Mysteries, scandals, and murders of Hollywood, particularly the Golden Age ones, are always interesting, but they can easily be turned into embarrassiMysteries, scandals, and murders of Hollywood, particularly the Golden Age ones, are always interesting, but they can easily be turned into embarrassingly smutty books. All the warning bells should be ringing when an author has added Wikipedia articles, TMZ stories, and E! programs to the bibliography section. Di Mambro's decided to dig herself into a hole by also having a minimum amount of criticism about the statements of her sources. It's commendable that she's managed to made the effort to interview some of the people involved (and it shows that she's wanted to try something different than Kenneth Anger with his Hollywood Babylon ), but there's no sign that she doesn't take their stories at anything but face value.
The description "[a] tantalizing mixture of classic Hollywood nostalgia and true crime" is spot on. Di Mambro presents the basic facts of each case and doesn't take sides, which might seem like her purpose of letting the reader to make conclusions about the events has been successful, but in reality it takes more to make a good work of true crime. "Tantalizing" is not the way to go, especially if it means the chapters begin with "the sun glistening off the Pacific Ocean, which sparkled like limitless diamonds" or some equally awkward statement about the weather that in the middle of neutral text feels like a splinter in the eye. Add to that several cases of repetition and you start to miss a good editor.
True Hollywood Noir isn't entirely without its merits, though. In a few instances Di Mambro manages to correct a few rumours and is overall respectful towards the people. The corruption of the police force and how the studio executives were involved with tampering evidence are discussed very candidly. Protecting actors and actresses was important to the studios, but there's no question that protecting the studios' image the big bosses wanted to maintain in the eyes of the public to get more money was also a good motivator.
It's just unfortunate that the impression I got from the book overall wasn't polished or professional, even though Di Mambro avoids a voyeuristic and sleazy voice. Furthermore, I'd be curious to know where she found the information that Joan Bennett claimed to have begun the affair with Jennings Lang when she was ill, despite the fact that she has always denied having an affair with him.
Other illogicalities and choices that Di Mambro doesn't explain occur throughout, like referencing Bill Wellman's It's Made to Sell - Not to Drink (2006) (there's no reason to presume that Wellman is telling the truth, especially this day and age when there are plenty of people who'd like to cash in on celebrities), saying that shooting Lang helped Wanger's career despite stating earlier that his life was never the same again, and claiming that the reader supposely has never heard the story that Lana Turner was the real killer of Johnny Stompanato when in fact it's been speculated for years and is a well-known theory.
On another level of feeling uncomfortable was the stench of admiration that emanated from the Mickey Cohen chapter. He may have known movie stars and other celebrities, but there's no valid reason for an overly long chapter about him, and certainly no reason why Cohen's associate Jim Smith would deserve so much space, especially because all he does is explain away Cohen's crimes and make him seem like some charismatic gentleman who just happened to kill people for a living. Doesn't matter if the people deserved their fate in the world of organized crime, it's still murder.
Di Mambro seems to be supporting Smith, though, and even calls Smith's voice as "smooth, baritone [and] suitable for broadcasting". I'm not even going to begin talking about the picture of Smith's son holding a toy machine gun, and him having it framed in his house and showing it proudly to mobsters. There's just a whole lot of irrelevancy going on in the Cohen chapter, and it was the last straw.
All in all, short and quick to breeze through, but I wouldn't expect anything revelationary, nor the film noir theme being tied into the cases in any relevant way....more
In films, Los Angeles has many faces (none have shown that better than one of my favorite documentaries Los Angeles Plays Itself ), and Silver aIn films, Los Angeles has many faces (none have shown that better than one of my favorite documentaries Los Angeles Plays Itself ), and Silver and Ursini (film noir experts familiar to many) examine that from noir's point of view. For me, it's sometimes difficult to differentiate filming locations, but here's a fairly decent source if you want to know which noirs have actually been shot in L.A.
