By Russel D McLean
One night only in Glasgow, the Demon Dog of crime writing is gonna reign supreme.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, malcontents and malingerers, pimps and perverts, Ellroy is here to save us from the death of publishing and the internet invaders.
I've been waiting for this for over a decade. Last time I had a chance to see the man in action, Ellroy cancelled his gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival for reasons that, to this day, remain shrouded in mystery (we were only told on arrival at the Box Office).
It was my dad who introduced me to the works of Ellroy. Like me, he thinks the ideal introduction is probably The Black Dahlia, being a prime example of his stripped down, stone-cold style in its earliest days. For sure, I dug the Dahlia, even if took me a while to understand what Ellroy was doing, how for the first time I could remember in the history of reading, every damn word counted.
Tonight's gig isn't just the man himself, of course. Oh, no, there's also a screening of what the Waterstones website described as “an Ellroy inspired film” which was vague, but intriguing. There were any number of movies they could have considered.
My fear, of course, was that they would choose The Black Dahlia. Of all the films they have made – inspired by and directly adapted from Ellroy's work – this one brings up the worst memories. A soul-searing work of purest, blackest noir that became, under the creative control of Brian De Palma, a parodic and melodramatic mess of a movie; the Batman and Robin of noir, if you will permit to indulge in some negative hyperbole (but seriously, I could hardly sit through The Black Dahlia, so overblown and obvious as it was with a talented cast turning in some of the most bored performances of their careers).
Luckily, the Glasgow Film Theatre chose to unveil their choice. I would have been happy with the Kurt Russell starring (and plotted by Ellroy) Dark Blue, set around the time of the LA Riots which was also, coincidentally, the time when I was visiting the US for the first time with my parents (and yes, we were in LA in the days before the riots started). I would even have been pleased to see Street Kings, again plotted by Ellroy and starring that master of underacting, Keanu Reeves (who is, given the chance, usually watchable if not usually stunningly good) as an amoral cop caught up in a political war between his corrupt Captain (Forrest Whitaker) and the head of IA (Hugh Laurie with his bizarre American accent). Not a perfect movie, but enough going on to keep things interesting.
Thank goodness, though, that they chose LA Confidential. I remember seeing this movie before reading the novel, and thinking, this is what I want from a cop movie. Layered, restrained and pitch perfect, it is a film made by people at the top of their game. Russell Crowe has rarely been as good as here, playing Bud White, all presence and anger and a sharp mind overshadowed by baser instincts. And Guy Pearce is twitchily perfect as the initially heroic but increasingly amoral cop who gives the audience their surrogate for the movie. Throw in Kevin Spacey and the farmer from Babe giving their all in what were at the time quite unexpected roles, and Danny Devito being incredibly sleazy as the editor of a tabloid gossip magazine, and you have a movie with a top notch cast working from layered script and under a restrained and still stylised direction that De Palma really should have paid more attention to when he came to make The Black Dahlia.
And it’s on the big screen. I haven't seen it in a couple of years, but its shot with the kind of rich textures that I remember making a huge impression on me when we went to see it on its initial release. We’re talking period detail, textured storytelling, nuanced performances, the whole lot. Seeing it on the big screen back when it was first released had a huge effect on me; made me realise the moral ambiguities inherent in the thriller, made me view the past as every bit as corrupt as the present.
By the time you read this, of course, I will have seen the Demon Dog, will have wowed at his words and his will. And I’ll have re-lived Confidential, too, there on the big screen, in all its glory. Yes, I have high hopes for this event, but Ellroy is one of those writers who sheer affect on me – even with the notoriously difficult The Cold Six Thousand – as a reader cannot be understated. Tonight I’ll have been a reader again, a true fan, someone there for the thrill of seeing one of their heroes do his thing, say his piece, give us entertainment (and from what I hear, Ellroy does just that).
So bring it on, tonight, and to whet my appetite (and yours), here’s a clip of the man himself in full flow: