The Dark Places of James Ellroy By Mike White. I wouldn’t want to find James Ellroy in my house sniffing my sister’s underwear. Standing well over six-feet tall, Ellroy’s imposing stature makes him look like the extra-large version of Tim Conway’s Dorf character...

I wouldn’t want to find James Ellroy in my house sniffing my sister’s underwear. Standing well over six-feet tall, Ellroy’s imposing stature makes him look like the extra-large version of Tim Conway’s Dorf character. He must have made quite a sight when he broke into boudoirs for his felonious panty raids. Luckily, Ellroy gave up his life of crime after his literary career bloomed.

Born Lee Earle Ellroy in 1948, much of the writer’s early life is chronicled in his autobiography My Dark Places (1996), as well as the documentary by Reinhard Jud, James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction (1993). Haunted by the death of his mother at age ten, Ellroy associated her unsolved murder with the brutal slaying of Elizabeth Short, "The Black Dahlia." Short’s murder occurred on January 15, 1947—a year before Ellroy’s birth—and haunted Los Angeles for decades afterwards. In Clara and Robert Kuperberg’s James Ellroy: American Dog (2005) Ellroy says, "I did not choose to transmogrify my mother into Elizabeth Short. I simply read Jack Webb’s book, The Badge, and Gene became Betty and Betty became Gene. I used Elizabeth Short as my narrative expositional device to feel all the horror and outrage and compassion that I did not feel on the occasion of my mother’s death."

The motherless lad grew up to be a drunk, eventually graduating to speed. He’d masturbate to stroke books for hours, and even days, at a time. All the while, he claims to have harbored a dream to write novels.

Ellroy’s luck began to change when he started caddying in 1975. He began writing Brown’s Requiem in 1978 and, despite a rocky start, never looked back. A friend convinced him to dry out and start writing. Ellroy peppered his early works with autobiographical touches, most notably in Brown’s Requiem, Clandestine, and Silent Killer. Brown’s Requiem (1981) and Clandestine (1982) foreshadowed Ellroy’s later triumph with his "L.A. Quartet" series.

These hardboiled tales demonstrated some of the themes that would become staples of Ellroy’s writing. His tawdry tales are steeped in psychosexual obsession. His characters have a dark secret (often incest). There’s a crime that puts in motion an investigation that reveals a larger, deeper mystery. He weaves fact, fiction, innuendo, and second-to-sixth-hand information into his tales. He directly contrasts real life, embellishes it, documents it, or omits it altogether. Ellroy introduces famous historical figures (usually Mickey Cohen, Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover) to one another when they may not have ever met, or riffs about what might have gone down, throwing in his characters as witnesses.

After his initial novels, Ellroy began writing L.A. Death Trip, which was radically rewritten to create Blood on the Moon (1984), the first of three books to feature Detective Lloyd Hopkins. Along with Because the Night (1984) and Suicide Hill (1985), the Hopkins books have been repackaged as Ellroy’s "L.A. Noir" series. "Noir" is a bit of a misnomer, as the Hopkins books are more contemporary and come off as rather staid, albeit twisted, crime novels. Ellroy continued to find his footing with Killer on the Road (1986—also known as Silent Killer) but wouldn’t hit his stride until he went back to the world of post-WWII Los Angeles for The Black Dahlia (1987), the first entry in the "L.A. Quartet."

White Men Doing Bad Things: The Films of James Ellroy
Ellroy writes as a director would recount a film—he "cross cuts" the action as he "builds his scenes." His descriptions are infused with cinematic quality which makes them ripe for plundering by Tinsel Town. Early adaptations of Ellroy’s work left something to be desired. The thriller Cop and TV adaptation for the Showtime series "Fallen Angels" were blips on the radar. It wasn’t until 1997’s L.A. Confidential that Ellroy’s work was given a proper cinematic adaptation.

Like most folks, I first heard of James Ellroy when L.A. Confidential came to theaters. The filmed adaptation of Ellroy’s novel—his ninth book and the third entry in his "L.A. Quartet"—captivated me. Apart from this film, Ellroy hasn’t had a great relationship with Hollywood. "I like hamburgers, but I don’t take them seriously. Same goes for movies," Ellroy said about the adaptations of his work in James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction.

