Tuesday, September 3, 2013

L.A. Confidential - The Cinematic Experience & Book Club Meeting

L.A. Confidential

James Elroy, 1990

Hello Lovelies!

As with the Book Club Meeting for Post Office, I had initially planned to have our meeting over Brunch.  I thought a diner in Hollywood for L.A. Confidential would be perfect.  Sadly, that did not work out as planned, although I did find two really great little eateries that have been added to my list of Brunch places to try, so it wasn't a total loss.

Instead of a separate Book Club Meeting Brunch and movie night, Bridget and I combined the two.  The only other member of my book club (what will it take to convince the rest of you to join?!?) came up on Saturday morning for Brunch and a movie and it was fabulous!

If you didn't read this book, I highly suggest you do so if you can devote a good amount of time to it.  I say that because it's an epic read - 496 pages in my copy.  At first, I was not a fan of Ellroy's writing...he jumps around a lot and incorporates SO many characters, but at a certain point in the novel, his writing style started making sense.  A lot of sense.  He gives you so much backstory and has so many different story lines going for so many different characters that when it all starts to come together, you realize that he'd been weaving this rich tapestry the whole time but you hadn't yet noticed.  It was so lush and incorporated so many different elements that if you are not someone who becomes fully immersed in a story, he probably isn't the author for you, but I loved it!

Although beautifully constructed, this IS a crime novel and Ellroy has described it as, "...a book for the whole family, if the name of your fucking family is the Charles Manson family!"

It is a gritty, grisly read at times, but the major characters really pull you in and don't let go.  In the beginning, you don't really identify or care for any of them, but as time goes on and you get the backstory to understand who they are, you find yourself rooting for each of them individually.  Or at least I did.  This classic crime novel focuses on three separate crimes that you come to discover are all interwoven:  a 1950 shootout for legendary gangster Mickey Cohen's heroine, the 1951 'Bloody Christmas' beating at the Hollywood Police Station, and the 1953 'Night Owl Massacre' multiple homicide at the Night Owl coffee shop.

The heroine shootout establishes the tone and the writing style for L.A. Confidential, while the 'Bloody Christmas' incident in lockup at the police station begins establishing the characters of the novel.  The Christmas beatings of four Hispanic men arrested for assaulting two police officers was fueled by the fact that the officers were having a Christmas party and had been drinking heavily.  Understandably they were upset about two of their own being beaten, but you soon learn that the police department was no stranger to using violence to solve most matters.  Some of the arrestees later recanted their testimony and Officer Bud White asks Captain Dudley Smith how he got them to do that.  He responded with no words, but instead,  "Smith laid brass knucks on the table: chipped, caked with blood."

Though the violence of this novel is in the forefront, the underlying theme here is the idea that nothing is as it seems.  Everyone has something to hide and what you see is rarely the truth.  "And the thing about secrets, Jack, is that everybody's got them.  Including you."  Every character in this novel is hiding something, fighting demons from their past, and putting up façades.  Well before the 1950's in which this novel is set and well into the present, façades and illusion have been an integral part of Los Angeles' history and identity and that is nowhere more apparent than in Pierce Patchett's business of running call girls:
"What Terry Lux does do is alter girls for Pierce's little studio.  There's Ava and Kate and Rita and Betty.  Read that as Gardner, Hepburn, Hayworth, and Grable.  Pierce finds girls with middling resemblances to movie stars, Terry performs plastic surgery for exact resemblances...Perverse?  Perhaps."
"Lux cut you to look like Veronica Lake?"
"No, I refused...I'm really a brunette, but the rest is me."

