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Preview: Film Noir of the Week

Film Noir of the Week

Last Build Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:04:34 PST


LA Confidential (1997)

Sat, 26 Nov 2016 08:12:18 PST

“This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.”In Life Magazine’s Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films, writer J.I. Baker details the connection between tabloids and pulp fiction. At a time when respectable journalism reigned supreme, post-war publications like New York Daily and Confidential magazine crashed the party with gossip and a “shocking, sleazy sensibility” that caught on in the culture. Authors Cornell Woolrich, James M. Cain, and, more recently, James Ellroy, lifted these lurid headlines as story inspiration, while Hollywood followed suit with a visual style modeled after photographer Arthur Fellig (a.k.a. Weegee).Curtis Hanson grew up in the eye of this lurid storm. Born in 1945 and enthralled by his Los Angeles hometown (his uncle1 supplied clothes for stars like Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe), Hanson decided to pursue a career in magazine photography2 before he even finished high school. The dropout would ultimately trade his stills for a movie camera come the 1970s, but interest in a make-believe business never waned. In fact, when it came time for Hanson to adapt Ellroy’s 1990 novel L.A. Confidential, the director played every sensational angle he could find: criminal scandal, colorful postcards, and tabloid pages pulled from the time period. “That’s the image that they’re selling you of Los Angeles”, Hanson explained on Charlie Rose, “we wanted to peel back that image and show you what’s really going on.”The film’s novelistic artwork.L.A. Confidential (1997) is a paradise with secrets behind every palm tree. A parade of glossy images (many of which Hanson used in his studio pitch) grace the opening montage, while Hush-Hush magazine editor Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) paints 1953 L.A. with smarmy narration. Sure, crooked cops and organized crime roam the streets, but the dazzle of movie premieres and a post-war economy make it so nobody has a good enough reason to rock the boat. This includes the film’s trio of policemen: Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a career-minded square, Bud White (Russell Crowe), a brute with a bad temper, and Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a hot shot who enjoys only the perks of his profession. Each joined the force with noble intent, but those feelings have long since expired. When asked why he become a cop, all Vincennes can muster is a defeated “I don’t remember.”The obvious touchstone for the film is Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). Both utilize broken (anti-)heroes and the history of Los Angeles as a backdrop, while detailing the fall of the working class and native peoples for the posh crowd. Instead of Noah Cross and his plight to control the city’s water supply, L.A. Confidential offers up Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn), a big whig pornographer with plans to construct a local highway. Both of equally wealthy disposition, they present an evil that goes beyond themselves and speaks to the society (and show business) that allows them to thrive.“America isn’t ready for the real me.”Where L.A. Confidential differs from Robert Towne’s script, is that Patchett is merely a placeholder for the true criminal–the police– to blanket themselves. The Nite Owl Massacre, a coffee shop shooting that connects the lead trio, is instantly passed off as the handiwork of black convicts. Exley is appointed to the case as media eye candy, but the slapdash cover-up that comes with it offers zero chance for a closer look. The sergeant is promoted and praised, but even then, he’s weary of the convenience that came with his ghetto scapegoats. It isn’t until a turn of guilt from Vincennes3 that Nite Owl gets a second glance; and by then, both cops are positive they won’t like what they’ll find.Hanson and co-writer Brian Helgeland spent two years deconstructing this mystery for the big screen. The novel, a 500 page behemoth that spans seven years and eight storylines, was a task that many deemed to be unfilmable. Wisely, t[...]

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