The Dahlia Files

Great piece by the wonderful Seth Mnookin about “the black dahlia”, and the ongoing fascination with that unsolved murder – but the piece is really about James Ellroy, a writer I absolutely LOVE.

James Ellroy was 10 when his mother, Geneva, was killed. He initially buried his grief; later, he dealt with his feelings by channeling them through a morbid, erotically charged preoccupation with the Dahlia murder. “Betty Short became my obsession,” he explained in My Dark Places, “my symbolic stand-in for Geneva Hilliker Ellroy.” As a teenager, Ellroy imagined himself as Short’s lover, protector, avenger, and killer, and his escalating mania fueled an increasingly fetishistic sexuality (“my Dahlia obsession was explicitly pornographic”). When he was in his late teens and early 20s, Ellroy would break into houses to smell women’s underwear; at night, he’d embark on eight- and 10-hour masturbating jags. “She spawns my lifelong dialogue on misogyny,” Ellroy said about Geneva and the Dahlia. Readers of his ultraviolent, hard-boiled crime novels will know that’s quite a dialogue.

Great piece. I will be seeing the film – even though I don’t really think Brian DePalma is the right director for it. (Nobody asked ME though.) Maybe Neil LaBute would have been right for it – even though he might not be the most obvious choice. I don’t know. DePalma seems to have too much unexamined misogyny to take on this story – and this story needs to be able to comment on misogyny – not just revel in it. But I haven’t seen it yet – so the Sheila jury’s still out.

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15 Responses to The Dahlia Files

  1. Lisa says:

    I watched a show on Steve Hodel the other night, and I kinda believe his theory that his dad (and Man FUCKING Ray!) killed Beth Short.

    I don’t know why, I just do.

  2. red says:

    Lisa – his book was VERY convincing. Have you read it?? Ellroy wrote the preface saying that HE was convinced as well. Yeah, the whole Man Ray thing was truly creeeeeepy!!!

  3. Lisa says:

    I haven’t, but I’m going to soon.

  4. red says:

    I think you’d really dig it, Lisa. It’s actually a really good investigative book – but there’s this whole weird side to it because – duh – he’s investigating his dad!

    Another great book in this vein is Ellroy’s My Dark Places, about the murder of his mother – at around the same time the black dahlia was murdered – and his investigation into the crime, years later. Fantastic book.

  5. Jeff says:

    I’m in mourning right now because I have to be in meetings all day and can’t skip out to see the film – aside from L.A. Confidential, it’s my favorite book of his, and I treasure the copy that he signed for me : “Jeff, SHE LIVES…”

    A reporter from the Sacramento Bee interviewed Ellroy last weekend, and he loves the movie, which is a good sign. I asked him once at a book signing what he thought of the movie “Cop,” which had been made from his novel “Blood on the Moon,” and he didn’t hesitate to tell me that he thought it sucked.

    Originally I wondered about Josh Hartnett in the Bucky Bleichert role, but after seeing the preview a couple of weekends ago (which is so good it sent chills down my spine, although you can make just about any movie look good in a trailer), I’m beginning to see it.

  6. Emily says:

    I can’t wait to see this movie. I won’t be able to until tomorrow and I’m bummed. The posters alone are creeping me out. But I’m still very suspicious of Brian DePalma. He’s been in my top three for least favorite directors consistently for 20 years.

  7. red says:

    Jeff – oh my God, he wrote “she LIVES” in your book? How absolutely marvelous.

    I have read completely contradictory reviews of it – some love it, others despise it – but I am encouraged to hear that Ellroy likes it!

  8. Emily says:

    Hahahaha. I recently dated a guy who had a signed copy of My Dark Places where Ellroy wrote the same thing.

  9. red says:

    Emily – My favorite movie of his (and one of my favorite movies ever) is Blowout – and – uhm – that was how long ago????

    But yeah, I’m excited to see it. I have seen NO previews of it but the posters are everywhere and you’re right, they’re terrifying.

  10. red says:

    Maybe i’ll go tonight. It’s pouring rain – my copy of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts is not due to arrive until MONDAY … so I have a bit of free time.

  11. red says:

    Oh – so writing “she LIVES” was his thing!! Still – pretty cool. :)

    Interesting point made in that article about his burst of creativity after The Black Dahlia – and then coming out wiht My Dark Places – and it seems a bit like the fire has gone out. Maybe not forever – but it was like an exorcism for him or something. A wound. My Dark Places is unflinchingly honest – I couldn’t believe it as I was reading it.

  12. Jeff says:

    I think that he does his best writing these days in his magazine pieces (which are collected in a couple of quality paperback editions). “American Tabloid” and “The Cold Six Thousand” are brilliant in a technical sense, but for me, his of real-life characters like the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover makes his prose less powerful. And his use of the “staccato sentence” has increased to such a degree that it’s almost the literary equivalent of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.” It may be brilliant, but it’s hard to enjoy.

  13. Emily says:

    I just checked Rotten Tomatoes and as much as I distrust pompous film critics, it doesn’t look good. I loved the guy from the Arizona Republic, though: “The best you can say about The Black Dahlia: For people who like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they will like.”

  14. red says:

    Emily – David Edelstein, one of my favorite critics (who wrote one of the most laugh-out-loud-funny reviews of Battlefield Crap – out of all the funny reviews, his is the funniest) – hated the movie. So – ack!!!

  15. Nightfly says:

    For people who like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they will like.

    Owwwwwch. That’s like the letter of recommendation that manages to let the interveiwer know that the interviewee is a total jackass and nightmare employee.

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