that he was pleased with the initial 3-hour cut. Then studio cut it down & the press asked him again & he said, I’m not gonna badmouth the movie, that’s all I’ll say.

    I didn’t know about this other part.

    Yeah, it’s certainly not easy to follow; I suppose it counts whether people are attracted enough to go seek answers in a second viewing–something like that.

    I’m not the average Joe in movie theaters, since I do this for a living, but I think I’m like everyone else in that my reactions to the movie were: First, Aaron Eckhart & Scarlett Johansson are golden gods, aren’t they great!

    Next, they’re rather disappointing & oh, my God, what’s with that horrible evil!

    Finally, I’m with Josh Hartnett, I’m glad this guy who came from nothing & everyone despised him has become a man & stood up for justice & also learned that he has to deal with his own life, not Hollywood, or L.A., or America.

    @johnpresnall had the great line–in the beginning, this guy bets against himself. He learns not to do that anymore, he becomes a man.

    I watched it some more to get to some of the sophisticated things going on in the story…

    • #12
    • September 8, 2019, at 8:58 AM PDT
    • 1 like