Intrepid filmmaker Brian De Palma indulged a fondness for the "macabre" in his adaptation of James Ellroy's best-selling crime novel The Black Dahlia. However, many critics felt he went too far with the gothic touches in this period story of a hard-nosed cop (Josh Hartnett) investigating the murder of a Hollywood starlet. In the end, it took less than half of its $50m budget.
Throwing Light On The Dark
James Ellroy fans will appreciate this DVD though, as it offers the chance to hear from the author himself. In the featurette Reality & Fiction he talks about the grisly events that compelled him to put pen to paper. Apart from discussing the real-life case of murdered actress Elizabeth Short (with input from real LA detectives), Ellroy is very frank about a personal tragedy that gripped his psyche from childhood. "My mother's death corrupted my imagination," he says, before going on to talk about the horrific circumstances of her murder. While writing the novel, the writer confesses, "Short merged with my mother..."
Ellroy also contributes to The Case File, a featurette following the efforts of cast and crew to transfer his complicated book to the screen. Firstly the novelist explains that it took a long time to make the movie happen because, "The motion picture business is a largely dysfunctional one," ie deals were made and broken. Later on, De Palma and screenwriter Josh Friedman explain how they worked together to streamline the plot while preserving that old school film noir sensibility. Josh Hartnett reveals that he trained with professional boxers to play Bucky - seven months for four hours a day - adding, "I got my ass handed to me a lot of times..." Co-stars Aaron Eckhart, Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank chip in on how they worked to 'find' their characters.
The Word On The Street
Inevitably there's some unnecessary gushing about Brian De Palma's ability as a director in The De Palma Touch. Thankfully though, after the first five minutes, this featurette becomes more about the work of production designer Dante Ferretti. He pulled off the amazing feat of turning a Bulgarian backwater into the spitting image of 40s Hollywood. In terms of the visual metaphors, De Palma sums up the look of as "a descent into hell, basically."
De Palma doesn't give a commentary for the film and there is only a light smattering of behind-the-scenes footage. Overall, film noir devotees could do a lot worse than spending the night in with this DVD.