One might think noir only focuses on the seedy parts of the city, but the book is organized by area, and there's a lot to be said about the coastal parts where the rich live a seemingly satisfying life. A mixture of corruption and crushed dreams, it's amazing what lies under the surface of sunny California, and how especially Raymond Chandler revealed it for what it truly was (his novels contain my absolute favorite descriptions of L.A. of that era). It's that strange combination mixed with the oddities of the movie industry that differentiates L.A. from all the other cities out there.
Offering tidbits about the history of Los Angeles and the various changes it has gone through, Silver and Ursini tie it all with moviemaking: during the shoot of Double Indemnity (1944), police officers guarded the food because of the World War II rationing, and the creation of the suburban nuclear family and the new suburbs offered a great opportunity to examine the growing dissatisfaction behind closed doors. In the midst of all the cynicism and fatalism, a hope is still lingering that social injustices can be fixed.
A great introduction to the world of L.A. as a shooting location (and maybe to film noir and neo-noir, too), this is still a pretty basic overview of the topic, one that could have been an even greater analysis of how the L.A. pulse is beating in the noir spirit. The film segments lean more towards synopses than anything else, but there are plenty of successful moments as well to make this a worthwhile read. The photographs are amazing, that goes without saying. Not just film stills of gorgeous cinematography, but also rare behind the scenes photos (of the latter, the photo also appearing in the cover is my favorite).
"Dream and reality are the touchstones of film noir. Los Angeles is where the filmmakers of the classic period brought these elements together, created the emotional conundrums which the noir protagonist must confront—the land of opportunity and the struggle to get by, the democratic ideal and the political corruption, the American dream and the disaffection of veterans who gave up the best years of their lives."
"The dream of “Hollywood” is in many ways just another, slightly more profane version of the American dream."...more
The purpose of a short overview of only twelve serial killers escapes me, because I presume there are tomes referencing every single American serial kThe purpose of a short overview of only twelve serial killers escapes me, because I presume there are tomes referencing every single American serial killer (or at least most of them) and acting as introductions. I was testing Kindle in my phone the other day, and this was available for free in Amazon's Kindle books, so I figured I wouldn't be losing anything by at least trying this out.
Well, I did finish this, since I was morbidly curious about how much the level of craziness would grow, but otherwise I have to say I wasn't particularly impressed.
Obviously, there are interesting details here. John Gacy performed as a clown, and was known as an outgoing and succesful businessman. One of Jeffrey Dahmer's drugged victims escaped and the police believed he was his lover, because Dahmer (who worked at a chocolate factory at one point) was so well-spoken and calm, but if they had checked his apartment when they escorted them back there, they would've found the decomposing body of one of his latest victims on the bedroom floor. Well, later this happened: "There's a goddamn head in the refrigerator!". Ted Bundy worked at Seattle's Suicide Hotline crisis center, and earned a commendation from the police for saving a toddler. David Berkowitz had no success with women, so he decided to off them instead.
All these, however, I'd rather read from a proper and coherent reference book, or from an individual biography of one of the killers. Keller's approach is much too simplistic and, as he admits, subjective. A bit more polishing would have been great, too, since there's repetition in the parts where the victims are listed. It's all and well to note every single victim and treat them with respect, but at least a bit of variation sentence-wise would have been nice. I found no reason why one should read this instead of a Wikipedia article....more
"Directors don’t have much power anymore, the executives make unheard of amounts of money, and budgets are more out of control than they ever were. An"Directors don’t have much power anymore, the executives make unheard of amounts of money, and budgets are more out of control than they ever were. And there hasn’t been a classic in ten years." - Francis Ford Coppola
After Bonnie and Clyde opened, Stefan Kanfer defined the New Hollywood in the most perfect way: "disregard for time-honored pieties of plot, chronology, and motivation; a promiscuous jumbling together of comedy and tragedy; ditto heroes and villains; sexual boldness; and a new, ironic distance that withholds obvious moral judgments."
