Last night, we took a slight detour. A technicolor detour.
Our single feature was the modern(ish) neo noir LA CONFIDENTIAL, although the guest of honor claimed that it’s not really noir at all. That it, like all his books, is really period romance. But more on that in a minute.
Before the show, the Film Noir Foundation gave out its second annual Modern Noir Master award to the aforementioned guest of honor. None other than the Demon Dog himself, the irascible and always entertaining James Ellroy. The award was handcrafted and presented by Samantha Fuller (daughter of Sam.) After that, a chat with Eddie Muller that included lewd poetry, animal noises, public masturbation anecdotes and a fuckton of creative swearing. I expect nothing less from the self-proclaimed “slick trick with the donkey dick.”
You guys have all seen this flick, right? Some of you have probably even read the book. The wild, sprawling story follows three very different cops and their intersecting misadventures in the underbelly of a 1950’s Los Angeles drenched in sleaze, corruption and murder. There are some big differences between the book and the film, which is pretty much inevitable in any adaptation. If you haven’t yet, you really oughta check out both.
So yeah, period romance, huh? This is a really interesting claim, and there is so much to unpack there that there’s no way I can do more than break the surface in a short blog entry like these Noir City write ups. I will say this though. Traditional romance novels, the kind marketed to straight women, are mostly based around unrealistic fantasies of intense, old-fashioned, heteronormative relationships told from the female POV. With that in mind, I can see how Ellroy’s work could be said to center around unrealistic fantasies of intense, old-fashioned, heteronormative relationships, but told from the (often profoundly damaged) male POV instead.
Thinking of this claim while rewatching the film, I was struck by a line from Lynn Bracken on why she loves Bud White; “… because he doesn’t know how to disguise who he is.”
I’ve heard Ellroy make this comparison before, but he mentioned again last night that he thinks Chandler wrote about the man he wished he could be, while Hammett (whose work he prefers) wrote about the man he was afraid he might become. Ellroy is clearly a man who doesn’t know how to disguise who he is, so it actually makes perfect sense that he’d write romance in which a guy like that can still get the girl. Even if only for a fleeting moment before he inevitably fucks it all up.
But look, forget all that heavy shit. I have something much more important to talk about. Cleavage.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I love tits. Sure, we all do. But I was tortured by this anachronistic push up bra back when I first saw the film in 1997, and now that the 90s “Wonderbra” style of extreme cleavage has gone the way of the 50s bullet bra, it’s even more annoying. Just compare the above to this snap of the real Veronica Lake.
Garments were just not cut and padded in that particular style back then, and all the otherwise excellent period costumes really made this particular look stand out, in a bad way.
I’ll wrap this admittedly somewhat rambling post by saying how great it was to see all those classic Los Angeles locations on the big screen again.
Which, after all, is what this year’s run is all about. And you know, you could probably make a pretty solid counter argument that the real romance in Ellroy’s work is between the author and the city of Los Angeles.
Tonight, an Atomic Noir double feature with KISS ME DEADLY and CITY OF FEAR.
Hi, Elizabeth! I read a bunch for a paper I wrote on their themes back in college, but to be fair that was a looooong time ago. 🙂 If modern romance novels feature more non-heteronormative relationships, I’m glad to hear it. However, I was referring to the more old-school kind of novel I read back in the day, which is why I used the word “traditional.” I guess I could have made that clearer. It is still fair to say that even modern romance novels are read primarily if not entirely by women, right? Interesting that romance readers (and writers) are interested in both male and female POVs while Ellroy and his readers seem only interested in the male POV. Anyway thanks for commenting. Food for thought…
Interesting blog post but I wonder how many romance novels have you read recently? Because your description doesn’t sound like the books that I read or the ones that my friends write. Especially the bit about being told from the female POV. Most romance novels are told from the POV of both the hero and the heroine.