Tuesday, September 19, 2006

OT: Black Dahlia

The second movie we took in over the past weekend was Black Dahlia. The good news is that it is chock full of noiry goodness. The bad news...

I have mixed feelings about this movie. Elmore Leonard, Brian De Palma... they're no slouches, and here they kind of luxuriate in all of their personal pet themes. As a fan of both men, I can appreciate the chance to see how their storytelling styles mesh and play off of each other. De Palma, like most of his generation lately, seems to be performing a kind of greatest hits. There are shots and sequences that seem cribbed directly from his previous films*.

On the other hand, if I look past all of that metatextual frippery, the movie is problematic. I can jibe with the whole fiction-within-nonfiction genre. It's a great way to tap shared cultural experiences, and use them to underscore one's narrative. Here, I feel that the event is too close, and because of that, one cannot sustain any kind of suspension of disbelief. It's not Jack the Ripper... It's not 100 years in the past... that one could present a fictional account, purporting to reveal the "real" culprits. Elizabeth Short was a real person who met a horrible fate, and it wasn't that long ago. It's one thing to use a story like this as a backdrop for context, but it feels quite different and disingenuous to use her story as the central backbone for a fictional one.

I understand how her story, and the fictional one, serve to strengthen the ideas of the movie: Dreams make one vulnerable, dreams break, Los Angeles was built on dreams and most importantly, there is no shortage of people who would be willing to profit from one's dreams. This movie feels like it's fulfilling these truths more than illustrating them. I can enjoy this movie only when I put the facts of it out of my mind. They never caught her killer.

*There's a shock cut right near the end that's right out of the Carrie playbook. You'll know when you see it, and you'll wonder like I did: "Why on Earth would you do that?"



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