The history of cinema is chock-full of interesting people, tidbits, and large entities that every cinema lover should be aware of to understand why films are what they are. Biskind recounts with vividness (albeit with an unpolished touch) the story of rebellious New Hollywood. It was like a shooting star that shined brightly for a while but which ended up in a crater somewhere in the desert. It was a concept that bit itself in the leg despite the best of intentions, and "the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work—as opposed to the errant masterpiece—work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily." In this case, it's vital to understand the context of 70s and late 60s movies to fully grasp their ideas and potential.
New Hollywood boiled down to the ambitious goal to override the studio system and give talented people the chance to explore their ideas in a new artistic, auteurish, way, making the 70s the era of directors. It's when Biskind tries to venture to the business side does the text shrivel into mere detailed listings of budgets and how much of the cut each one involved got. He, does, however, manage to convey the feeling that the era was the time for young people to take away the power from the giants of the John Ford era and to take advantage of the executives' confusion about the changes of the social climate, and go completely berserk with their ideas (and personal lives).
Despite having a pretty varied taste in movies, it was fantastic to find out that the NH directors were inspired by (and in some cases even aspired to be) the great auteurs of the European cinema. Arthouse requires a specific kind of attention and the utmost focus of the viewer, but Scorsese et.al. injected their films with their own sense style. Perhaps not always as recognisable as Europeans' (especially Antonioni and Bergman), but slightly more approachable for the big audience (although I still can't believe Raging Bull (1980) bombed).
Not only that, but the small changes in the movie making process Biskind discusses all make sense when watching the movies (Taxi Driver (1976) etc.). Script writers ceased to be disposable and it was important for them to dive headfirst into their work, instead of considering it as a some sort of cheap job on the way to literature. Cast on the other hand was no longer comprised of polished cookie cutter people, but (apart from a few exceptions of course) average looking theatre people that lended realism to the movies. Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967) is a prime example. No one was especially looking for stars.
Biskind suggests that NH was partly about anger at authority and celebration of counterculture (like in Easy Rider (1969)). This tapped into a new audience, but unfortunately it didn't last long. Biskind's tone feels slightly derogatory, especially towards Lucas and Spielberg. He also seems to draw his own conclusions and interprets some movies in a way that it's represented as fact instead of as his own opinion. I'm not a fan of non-fiction authors who make their stances known, especially if the manner is bitter and unfairly inculpatory.
That being said, I understand what Biskind perhaps wants to say. The enthusiasm for making art gradually yielded when the studios started to recover. Spielberg and Lucas can't be the only ones to blame, but they did contribute involuntarily to the blockbuster era. Biskind makes a convincing claim that Spielberg's leanings towards conservatism and commercialism, occasional twelve-year-old-like behaviour, affinity with not crediting whoever helped him in his current movie (Rob Cohen thinks Verna Fields was responsible for the idea of showing only little of the shark in Jaws (1975) etc.), and favoring regressed adults and nostalgia for authority lead to tasteless and odourless cinema.
It may not be Spielberg's fault that after Jaws the studios were hungry for equally lucrative profits, but he chose to be part of the establishment. "Us" turning into an all-inclusive everyman instead of the counterculture kids is not necessarily only a bad thing, but it gave way to diluted family fares. Biskind says that Lucas had wanted a wholesome (Jesus Christ I hate that word) tone for Star Wars (1977), claimed it was a Disney movie, favoured happy endings along with straightforward storytelling and accessible two-dimensional characters. I agree with Biskind regarding Lucas and Spielberg bringing back small-town and suburban values. Lucas even said that "Words are great in the theater, but that’s not movies". Chilling.
