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The following review/essay was posted by Movie Geeks Jerry in prelude to the 2hour De Palma Tribtue Show

"Have you ever heard the expression "Let sleeping dogs lie"? Sometimes you're better off not knowing."
-- Jake Gittes from Chinatown

"It is the old wound, my King.  It has never healed."
-- Lancelot from Excalibur

"Hollywood will fuck you when no-one else will."
-- Russ Millard from The Black Dahlia

I saw the Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia about eleven months ago. I finally watched it again last night. It takes a second viewing and a daily thought process to come clean. I have been thinking about the film almost everyday since I saw it last September. I think about it all the time-- especially out there on the pavement or while on some piece of cardio equipment. What a difference a second viewing makes of this film. Is it a masterpiece? No, but it is also not nearly as bad as many have made it out to be either. I have talked to countless people about on the phone, through emails and of course have tormented my Mom on the film and just about everything else about Brian De Palma for the last several months, if not the last several decades.  The film has haunted my thoughts for too long, odd for a film that disappointed me at first. As the months went on, the film grew on me. It had to given the all so strange fixation I have on the director. Where did this ever come from?  For many, he is just a name. To many friends, he should have hung it long ago. Regardless of your feelings about Mr. De Palma, let me say this, he like that Energizer Bunny, he keeps going and going. Film after film, he keeps getting back into the ring. His greatest champion, Pauline Kael, left us long ago. For me, Brian De Palma joins a long list of directors such as Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Boorman and John Huston that inspired larger than life personas that devoured both sides of the screen. His greatest progeny, Quentin Tarantino, would add another level of inspiration when the well was coming so close to drying up for me.

It is no accident that Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate and Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars were released on the same day back on March 2000.  Both films boast beautiful soundtracks by Wojciech Kilar for The Ninth Gate and Ennio Morricone for Mission to Mars. At times, the music is far superior to the actual films. Both films have their merits, but are easily dismissed by their critics. One friend of mine thought that both men had outlived usefulness.  What a bunch of bullshit.  I believe when Brian De Palma was handed the assignment of bringing James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, Polanski's Chinatown was not too far from his mind.  While I do feel the film has some elements in common with Curtis Hanson's adaptation of Ellroy's L.A. Confidential, it is really Chinatown that is the white whale of De Palma's eye.  Let me say this, never has there been a more perfect pair than James Ellroy and Brian De Palma. De Palma adapting James Ellroy should be the alpha and the omega of a director with source material. Really it is the greatest wet dream of them all.  James Ellroy's mother, Jean, was murdered in 1958.  James Ellroy's My Dark Places is an excellent account of his Mother and her murder and the elusive search for the killer.  Some how these two men would find each other. When they did, the final product is not what I had in mind, but it helps to revisit things.  No opinions are ever final in my book. I am a firm believer in evolution in all things.  Change is good and is essential. Even if I have to go through it kicking and screaming.

John Huston worked right through the very end; he did a lot of great work toward the end of his life. Peckinpah got saddled down with Convoy and the Osterman Weekend.  Both films were a mess. Peckinpah handed his editors The Osterman Weekend and told them to do something with it. He was at a loss at what he had just completed.  Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick worked until the very end as well. Brian De Palma will turn 67 on September 11th of this year and he has showed no signs of slowing down at all. The Black Dahlia shows a director who still working at the top of his game, it may not be for everyone, but there is no denying some very important things in this film. The first and most obvious is the introduction to Madeleine Linscott's (Hilary Swank) family that may go down as one of my favorite sequences of the whole film. It is classic De Palma al the way. As Josh Hartnett's Dwight 'Bucky' Bleichert is lead in to meet her very wealthy family, we are treated to the famous "POV" shot and it the camerawork is flawless. He does this so this well. This part of the film is also where we get the biographical goods on De Palma too. Fiona Shaw plays Ramona Linscott, Madeleine's Mother.  Not since Piper Laurie played Carrie White's tyrannical mother, Margaret, in Carrie has De Palma had so much fun dealing with his mother on screen. His portrayal of Ramona says one thing to me and one thing only, some wounds never heal. De Palma's own mother referred to him as a mistake.  Thirty years after Carrie, De Palma has such manic energy and venom. Watching this part of the film again showed me how maybe this director was still in top form once again.  While I think Femme Fatale is the best of his recent work, there is denying the power in these scenes. Ramona is Margaret White reborn for better or worse. Ramona has some deadly secrets of her own and she is portrayed in the worst way.