Ironically, the only character in this novel that knows exactly who she is the one that has to pretend to be someone else.  Lynn Bracken is Patchett's Veronica Lake and is the shining beacon of glamour in the dark world that Ellroy has created.  I've always been fascinated with the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles and this novel perfectly captures the element of this city and its history that is so often swept under the rug.  L.A. Confidential is a very serious read that is peppered with the humor and the stereotypical lingo of the day.  The great balance is that Ellroy confines this to the excepts from the tabloid magazine Hush Hush:  "The Mick also ran bookmaking, loansharking, gambling, prostitution, and dope rackets and killed an average of a dozen people a year.  Nobody's perfect, right, Hepcat?  You leave your toenail trimmings on the bathroom floor, Mickey sends people on the night train to Slice City.  Dig it, Hepcat: people also tried to kill Mickey!!!  A mensch like that?- No!!!  Yes, Hepcat, what goes around comes around."

After a few mimosas and a veggie scramble, Bridget and I settled in for the 1997 adaptation of Ellroy's novel.  This film was nominated for nine Academy awards but only took home two - Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Unfortunately this was the year of Titanic, which means it lost Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Dramatic Score, and Best Sound Mixing...all to Titanic.  Yes, I never saw it (seriously), but how a Film Noir of this caliber did not take home Best Cinematography, I will never know.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  Time ranked L.A. Confidential the best film of 1997.  Smart cookies.  And while it did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture, is has been at the top of MULTIPLE film lists for that year and was also voted by the Los Angeles Times as the best film set in Los Angeles in the past 25 years.

Watch the trailer.
It had been a very long time since I watched this film and I had forgotten most of the particulars.  After reading such a long, involved novel with so many characters and subplots, I was trying to remember how they had turned the novel into a cohesive film.  In watching the special features afterwards, even James Ellroy thought his work was unadaptable!  But the screenwriters, Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson (who also directed the film) did an amazing job!!  The film introduces the three main characters in a very matter of fact way that, in retrospect, is the first clue that this film's plot is much more streamlined and cohesive than the novel's because it focused only on the three main crimes and the three main characters.  As Ellroy stated in the special features, he was very happy with how the film turned out and since so much had to be cut from his original story, he felt that 80% was still specific to the book, which in a way kept it separate and special.

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The casting in this film is superb!  When this film was made in 1997, two of the three main roles went to unknowns - Russell Crowe and Guy Pierce.  This was done partially due to financial constraints since these types of films usually do not do well at the box office and had to be done on a relatively small budget.  Another reason for casting relative unknowns in these two roles was so that the audience wouldn't have any preconceived notions about these two characters since what you see is not what you get.

Both Russell Crowe as Bud White and Guy Pierce as Ed Exley are great, but Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes and James Cromwell as Dudley Smith are truly spectacular!

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Another perfect choice is the casting of Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken.  Lynn is the Veronica Lake of Pierce's little studio and she ended up looking so much like her it was crazy!

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Just like in the novel, Lynn brought so much glamour to this film.  While I own almost no white clothing and absolutely no white furniture, this dress and her apartment made me rethink those choices.  How incredibly fabulous is this?  Everything surrounding this character is soft and is dripping with 1940's glamour which is so starkly different from the rest of the film.

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Another perfect casting choice was Brenda Bakke as Lana Turner!  This scene where Exley thinks she is just one of Patchett's girls is one of the film's highlights!
"A two-bit hooker cut to look like Lana Tuner is still a hooker."
"That IS Lana Turner."
Cue Lana Turner throwing her drink in Exley's face!  This interaction was not in the book, and I feel like Ellroy kicked himself for not having thought of it himself.  It was hilarious!!

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The costuming and the casting really bring you into this world and into the story.  And the amazing locations really put it over the top!  Perhaps a post just dedicated to the many locations is necessary.  Actually, there were a few kismet moments later that very night, so stay tuned - it's going to be fabulous!

While the film is not nearly as saturated with characters and sub-plots as the novel, I'm not going to delve into much more except to say that watching it again reminded me why I consider this one of my favorites!  After a while, I tend to forget certain details, but I remember the impact that a novel or a film have on me in a very visceral way.  L.A. Confidential is one of those experiences for me each time I watch it!

What do you think Lovelies?  Did you read the novel on your own?  Have you watched the film recently?  Does it affect you in the same way?


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