Exploring the work of Brian De Palma: The Black Dahlia

Ever since I saw De Palma and realized how little I know of the man and his total volume of work, despite being a huge fan of the hand full of movies I’ve seen that he did, I’ve been Trying to get the full experience of the filmmaker by trying to catch up on the ones I did not see and the ones I saw but did not realize it was him.
The Black Dahlia falls under the latter. I think the first time I wanted to check it out because I was wondering what (“I don’t wanna be a”) heartthrob, Josh Hartnett was up to. If you were a teenage girl in the late nineties you may vaguely remember the name. (When I think of him, I get these flashing images of him in Halloween H20 and The Faculty, but it’s flashing as if all the images came from the same movie). He was about to  become the next teen dream when he decided to fight hard to be a more respectable actor. The plan worked for Leonardo DiCaprio who is not even has tall and dashing as Hartnett (although, now that I think about it, that may have been Josh’s dilemma). I was curious to see if he ended up doing anything respectable (By the way, love him in the TV series, Penny Dreadful). Working with Brian De Palma would fall into that category (Adding that the film was made in 2006, when De Palama was not as hot)

While writing this post, I discovered that the Black Dahila is a very fictional tale of an event that really happen. I saw a mug shot of Elisabeth short, the real life murder victim they nicked name the Black Dahila online, along with a post summarizing the details, which really creepped me out. I can see why De Palma was interested, but the movie is based on a book that talks about the real case. This movie adaption takes the unsolved mystery and runs with an over glorified possible scenario with a focus on two cops working the case.

De Palma mentioned his love of Hicthcock and its cool that I am seeing that love in his movie style, being brought out (or I see it best) in these light but violent out burst that you see when characters fight or get in a gun battle. It’s dark in tone, but at the same time stylized not to be.
There was a part in De Palma when The Director tells us he never realized how violent his movies are when he shows them to studio heads who point that out.
I see what he’s saying now as he styles a seen to feel very colorful, but then characters make physical contact and it can through you off a little, as it emphasizes the whole scene.
This style possibly stands out more because it’s a period piece taking place in golden age Hollywood. If the movie was made in 1947 like when it takes place,  Universal, the studio that released it,  would tell De Palma he could not get away with what most audiences today would consider no big deal.
I think De Palma did that on purpose too, cause I see the same vibe in another period piece I recently resaw, the Untouchables, as well, I’ve seen it in Mission Impossible.
De Palma got a really good cast that puts you in that period as well. Josh Hartnett got to act along side Aaron Eckhart who’s a really good actor (How’s that for respectable?). Plus Scarlett Johansson easily looks like a women from that era (I think her and Hartnett were dating at the time) The costumes and the sets all gel together really well to complete the mood. I love how modern cinematographers tend to shoot golden age Hollywood in a way that makes California feel sunny and Romantic at the same time (This has very little to do with the DP, but it’s always usually a sunny and romantic California that hides a very dark underworld feel). Plus this guy was pulling out all the Hicthcock style shoots and angles.

Black Dahlia is definitely a De Palma film worth seeing, a dark tale about the criminal underbelly of the gorgeous Hollywood of yesteryear, it’s a unsung gem that can shine the high notes like Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (if only it was made during the same time frame)

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