The other thing that really stands out for me is Josh Hartnett's performance as Bucky Bleichert. It is the glue that holds the whole film together. It is the first time that Harnett has held my interest in a leading role as well. That is the film's most unexpected surprise. Who knew? Bucky joins a long list of De Palma male protagonists. Harnett is no doubt De Palma's alter ego in this film. Just as Michael J. Fox in Casualties Of War, John Travolta in Blow Out, Cliff Robertson in Obsession, and Keith Gordon in Home Movies and Dressed To Kill-- just to name a few. These are men who are not in control of their worlds and are often weak and helpless to do anything.  Bucky is one of the good guys in a very bad world. In 1946, Bucky and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) are policemen in Los Angeles. Both happen to be former boxers. They rise through the ranks to become homicide detectives. Their big case is the infamous Black Dahlia murder. The Black Dahlia murder is the most famous unsolved murder in California history.  The brutal murder of an aspiring actress, Elizabeth Short leads Bucky and Lee into a world of police corruption, classic land development schemes and secrets better left under their dirty rocks. Lee becomes obsessed with finding out who killed Elizabeth Short. Eckhart has always possessed an old time Hollywood leading man.  Aaron Eckhart reminds me a lot of Dan Duryea from such film noirs as Criss-Cross and The Black Angel.  The Black Angel is on the theater marquee in one of the background scenes.  Would it be wrong to say that the relationship between Bucky and Lee is based on Brian De Palma's relationship with his oldest brother?  Maybe, it is much milder here than the relationship between Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn in Casualties Of War.  Still, the boxing match between the two of them in the film's beginning offers some wishful thinking and food for thought for the sibling rivalry that marks some of De Palma's best work.  Lee relationship with his girlfriend, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson) is one of the film's great mysteries.  I like Scarlett Johansson a lot. Woody Allen likes her more than anyone else.  Still as Kay Lake, she seems to be doing her best Jill St. John impersonation.  I think people were expecting more.

Voyeurism is one of the most important and recurring themes in Brian De Palma's work. Body Double, Blow Out, Home Movies, Hi Mom!, Scarface and Mission Impossible are deal with some sort of voyeurism and/or surveillance.  Okay, maybe even more films the De Palma canon deal with it as well, but there is a neat trick in The Black Dahlia that deserves honorable mention. There is a film within a film. Reels are discovered that show Elizabeth Short doing a screen test for a director. It is worth noting that Elizabeth Short is played by Mia Kirshner, she was perfect in Atom Egoyan's Exotica.  In these reels we see the true price of aspirations and what De Palma may think of Hollywood.  Short is an innocent girl from the Midwest looking to make it big in Hollywoodland. The last reels are of her in x-rated scenes with Swank's Madeleine.  She looks uncomfortable.  You see a level of fear in her eyes that is classic De Palma.
The other thing is that voice behind the camera in these scenes belongs to Brian De Palma.  The circle is complete. De Palma is finally the voyeur in the room.

The Black Dahlia is not a perfect film. It suffers from too much exposition from a director who is all visuals and bloody master at "visual grammar." The second half of the film plays at times like a De Palma demo reel with homage's to his older films. I do not mind that at all. Many people have a lot of problems with Brian De Palma and his films. I love that Tarantino wears the same Pith helmet to shoot all of his films in homage to one of his masters, who wears his trademark safari jacket while shooting his films.  I will always wonder why De Palma's progeny like Tarantino were given a free pass for their homage's while De Palma got called out for it. He added so much to the mix when he did it.  The Black Dahlia is not for everyone and has it share of flaws.  Those flaws are not enough to stop me from enjoying it more a second time. It did not help things that Hollywoodland came out a week before and that may have thrown people off too.  I like Hollywoodland more than I ever thought I would, but if we can have two period pieces about  19th century magicians in 2006, than I think we can have two films about old Hollywood murders as well. After watching this and Casualties Of War again this week, I am very excited for Redacted. Brian De Palma's finest hour is still ahead of him.


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