WEIRDLAND: December 2021

Friday, December 31, 2021

West Side Story, Don't Look Up, Leo DiCaprio, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Matt Damon

With five Academy Award nominations and a win for “The Revenant,” Leonardo DiCaprio has established himself as a Hollywood icon, with nearly $3 billion dollars of global box office to his name. In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” DiCaprio played a washed-up movie star at the end of his tether — which is perhaps the biggest stretch yet for an actor with such an esteemed pedigree and enviable body of work. Adam McKay’s end-times satire “Don’t Look Up” finds DiCaprio back in the awards conversation for his turn as a flustered astronomy professor heralding a planet-annihilating comet to deaf ears. DiCaprio gets many a chance to chew the scene — including in a few pivotal, “Network”-inspired, blistering monologues about the idiocy of the modern world.  Source: indiewire.com

First time around, West Side Story was a musical tragedy. The Broadway stylization of American youth (created by Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim) was so empathetic toward rock ’n’ roll and restless urban subcultures that when the film version appeared, adults and teenagers all accepted it. They understood that art made by others could represent universal human experience. But in our millennium, the doomed romance of Polish-American Tony with Puerto Rican Maria (star-crossed lovers translated from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) no longer embodies a common plea for age, race, and cultural tolerance. Now Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story seems to reject what once was genuinely unifying in American popular culture. Spielberg and Tony Kushner, his collaborating screenwriter, set the story in the 1960s, specifically when the Upper West Side of Manhattan was undergoing urban renewal. Slum-clearance signs announce preparation for what is now the Lincoln Center fine-arts space. Spielberg and Kushner’s race-war conceit self-consciously heightens national antagonism; they make America’s racist past inescapable. It is always the 1960s.

The threat of injustice is evident when gangs meet, dancing into their positions with the muscular masculine aggression missing from Robbins’s original choreography. The supercharged threat is Spielberg and Kushner’s way of emphasizing violent rivalry. But by film’s end, there’s no more reference to Lincoln Center and its future dominance as a bastion of Western fine arts (the wrecking balls poised over the dilapidated cityscape were just destruction motifs) because Spielberg and Kushner themselves share those commanding heights. They’re in the process of transforming — demolishing — culture according to Millennial rules. This is an inferior West Side Story because it isn’t an honest update. Having fallen under Kushner’s Communist, anti-American influence, Spielberg sinks to self-parody when he attempts to endear Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) as victims of a harsh society — aliens too gentle for this world. Revising American cultural history this way erases West Side Story’s original, unrepeatable, indisputable impact. The closing song “Somewhere” once inspired many renditions (even a poignant, if unctuous, civil-rights theme by Diana Ross and the Supremes) that felt like secular prayers for humanity. Can we ever be so open or romantic again? Spielberg shrinks the spiritual aspiration that once made his popular art transcendent. First time out, West Side Story functioned as tragedy and cultural triumph. Second time, it’s a woke farce. Source: nationalreview.com

Whereas Rock Culture shown in West Side Story was steeped in hedonism and sensualism (despite its serious and/intellectual aspirations), Folk Movement was about socio-political commitment and/or fidelity to the simple essence of humanity unvarnished with cosmeticizing effect of capitalist consumerism, the main expression of which was advertising that presented idealized images (that were hardly accurate representation of humanity); of course, much of advertising today indulge in anti-idealism, a freak-show that also has little use for the normal spectrum of humanity. The Anti-Ideal is the flipside of the Ideal, both driven more by agenda than any reflection of reality. Ideality presents humanity better than it really is, whereas Anti-Ideality makes it seem worse… but for the perverse twist that the Anti-Ideal is promoted as the higher ideal. Sixties Counterculture fell into the Rousseauean trap. Its adherents and spokespeople really believed that all the problems of the world were the result of repression, organization, hierarchy, management, and order. They fell for the fallacy that, because much harm arose from organized power, order itself must be bad, therefore dissolution into happy disorder would automatically liberate humanity from its problems. Source: unz.com

“If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful , or thoughtful, or courteous, you simply had to act those things with every gesture, Tom thought. But they were not friends. They didn't know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realization seemed more than he could bear.” ―Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)

