October 16, 2011

The Black Dahlia (2006)

"Two policemen see their personal and professional lives fall apart in the wake of the Black Dahlia murder investigation."

Sometimes, although it's very rare, I'm just not in the mood to watch horror especially given the still very lacklustre selection available on Netflix. Instead of torturing myself with yet another piece of crap directed by somebody I've never heard and starring a bunch of equally anonymous non-actors, I went into a slightly "film noir" mode and revisited some classics over the weekend.

I started off by trying to watch Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing" (1956) but realised very quickly that I'm not actually a "film noir" fan and switched it off after less than ten minutes due to boredom. I prefer "neo-noir" so I did a quick search and found Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" (1974) which is still one of the greatest films ever made. It wasn't quite enough though. I was still in the mood for more of the same afterwards but Netflix didn't have "The Two Jakes" (1990) so I went into the uncharted territory of things by James Ellroy to watch instead.

Before I launch into a review of "The Black Dahlia", let me just say that after watching the BBC's "Arena" documentary back in 2001 about James Ellroy, I don't like the man. He came across as an arrogant asshole and he may even have a right to feel that way but I'll never read any of his books to find out due to his attitude.

I did like the movie adaptation of "L.A. Confidential" (1997) and, because I'd heard of "The Black Dahlia" (pronounced "Day-lia" by Patrick Macnee) from the "Hollywood Ghosts" documentary, I thought that Brian De Palma's movie would provide me with some worthwhile entertainment.

Unfortunately, although "The Black Dahlia" looked absolutely beautiful and had everything in place to make it outstanding including some gore, it was confusing as hell and didn't really have a lot to do with "The Black Dahlia" murder story at all other than it being weirdly relegated to a subplot.

The acting was really good, of course, but then you shouldn't be able to go wrong with the likes of Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, and Hilary Swank. It was just that the story made hardly any sense and the focus changed so often from what was important to what wasn't that I still have no idea what I watched or what the point of any of it was.

Since Hilary Swank had more screen time as the Black Dahlia's double than Mia Kirshner did as the "real" Elizabeth Short, I was very disappointed. As horrible as it may be to speak ill of the dead, both actresses were considerably more attractive than the genuine article which I've seen in photographs so it wasn't anything to do with their looks. it was simply the complete disregard for what could have been an interesting (if highly fictitious) account of Elizabeth Short's life which was the wasted opportunity.

As I've mentioned, "The Black Dahlia" looked the part with its excellent production values, sets, costumes, camerawork, music and all that other good stuff but the story wasn't well written enough to keep me interested. I doubt that it was James Ellroy's fault as I know that he has his own very personal obsession with the Black Dahlia murder which I'm sure makes a better book than such an appalling screenplay.

I noticed afterwards that there were a couple of other Black Dahlia movies on Netflix and I attempted to watch the Ulli Lommel version but barely made it through the opening titles before that crap went off. The other, "The Devil's Muse" (2007), went off just as quickly once I realised that it was some arty low-budget dreck starring more of the same kind of "actors".

I would love to see someone make a real period piece out of the life and death of Elizabeth Short because it's a fascinating story which needs to be told properly. After even the great Brian De Palma couldn't do it justice though, I doubt that it will ever happen.

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