Can you imagine what Apocalypse Now (1979) would have looked like if it had been directed by Lucas like it was initially intended? Pauline Kael said it well: "Discriminating moviegoers want the placidity of nice art — of movies tamed so that they are no more arousing than what used to be called polite theater. So we’ve been getting a new cultural puritanism — people go to the innocuous hoping for the charming, or they settle for imported sobriety, and the press is full of snide references to Coppola’s huge film in progress... [They were] infantilizing the audience, reconstituting the spectator as child, then overwhelming him and her with sound and spectacle, obliterating irony, aesthetic self-consciousness, and critical reflection."Friedkin compares the change with McDonald's getting hold of the nation. Lucas claims that he and Spielberg "understood what people liked to go see", but that just smells calculating as hell, not to mention that his claim that he destroyed the Hollywood film industry by making films more intelligent is just complete and utter bullshit. He even "believed that the most important parts of a film are the first five minutes and the last twenty. Everything in between is filler, and if there is enough action, no one will notice that the characters aren’t particularly complex, or that the acting is wooden".
The NH era was in a lot of ways wild, in good and in bad. The BBS offices smelled of pot, most were in a democratic mood and ready to help in friends' movies, everyone wanted to go to Peru to work with The Last Movie (1971) so that they could smuggle drugs back to L. A., Hopper's drug problem caused the directors to make notes in the script what kind he could take in each scene, there were some directors with huge egos and some (like Coppola) were simply megalomaniac crazies, women (who often contributed in some way to their men's films) had to cope with their men acting like assholes and thinking the open relationships of the 70s gave permission for cheating (Bert Schneider to Candice Bergen: "I’m sorry it’s so threatening to you, Bergen, but you have to understand that I’m a love object for every woman who walks into my office.... Start dealing with that. It’s time you began growing up."), on the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) the actors were provided with pot as a kind of takeaway so that they wouldn't have to go to the street etc.
We can all agree, though, that most films that resulted from this mayhem are good, and distinguishable as 70s and late 60s films. Biskind says that after their recovery, studio executives are now mostly businessmen who are interested about commercialism and money. Were now in a situation where it's difficult to brief an idea that doesn't promise huge profits. Indie movies do find their audience, but compared to the blockbusters, their market is much smaller. Star salaries are higher than ever. New faces are easier to be pushed around, and when one of the greats got an opportunity to make a comeback, they resorted to a mainstream film and failed.
Altman is not optimistic: "You get tired painting your pictures and going down to the street corner and selling them for a dollar. You get the occasional Fargo, but you’ve still got to make them for nothing, and you get nothing back. It’s disastrous for the film industry, disastrous for film art".
Who knows what will happen in the future. It's clear that we need all kinds of movies, and everyone has their own taste. I still wish there were more brave filmmakers who would get the opportunity to showcase their talents, no matter how wacky their ideas might be, and maintain their distinctive style through the years. I also wish that the movie business would slow down their hunger for money and would actually stop and smell the flowers, and see the talent out there.
Fortunately, these days we have our moments as well. With the explosive Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Miller succeeded in lighting the screen on fire. It was magical and different. Ripped my guts out with its energy and beauty, and that's what I'm personally looking for in a movie. Godard showed that anything is possible, and even Lucas said that "Emotionally involving the audience is easy. Anybody can do it blindfolded, get a little kitten and have some guy wring its neck"....more
Ugh, I can't finish this. I just quickly browsed through the rest of the articles, and it was all the same: random unfunny quips (what's Bogart's toupUgh, I can't finish this. I just quickly browsed through the rest of the articles, and it was all the same: random unfunny quips (what's Bogart's toupee got to do with anything?), unimportant trivia (yes, Mary Astor went through a humiliating divorce, but how's that relevant when dealing with The Maltese Falcon and its influence on the genre?), and severe lack of actually interesting information ("Also missing from the film version was the comma in the title." You're kidding!? Not sure if that was supposed to be a joke, though.).
Hughes promises detailed analyses and the tracing of the developments of the genre, but instead relies heavily on plot synopses and brief mentions of actor filmographies, both of which I would check from Wikipedia or IMDB if there was a need for that. The choice of films is a matter of taste, so I'm going to let that go. Overall I understand this is supposed to be an overview, but the lack of focus is distracting and renders the book shallow. Lists don't offer insight to anything, as was proved here....more