Whereas Highsmith’s Ripley offers an unusual and fascinating insight into the mind of a genuine amoral narcissistic sociopath, Damon’s Ripley is just a vaguely pathetic criminal of opportunity. What makes Ripley scary in the novel is that he doesn’t feel any emotional at all as he kills–and he certainly doesn’t sob and apologise while he’s bludgeoning/strangling you to death. The fascinating and multi-layered psychology of Highsmith’s Ripley is drained of complexity by Minghella. According to Highsmith, the character of Ripley is not a homosexual. That was just Marge’s jealousy speaking. A lesbian herself, Highsmith certainly had no hang-ups about homosexuality. She just didn’t see Ripley that way. In Minghella’s film, however, Dickie Greenleaf is fearsomely handsome and charismatic, and Tom Ripley doesn’t just fall in love with his money and lifestyle, he falls in love with his persona too. Also, the film is far more adept at making the audience Ripley’s accomplices than Highsmith’s novel. Minghella’s Ripley was brilliantly portrayed by Matt Damon, his character completely plausible as a well-intentioned (at first) and sensitive, if insecure and impulsive, young man who is driven over the edge by being seduced for someone so shallow and boorish as Dickie. The realization that the sympathetically-portrayed and tragic character is in reality a sociopath is a dramatic shock that gets you right in the guts. The timing of Minghella’s movie within three years of the murderous rampage of Andrew Cunanan, in which the fashion designer Gianni Versace was killed, makes one wonder if it’s merely coincidental. Source: unz.com

-Charlie Tozier: In a fight to the death between Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Ben Affleck, who do you think would emerge victorious? No weapons.

-Matt Damon: Ben is a lot bigger than those guys, he’s hopelessly uncoordinated, but he is a big dude with a huge reach advantage. Edward Norton is very smart though, so he might think of some brainiac way to pit the others against each other and be the last remaining man. I’m not counting Leo DiCaprio out. I’m just saying I don’t know about Leo. Anyway, Mark Wahlberg would kill all of them. 

There is a certain type of hardcore Bostonian that Mark Wahlberg has represented, opposite the more illustrious Bostonian actor Matt Damon. Wahlberg, Damon and Affleck came from rough areas from Boston. Wahlberg grew up in Dorchester, one of the most dangerous areas of the city, whereas Ben Affleck and Matt Damon grew up in Cambridge, which also has conflictive areas, but it's more secure if you are familiar with its environment. Historically, Boston was the scene of several key events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill and the siege of Boston. Upon American independence from Great Britain, the city continued to be an important manufacturing hub, a thriving center of scientific research, as well as a center for education and culture. 

To date, households and businesses in Boston claim the highest average rate of philanthropy in the United States. In 1950, Whites represented 94.7% of Boston's population. From the 1950s to the end of the 20th century, the proportion of non-Hispanic Whites in the city declined. In 2000, non-Hispanic Whites made up 49.5% of the city's population, making the city majority minority for the first time. In 2010, the US Census Bureau estimated the non-White population had rebounded with increased Latin American and Asian populations, which indicate a non-Hispanic White population of 47 percent (other reports give even lower figures). Harvard University is an Ivy League University located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, the Puritan clergyman John Harvard, it is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States and among the most prestigious in the world. Matt Damon attended Harvard University from 1988-1992, studying Bachelor of Arts and English. His professor of theatre Anthony Kubiak gave him an A and encouraged him to appear in theater plays. In Harvard Damon wrote the first draft of "Good Will Hunting", and as Damon said later: "I showed it to Ben Affleck and the rest is history."

-Matt Damon: I’m lucky to be the only guy in the house. It’s a man’s dream. The testosterone deficit at home makes me very special: You learn a lot by looking at the world from the female point of view. I do get confused with Mark Wahlberg a lot. I was walking down the street with my kids, and this guy screamed “Mark Wahlberg!” I just kept walking, because I’m not Mark, and he kept screaming “Mark Wahlberg, I see you! Don't walk away! MARK WAHLBERG! WE KNOW IT’S YOU!” and then he runs up to me and he says, “I love your work!” And then this woman comes up, and says “I love your family, tell your brother I said Hi!” So I said “Yes, I’ll tell Donnie Wahlberg you said Hi.” If people are insistent, there is no convincing them I’m not Mark, so I just become him and try to be nice to them. My kids were with me and there’s no easy way to explain that situation to them.

“The Departed" (2006), directed by Martin Scorsese, remains a well-crafted, hugely enjoyable pulp crime flick, that certainly improves on its subject matter, the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs." The film's chock-full of pleasures and Matt Damon's performance, while not the most immediate, is the one that lingers long afterwards. Simply put, Damon is astounding, the best he's ever been, and looking back now, it's astonishing that he was overlooked in awards season in favor of co-star Mark Wahlberg. Scorsese finally won that elusive Oscar with this Boston crime thriller that had DiCaprio as a cop infiltrating the mob and Matt Damon as a mobster mule infiltrating the police force. It’s an intricate, fascinating tale of competing cat-and-mouse games, but the director and his screenwriter, William Monahan, infuse it with so much tragedy that it winds up becoming something almost mythic. Source: rollingstone.com

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Merry Christmas! (Die Hard, White Christmas)