After the success of L.A. Confidential, Hollywood clambered to cash in on the Ellroy name. Rights for Ellroy’s previous works were snatched up left and right, promising something of a wet dream for fans of the hardboiled author. There was even a pilot for an "L.A. Confidential" television show.

For a while it looked like White Jazz (1992) would be made, based on a script by Ellroy and Chris Cleveland (Glory Road). Nick Nolte, John Cusack, and Uma Thurman were to go in front of cameras in 2002. Interlight, the film’s production company, went so far as to release a lovely full-color prospectus, but the project has been mired in production troubles and has yet to see the light of day. Rumors started to surface a few years later that George Clooney will take the lead in this project, with a screenplay written by Joe and Mathew Michael Carnahan (with Joe directing).

At the time this article was written, only two additional Ellroy adaptations have successfully reached fruition: Jason Freeland’s Brown’s Requiem (1998) and Brian DePalma’s The Black Dahlia (2006). There was also a short film from Mitch Brian called Stay Clean (2002), based on Killer on the Road, with a performance by the author. Between novels, Ellroy has penned several original screenplays, including The Plague Season (filmed as Dark Blue (2002)), "L.A. Sheriff’s Homicide" (a pilot that is said to air as a TV movie in Belgium on occasion), The Night Watchman, 77, and an adaptation of White Heat.

Cop (James B. Harris, 1988)
In mystery writing, a recurring character can be literary gold. Lloyd Hopkins was James Ellroy’s attempt at mining this vein. The focus of three novels—Blood on the Moon, Because the Night and Suicide Hill—Hopkins is a man on the edge; an unhinged cop on the outs with his department. Think of Hopkins as a predecessor of Bud White, down to his penchant for playing Russian roulette with suspects in the hopes of gleaning crucial information. Like White, Hopkins didn’t have the greatest upbringing. Hopkins also has the same "wild hair up [his] ass about murdered women."

James Woods perfectly captures the "out-to-fucking-lunch" Hopkins, while Lesley Anne Warren wonderfully conveys the goofy romanticism of Kathy McCarthy. The narrative relies heavily on some odd coincidences, in that Hopkins happens upon the object of a killer’s affection (Kathy) and that they all grew up in the same neighborhood. There’s also a strong strain of homophobia that runs through the film with any and all gay or bisexual characters being deceitful, if not completely murderous.

Written and directed by James B. Harris (Fast Walking), Cop often stays faithful to the Hopkins narrative from the source material. The film’s flaw stems from the absence of an antagonist. While there’s a killer lurking in the shadows, he’s unseen. The audience only knows as much as Hopkins, which plays as an interesting twist on the genre but ultimately fails. Viewers are never made privy to the killer’s motivations or inner-workings. He’s simply a faceless force leaving corpses in his wake. Moreover, the film ends abruptly, with no sense of closure.

L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
Writer/director Curtis Hanson and screenwriter Brian Helgeland fashioned a remarkable film that feels like great literature. Where too many films falter under the weight of two protagonists (even most modern ensemble pieces eventually focus on one character), L.A. Confidential skillfully balances three fully-realized protagonists and several well-developed supporting characters.

Think of L.A. Confidential as the Rosetta Stone of Ellroy films. Detective Lieutenant Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), Detective Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), and Officer Wendell "Bud" White (Russell Crowe) are three Los Angeles police officers who become mired in the corruption that seethes under the surface of the City of Angels. Mobsters, prostitutes, scandals, sexual obsession, and murder loom as large in the background of our protagonists’ lives as the Hollywood sign. The story mixes Hollywood fact with hardboiled fiction while exemplifying other staples of the author’s work, such as the dark secret that haunts someone’s past, along with two or more seemingly unrelated mysteries being incongruously linked. ("You help me with mine; I’ll help you with yours. Deal?")

Exley and Vincennes have clouded visions of justice, which slowly come into focus as they unravel the details of the Nite Owl diner massacre. ("It’s supposed to be about justice. Then somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that.") Meanwhile, Bud White has to reassess his own myopic version of right and wrong, adjusting his allegiances while maintaining a strict personal code. ("How’s it going to look in your report?" "It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got.")

The adaptation of L.A. Confidential (1990) stands as one of those rare instances where there are major differences between a novel and film, but neither suffers due to this. Rather, novel and film are both triumphant works that stand on their own as mutually exclusive masterpieces.

