Monday, March 20, 2006


Is De Palma Ready for His Close Up?

I realize I may be going out on a limb here, but my gut tells me that the upcoming Brian De Palma film, The Black Dahlia -- based on the true story of the gruesome, unsolved 1947 murder of up-and-coming actress Elizabeth Short -- starring two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Scarlett Johansson (one of the most dynamic actresses of her generation), may be the film that finally gets him Oscar attention. Based on the novel by James Ellroy (who also wrote L.A. Confidential ), The Black Dahlia tells the story of the investigation into the murder of Short, whose body was found on January 15, 1947, in a vacant lot near Hollywood -- naked, cut in half at the waist, bruised, beaten, and reportedly sodomized after death. The murder rocked Hollywood and has been left unsolved for nearly 60 years. The subject matter seems right up De Palma's alley, but with somewhat more weight, given the fact that it's a true story. De Palma -- who has had some highly influential admirers, including film critic Pauline Kael, who wrote for The New Yorker magazine -- is not without his detractors, many of whom consider him a hack filmmaker who lifts ideas from more-respected directors (namely Hitchcock and Eisenstein) and in turn produces inferior versions of the same ideas. Some critics come right out and accuse De Palma of stealing ideas -- i.e. Blow Out is Blow Up, Dressed to Kill is Psycho, Body Double is Vertigo. Throughout the years, De Palma has worked with great actors and actresses -- some at the beginning of their careers (Tom Hanks, Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Robert De Niro), others past their prime (Al Pacino) -- but he has never been considered an actor's director (despite directing Spacek and Piper Laurie to Oscar nominations, and Sean Connery to an Oscar win). De Palma's track record is spotty at best, with Carrie, Blow Out, Carlito's Way, Casualties of War, and The Untouchables among his better efforts, and Bonfire of the Vanities, Mission to Mars, Snake Eyes, and Raising Cain, among his worst. At least one of his films, Scarface, has gone on to cult status, more popular now then it was when released. And his early years produced the curiosities Sisters and Phantom of the Paradise. The Black Dahlia may be familiar territory for De Palma, but it has also fascinated Hollywood for decades. With the pedigree of writer Ellroy, and actresses Johansson and Swank, I think we can expect great things.

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