WEIRDLAND: Moral Codes and Broken Dreams: L.A. Confidential's, The Black Dahlia (Hard-Boiled Hollywood), Jim Morrison (Laurel Canyon)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Moral Codes and Broken Dreams: L.A. Confidential's, The Black Dahlia (Hard-Boiled Hollywood), Jim Morrison (Laurel Canyon)

Curtis Hanson’s gripping, graceful 1997 thriller “L.A. Confidential” (based on James Ellroy's novel) is such an immersive invocation of a bygone past that it can be hard to process the fact that the film is now 20 years old. A movie of classical virtues is now a classic in its own right. Less than a year after Hanson’s death, “L.A. Confidential” returns to the big screen on Tuesday for a 35-mm screening at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theater. A 35-mm print will also screen June 3 at downtown’s Orpheum Theatre. Confidently navigating a labyrinthine plot propelled by a multiple homicide at the downtown Nite Owl Café, “L.A. Confidential” exemplifies what critic J. Hoberman calls "sunshine noir," a tributary of film noir that takes the Hollywood dream factory as its subject. Beyond the surface pleasures and narrative tension, “L.A. Confidential” is a sensitive study of moral codes and broken dreams. The tortured relationship between the ambitious straight-arrow Det. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and the volcanic enforcer Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe), each forced to negotiate his own naivete about a system he thinks he understands, is the film’s emotional core. And Kim Basinger’s heartbreakingly direct portrayal of a call girl “cut” to resemble Veronica Lake grants the film an air of lingering melancholy. Source:

James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia (1987) was a crime novel based on Elizabeth Short's mysterious murder case. Ben Hecht, screenwriter, proffered a peculiar theory in the Examiner, viewing Short's death as a symptom of a crisis not of unbridled female freedom but of masculinity in general in Hollywood. Hecht opined with conviction, though without any supporting evidence, “In nearly all torture crime cases and mutilation after death, homosexuality is the basic motive.” The media regarded the murder of The Black Dahlia as a symptom of an increasingly dark subculture, awash in social and moral crises endemic to a city in which the movie colony held sway. The police booked Jeff Conners though they knew he didn't kill Elizabeth Short. Conners' real name was Artie Lane, who had lived in Los Angeles in 1947 and was employed at Columbia Pictures, where Short had aspired to work. When reporters for the Times tracked down Conners’s “attractive blond ex-wife, Miss Grace Allen," a somewhat sweeter version of the transient-character sketch emerged. She described her ex as “a screwball,” a daydreamer “a la Walter Mitty.” The comparison proved apt; Conners had claimed (falsely) to police that he was once married to a dancer named Vicki Evans, who had made news a year earlier when police raided a Laurel Canyon marijuana party that culminated in the arrest of the actor Robert Mitchum. —"Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles" (2017) by Jon Lewis

Jim Morrison posing in the doorway of his home in Laurel Canyon, 8021 Rothdell Trail, photo taken by Paul Ferrara in 1968. The house that Morrison shared with Pam Courson was a quaint bungalow in the hills. Morrison is said to have spent his most peaceful years on Love Street, recording the Doors' Waiting for the Sun and living with his muse Pam. "Morrison lived and loved the happiest days of his life on Love Street, his only attempt to domesticate himself," says Matt King. According to Vince Treanor, The Doors' road manager, Pam "was flighty, gushy and really unfocused. Her diet was usually strange chemicals. She was temperamental at best and her drug habit made her almost maniac depressive." Paul Ferrara, who met Pam intimately, remembers: "Pam supplied some sense of normality to an otherwise hectic rock star existence. At times I was invited for dinner. Pam had been cooking all day. Stoned, and with jewels and flowers in her hair, she was the perfect hostess for Jim and his house. She had some authority issues as well; she was always stoned or in a state of bliss." Robby Krieger said that Pamela was "mostly good for Jim" and “If it were possible for Jim to have a mate for life, we all felt that Pamela was that person.” John Densmore agreed, saying that it was only Pamela who “had the fire to be Jim’s match.” In Ray Manzarek's opinion: “They were the opposite sides of the same coin, the same person as a male and as a female. They were perfect for each other.” 

Oliver Stone uses Morrison the character as a symbol of decadence that leads to decay and death, both the death of the ego and the death of the body. Morrison becomes a symbol of the 1960s and early 1970s and the end of a dream that enlightenment was possible through excess. During a montage of clips showing the various horrors of the age, Morrison’s ego structure seemingly collapses as he says “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.” Sadly, audiences never really get to know the soul of Jim Morrison through the lens of Oliver Stone. Perhaps Morrison is symbolic of the death of the artist in a society bent on war and destruction. In Stone’s vision Morrison is not so much an artist tortured by the existential truths of existence, but by himself.

Audiences do not get to see Jim Morrison the poet at work, or why his relationship with Pamela Courson (played by Meg Ryan) continued to endure despite the drink, drugs, fame and infidelity. In the film, Pamela Courson tells Morrison that he’s “a poet, not a rock star”. This, in fact, may be the most penetratingly truthful line in the film. He was, it can be gathered from Morrison lore and scholarship, a poet at heart. It’s hard to believe that Jim Morrison’s seemingly nihilistic plunge into the depths came without meaning. By most accounts, Morrison was a brilliant performer, a passionate poet and a sensitive soul. It was, perhaps, in his wounded soul—that he found himself and his art and he shared it with the world. And one can appreciate his poetry and music and also sympathize with a fellow human being who felt great pain. Source:

"Psychologists distinguish among three different components of attitudes, the cognitive component or thoughts, the affective component or feelings, and the behavioral component or actions (Kassin et al., 2011). Frequently these components are not aligned with one another. For example, in the case of a bad relationship, your thoughts may be negative, telling you that your partner is not good for you, but your feelings may still be positive. We may continue to love our partners even though we consciously recognize that we are involved in bad relationships. It is also possible that strong positive and negative feelings toward a partner may co-exist (Zayas & Shoda, 2015)." —"The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships" (2015) by Madeleine A. Fugère and Jennifer P. Leszczynski

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