Brown’s Requiem (Jason Freeland, 1998)
This film defies you to pay attention to it. As boring as L.A. Confidential is riveting, Brown’s Requiem is a languorous, laborious film that fails to entertain despite its remarkable cast, with everyone from Michael Rooker as protagonist Fritz Brown, to female lead Selma Blair, to a host of minor characters played by the likes of Brad Dourif, Brion James, and Tobin Bell.

Golf, sexual obsession, and dark family secrets are in abundance in Brown’s Requiem. Writer/director Jason Freeland (Garden Party) sets the action in modern-day California, turning the Club Mecca firebombing of 1957 into a Molotov attack of a club owned by Sol Kupferman (Harold Gould). Against this late-nineties setting, the Ellroy dialogue (chunks of it taken verbatim) strikes a sour note. It’s not too often that one hears "shitbird" thrown around, except in an Ellroy work. This "hardboiled dialogue in a modern setting" may (or may not) have played in Rian Johnson’s Brick (2005), but it definitely fails here. While Brown’s Requiem tries hard to be a neo-noir, with its voiceover narration and winding plot, the film simply feels like an insincere aping of better works.

Dark Blue (Ron Shelton, 2002)
Originally set against the Watts Riots of 1965, The Plague Season was updated to play off the Los Angeles riots of 1992 at the behest of producer Caldecot Chubb. This contemporizing of Ellroy’s original screenplay does little to make the dialogue feel realistic ("shitbird" is uttered again) but does well to telegraph the tense situation during the Rodney King trial. One good riot deserves another and Ellroy enjoys dumping his characters into the middle of a full-scale urban war. The author did the same with his protagonists in The Black Dahlia when he utilized the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.

Rewritten by David Ayer, Dark Blue maintains a strong Ellroy feel in its tale of white men doing bad things. Kurt Russell stars as Eldon Perry, a strong-arming third generation policeman with a skewed morality and an unhealthy loyalty to his father’s partner, Jack Van Meer (Brendan Gleeson). Through blackmail, intimidation, and murder, Van Meer uses his position in the L.A.P.D. to build his bank account and cement his position of power. When two of Van Meer’s "pets" go awry and murder several innocent bystanders at the Jack O’Hearts convenience store, Perry and his young partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), are put on the case.

"Your job is not to think," Van Meer sneers at Perry after he and Keough get too close to solving the Jack O’Hearts case. Perry takes the hint and brings the heat down on two other criminals rather than question Van Meer. "We’re in the ‘getting shit done’ business," Perry tells Keough. This dynamic recalls Bud White (Russell Crowe) and his blind dedication to Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) while investigating the Nite Owl murders. Dark Blue feels like L.A. Confidential, if White and Exley had been partners and Exley was a completely weak, ineffective character.

On the outskirts of the proceedings is Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames). He aims to be the first black police chief of the L.A.P.D. He maneuvers through deadly political waters, hoping to bring credibility back to the force. Unfortunately, Holland comes across more as a conniving opportunist willing to "play the race card" than any kind of honest civil servant wanting to end the corruption that plagues his beloved Los Angeles. This makes for a troubling addition to a film where race is already a hot button and where blacks are portrayed as bloodthirsty animals during the post-Rodney King verdict riots.

Kurt Russell carries the film on his seasoned shoulders, playing a truly fascinating and dynamic character. He’s like a sympathetic version of Alonzo (Denzel Washington) of Training Day or Jim Luther Davis (Christian Bale) of Harsh Times (both films also penned by David Ayer). If not for Russell, the movie would have been much more of a messy amalgamation of Ellroy and Ayer.

The Black Dahlia (Brian DePalma, 2006)
A milquetoast attempt at film noir, The Black Dahlia comes as yet another entry in the disappointing post-Mission: Impossible career of Brian DePalma. This fast-and-loose adaptation of James Ellroy’s first "L.A. Quartet" novel comes from Josh Friedman, the scribe who brought us the laughable Chain Reaction and ill-conceived War of the Worlds remake. The Black Dahlia consists of overwrought dialogue that would put any actor to the test. Alas, not only is the dialogue wrong, but so is every actor in DePalma’s tepid film.

Horribly miscast with current Hollywood luminaries, the stinkiest performance of the film emanates from Hillary Swank who, as Madeleine Linscott, affects some kind of Katharine Hepburn accent while pretending to be prettier than she is. "Elizabeth [Short] and I made love once. I just did it to see what it would be like with someone who looked like me," she confesses to protagonist Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett). This should tip him off that her character must be absolutely nuts: Elizabeth Short (the titular Black Dahlia) is feminine and lovely (as played by Mia Kirshner); Swank possesses neither of these qualities. Moreover, no bisexual character in an Ellroy work should ever be trusted.

While the film bears the title The Black Dahlia, the murder of Elizabeth Short is overshadowed by a handful of other plotlines, including Bucky Bleichert’s partner, Leland "Lee" Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) going crazy for reasons unexplained in the film. This creates a dangerous situation as Blanchard might chew up too much scenery, leaving nothing for Ramona Linscott (Fiona Shaw) to feast on during her laughable climactic scene. There’s also a major plot line wherein Bucky falls for Blanchard’s live-in gal, Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). If we were to channel the amount of electricity between Bucky and Kay in this film it couldn’t power a pocket calculator.

Between the unbearable acting, wretched dialogue, and whacked-out camera work, The Black Dahlia feels like a home movie recording of a high-school play rehearsal. What made this torturous experience even more unbearable was the appearance of Ellis Loew (Patrick Fischler). His appearance kept reminding me of the other movie that Ellis Loew was in: L.A. Confidential (as played by Ron Rifkin). Wow, that was a great movie. What is Loew doing in a piece of shit like this?

The Night Watchman (Unproduced)
Written by Ellroy, this story opens in October 1995, with the O.J. Simpson verdict rocking the Los Angeles Police Department. The L.A.P.D. works hard at damage control from Mark Fuhrman’s role in the trial. A burnt-out cop, Tom Ludlow, becomes embroiled in an ever-widening case that begins with a convenience store robbery and spreads out like blood spatter. One smaller, bloody crime leading to a larger, more pervasive problem within the L.A.P.D.—this sounds like L.A. Confidential and Dark Blue.

Ludlow follows his seasoned talent for hunches and unravels a minor criminal plot that intersects with a police conspiracy that goes back almost fifteen years. By blowing the whistle on his fellow officers, Ludlow will be condemning himself. Some of Ludlow’s past misdeeds (often fueled by alcohol) had been brushed under the rug by his corrupt brethren. Exposing them would leave him vulnerable yet, as with most Ellroy protagonists, Ludlow is motivated by justice and will do whatever it takes to see that it’s served, even if it means burning himself.

The second draft of this script is dated September 2, 1997. The rumor (at the time this article was written) is that David Ayer may direct this film, with the screenplay being rewritten by Jamie Moss. My Dark Places (Unproduced) TV writer ("Cold Case") and documentary director (Thank You and Good Night) Jan Oxenberg does a fair job of adapting Ellroy’s autobiographical tome. The story switches cuts between a young Ellroy and the present day (1997, actually) author on the trail to uncover his mother’s killer. An unsympathetic lead character may be possible in documentaries and even some docudramas and, apparently, Oxenberg was trying her darndest to test the limits of this. Her Ellroy "character" is an unrepentant bullshitter who’s often described as being in "asshole mode."

There’s no pretending that Ellroy’s characters are anything other than substitutes for himself. Like Lee Blanchard and other detective protagonists, we see Ellroy creating a shrine to his mother using police photographs. During one of the few poignant scenes, he dances with a waitress while "the dance is intercut with the images flooding Ellroy’s head. Murdered women. His mother, the Black Dahlia, the murdered women of his fiction, his imagination, of the pulp magazines he read as a kid." The direction here states, "This has to be done carefully, the images should not be titillating but they should be horrible—in the sense that we feel the horror the women victims feel,as Ellroy does—in the movie he can’t stop in his head."

For a while it looked as if David Duchovny would play the author but the entire project seems to have gone offline.

77 (Unproduced)
As with the Zoot Suit Riots, Watts Riots, Bloody Christmas, O.J. Simpson trial, and Rodney King trial (to name a few), Ellroy sets the action of 77 against a famous historical event in Los Angeles history. This time, it’s the shootout between the Symbionese Liberation Army and L.A.P.D. of May 17, 1974. Set shortly after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst (February 4, 1974), 77 plays off of the same racial and social environment that fueled the S.L.A. The screenplay also fictionalizes the unsolved murder of police officer Michael Lee Edwards, who was killed six days before the S.L.A. shootout. Here Edwards is "Donny Miller," and he’s a real shitbird (a word strangely absent from this Ellroy work). Think of Miller as the Leland "Buzz" Meeks of L.A. Confidential, as he seems to have been involved with some seriously bad juju and unlocking his death allows the rest of the narrative to unfold.

The script’s title comes from the precinct where Edwards worked and where fictional officers Chuck Lynley and Billy S. Burdette are partnered. Lynley is a white peckerwood while Burdette is a black lawyer slumming as a cop in some kind of protest against his upper-class family. Lynley appears to be a racist, sadistic bastard. He manages to kill five men—all black—in the line of duty during his first month at the 77th. Yet the salt and pepper partners inexplicably endear themselves to one another. Cruising the streets like Freebie and the Bean, the pair realizes that they both search for justice in a corrupt world. Meanwhile, like the triangular relationship of The Black Dahlia among Bucky, Lee, and Kay, 77 has Lynley falling for Burdette’s sister, Jane, with the couple unable to escape his influence after his untimely demise.

While the S.L.A. skulks in the background of the story, an audience for 77 would likely be confused when Lynley unearths porn loops of prominent S.L.A. members. Unseen through the rest of the film, the sudden appearance of Willie Wolf, Cinque Mtume, Mizmoon Soltysik, et cetera, would leave everyone except Patty Hearst scratching their head as to who these people are and why we should be shocked by their appearance.

The title page of 77 states that it was to be produced by television mucky mucks Dick Wolf and Tony Ganz.

Dated October 14, 2003, this is the second draft of the script. The project dates back to 2001 but hasn’t had much traction in the years since. White Heat. The screenplay for this adaptation of Raoul Walsh’s 1949 classic White Heat doesn’t bear a date. The best estimate is that this was written circa 2000. In Ellroy’s update of the Ivan Goff and Ben Robert screen story, the author keeps the high points of the original film—a train robbery, an unbalanced crook who’s close to his mother, and an undercover cop. Add some paternal conflict, latent homosexuality, police corruption, and a couple of "shitbirds," and a new, as-yet-unfilmed version of White Heat is born.

Cody Jarrett and Hank Fallon are second-generation criminal and cop. Jarrett’s daddy killed Fallon’s daddy, and Fallon goes undercover as a criminal when Jarrett goes to jail. Definitely far more raw than the 1949 film, prison in Ellroy’s White Heat comes filled with racial violence and rape around every corner. Along with the paternal back story, Ellroy intensifies the blatant relationship between Jarrett’s wife, Verna, and his criminal partner, Ed. Jarrett appears to be impotent and almost actively encourages Verna’s liaisons with Ed, much to Ma Jarrett’s chagrin.

Oddly, Ellroy doesn’t play up the Oedipal overtones between Jarrett and his mother. This is surprising, as incest is a thematic staple for Ellroy. What’s at the center of White Heat is the relationship between Jarrett and Fallon. In the Walsh film, Fallon (Edmund O’Brien) doesn’t enter the picture until the second act. The protagonist of the first act is T-man Phillip Evans (John Archer). In the Ellroy script, the Evans character is combined with Daniel Winston, The Trader (Fred Clark), to provide requisite police corruption. In Ellroy’s work, "Trader" doubles as "Traitor."

The thrilling conclusion of the 1949 film is omitted from Ellroy’s work, making his work feel padded and laborious. No "Top of the world!" here, in any sense.

The Big Nowhere (Unproduced)
Penned by Kazan brothers Chris and Nick (see page 12), this adaptation does justice to the most overlooked of the four entries in Ellroy’s "L.A. Quartet." The story has two detectives from disparate backgrounds and widely varying motivations ultimately pursuing the same criminal. Deputy Danny Upshaw is the incorruptible younger officer whose dogged pursuit of police procedure alienates his girlfriend (though he may be shutting her out for other reasons). Chief Deputy Hash Reed acts as muscle for the mob to pad his bank account. While Hash plays lackey for mobster Mickey Cohen, Upshaw obsesses about a murder case even while working undercover, infiltrating a communist organization at the behest of District Attorney Ellis Loew.

