Friday, September 6, 2013
De Palma, Late and Early
Based on a real-life unsolved Hollywood murder mystery of the 1940's, The Black Dahlia looks great and contains solid performances by everyone involved, though Scarlett Johannson sounds way, way too modern for a period picture. De Palma gets in some of his signature camera movement, most notably in a long POV shot at a dinner party. But he's not overtly showy -- the more involved pans and tracking shots all serve the story, and there's a great, lengthy bit involving the discovery of the murdered, partially dismembered body of Elizabeth Short, the so-called 'Black Dahlia.'
What seems to have been cut are most of the scenes involving actual detection, along with at least a couple scenes fleshing out Detective Bleichert's growing obsession with the case. His partner, played by Aaron Eckhart, does become obsessed -- but Bleichert's later obsession seems to occur off-screen. And the revelation of the killer or killers falls somewhat flat, given that scenes introducing and explaining the role of that character seem to have been cut from earlier in the movie.
So instead we're left with a weirdly off-balance detective film more focused on the love triangle between Hartnett and Eckhart's detectives and Johannson as Eckhart's live-in love interest. The mystery comes and goes. In attempting to trim the multiple plot lines of a novel, the studio chose the wrong ones to trim. Lightly recommended.
One of the quintessential movies about high-school alienation and bullying, Carrie is really cut to the bone from the novel. We see scenes of Carrie's traumatization by fellow high-school students and by her Jesus-Freak mother (played with eye-popping, scenery-chewing gusto by Piper Laurie). Then things seem to get better. Then all Hell breaks loose because some bullies never seem to know when to stop.
It all works, pretty much, and only the red filter for some of the concluding scenes comes across as dated in terms of actual film-making (as it does in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver from the same year). And there's a real, chilling, accumulating horror to the scene directly before the fireworks start at the end, as the camera circles around a fairy-tale ending lurching inevitably towards horror. The editing in these concluding scenes is top-notch. De Palma could give good montage when he wanted to.
What of Carrie? Sissy Spacek is way too pretty for the novel's version of Carrie, and with Chloe Moretz playing her in the (second) remake, this doesn't seem like a trope that's going to change any time soon. In Hollywood, pretty people get bullied too because no one's putting one of the less-pretty ones at the centre of a movie. So is the dominant ideology reinforced and reinscribed. Here endeth the lesson. Recommended.