Hash performs double duty in the Kazans’s screenplay, as he was two characters in the Ellroy book: Leland "Buzz" Meeks and Mal Considine. Also missing from action is Lieutenant Dudley Smith. He’s been replaced by a nefarious L.A.P.D. officer, Clyde. He and Loew are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg and work as hard to gain and maintain power as Mickey Cohen. It’s only Upshaw and Hash who pursue justice.

Further motivating Upshaw’s sojourn into the Red and Lavender Underworlds (where communism and homosexuality collide) is his realization that he’s gay. This makes his quest to solve the murder of homosexual Marin Goines personal. All signs point to bisexual Union man Reynolds Loftis (think Pierce Patchett from L.A. Confidential), which means that he’s a red herring with frame around him. The true killer plays into some of Ellroy’s favorite themes: murderous homosexuals, secret love affairs, and incest. Add in some killer wolverines and you’ve got a fairly twisted, albeit compelling, labyrinthine tale.

Dated September 25, 1997, there were rumblings in 1998 that Gregory Hoblit would direct but this never came to fruition. Another adaptation of the same work by crime writer James Crumley is said to exist.

The Demon Dog Barks: Documentaries of James Ellroy
There are almost as many movies about Ellroy as there are Ellroy adaptations. One of the most heavily documented living authors of the Twentieth Century, Ellroy is the subject of at least four full-length documentary films. Along with the aforementioned James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction (1993) and Clara and Robert Kuperberg’s James Ellroy: American Dog (2006), Ellroy was the main subject of Nicola Black’s White Jazz (1995) and Vikram Jayanti’s Feast of Death (2001).

James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction (Reinhard Jud, Austria, 1993)
Director Reinhard Jud treats Los Angeles as a character in his documentary. Unfortunately, it’s as underdeveloped a character as Ellroy. The city isn’t given a voice, nor does Ellroy provide one for it. Rather, there are too many bits of Ellroy merely rehashing his books and discussing settings. Much of the film is comprised of shots of police cars and lulls in narrative. There are also embarrassing moments of Ellroy howling at the moon and using language like "hepcats" and "nowheresville" with an acute lack of irony. The author also displays an absence of humility as he rambles on about his "stupefyingly complex [...] spellbinding social documents." Surrounded by framed press clippings about his work, he says, "I wanted to give people crime fiction on an epic level."

Somewhere in this lousy 90-minute documentary hides a good 30-minute film. Viewers are introduced to James Ellroy: his past, his proclivities, and his body of work. His job is to make the nightmares of Los Angeles explicit. All of this makes for some fascinating material for Ellroy fans, but not for anyone else.

Feast of Death (Vikram Jayanti, 2001)
This rambling, rambunctious documentary displays the endless obsessing of James Ellroy over the death of his mother, Geneva. Most of the film is made up of diner conversations between Ellroy and police detectives. This makes for an intensely disinteresting documentary that makes viewers want to scream, "She’s dead! Get over it!" Even to an Ellroy fan, this film is an intense bore.

White Jazz (Nicola Black, United Kingdom, 1996)
Nicola Black’s work should be considered a good balance of Demon Dog and Feast of Death.

Like Demon Dog, there’s plenty of embarrassing poetry and howling from the "Demon Dog," along with background on the writer (provided by Ellroy himself). And, similar to Feast of Death, there’s a large portion of the film dedicated to Ellroy hanging out with Detective Bill Stoner, going over the case files of Geneva Ellroy. Luckily, the author doesn’t come across an ingratiating cop groupie in Black’s Channel Four documentary.

James Ellroy: American Dog (Clara and Robert Kuperberg, France, 2005)
This documentary should be considered as the filmed adaptation of My Dark Places. Another hour of James Ellroy obsessing about the murder of his mother, this work by Clara and Robert Kuperberg gives some background on Ellroy before diving into voiceover readings from the author’s maternally obsessed autobiography.

Shot on digital video with some nicely saturated colors (lots of deep red and blue filters), James Ellroy: American Dog chugs along the Dead Mother Highway with some pit stops along the way. Exits include Film Noir Boulevard, Crime Photos Way, and Dana Delany Drive. The radio is tuned to Overwrought Strings FM. Like Nicola Black’s White Jazz, the Kuperberg’s work strikes a good balance between the oddball writer and quixotic investigator. Definitely the sharpest of the Ellroy documentaries, this French work—while not entirely riveting—is the best of the lot by default.

Back to Issue 15