It’s that time of year for hunkering down to watch a Christmas film with the family – and to hold the annual debate over whether or not Die Hard (1988) actually counts as one. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye it’s not, but Die Hard has yule coming out of its ears. Against the backdrop of a Christmas party, Bruce Willis plays cowboy to Alan Rickman's villain, which on its own should be enough to light up your Christmas Day. It’s got a rescued relationship as a Christmas miracle, and our boy John McClane spends more time in an air duct than Santa spends in chimneys with the help of Reginald VelJohnson, who let’s face it is his Christmas elf. Also, let’s not forget this Christmas gem: “Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.” The follow-up? McClane now has to rescue Dulles Airport on Christmas Eve from terrorists trying to free a drug lord while crashing planes in the process, with his wife on one of the planes. As both director John McTiernan and writer Steven De Souza have confirmed that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then the creative case would seem very much in favour.

There are nine Christmas motifs detected in Die Hard:

-The basic narrative situation of Die Hard is a man returning to his family for Christmas.

-His wife is called Holly.

-It takes place on Christmas Eve. Not Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. It could have been set any week of the year, but wasn’t.

-The chief villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) explicitly invokes the Christmas spirit: “It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s a time for miracles.”

-Gruber is a classic bad capitalist villain: he’s there to steal money. Just as Old Man Potter does in It’s a Wonderful Life.

-The soundtrack features Christmas tunes new and old: Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis and Frank Sinatra’s rendition of Let it Snow.

-Santa Claus makes an appearance (in the form of a dead terrorist).

-The film ends with the of character of limo driver Argyle (De'voreaux White) looking forward to New Year’s Eve.

-And point nine, the clinching argument, perhaps, is that Christmas is a socially invented tradition, and like all invented traditions it continues to adapt and evolve. Films don’t need to include religious references or a man in a red suit, Christmas changes every year and as such what constitutes as a Christmas flick has expanded hugely. 

The commercial argument is that Christmas movies are released at Christmas and are generally intended for family audiences. However, Die Hard was a summer release (15 July 1988) in the United States and very obviously for adults. However, this argument that a summer release can’t be a Christmas movie does not hold up to even the most cursory examination. That perennial seasonal favourite Holiday Inn, in which Bing Crosby warbles Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, was also a summer release (4 August 1942), and no one argues that isn’t a Christmas movie. Even the remake, White Christmas, was released in mid-October 1954. So proximity to Christmas is not necessarily a criterion for a Christmas film. Source: theconversation.com

Friday, December 17, 2021

Matt Damon: the inscrutable everyman

David Marchese’s new profile of Matt Damon and Stillwater, “the enduring career of the star no one really knows” is an interesting thesis – David Marchese’s positing that Matt Damon is a wholesome “everyman”, that the image he’s maintained during the course of his 25-year career, is that he’s just a regular, relatable dude. He’s famous but he could be one of us. But this is where that “everyman” advantage kicks in. Because so many people can see themselves in Matt, even his mistakes become relatable, so there are layers to his “everyman” benefits. His “everyman” image, juxtaposed with his best friend’s decidedly not “everyman” image is a benefit too. And there’s a whole section in this piece that compares and contrasts Matt and Ben and their seemingly different approaches to fame that reinforces the idea that Matt Damon is the “one of us” movie star. Which is why he can, in this profile, talk about how Hollywood has changed, how mid-budget films are disappearing in favour of superhero movies. In The Last Duel, in which Matt may be leaning in again to that “everyman” reputation to play a medieval French dude defending his wife’s honour. This could be a “fridging” story, but casting Matt, the “everyman”, as a historical figure who was a hard worker, a competent soldier, whose fortunes have turned, and who challenges an opportunistic, morally corrupt man who has taken advantage of his wife, well, you can already see where the audiences sympathies might lie. Source: laineygossip.com

Over the course of his long tenure near the top of the Hollywood food chain, Matt Damon has often embodied idealized everymen: the solid, approachable, well-meaning, scrappy characters he has played with seeming simplicity and emotional economy in a long line of very successful movies. There’s the stolid rugby captain Francois Pienaar in “Invictus” (2009); the keeping-it-together dad in the 2011 pandemic procedural “Contagion”; the good ol’ boy auto racing impresario Carroll Shelby, up against them fancy Italians, in “Ford v Ferrari” (2019). Think, too, of his Mark Watney from “The Martian” (2015), an astronaut not about to let being marooned on Mars dampen his geeky enthusiasm for solving lifesaving science problems. Yet despite being a hugely famous, sympathetic and very bankable American movie star, Damon has always felt distant, hasn’t he? Which is odd, because Damon has never floated away into the realm of remote screen deity like his contemporaries Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt or George Clooney — he’s too solidly earthy for that. Instead there’s a cipher-like aspect to Damon, a deeper impenetrability to who he is and what he does that even now, after a quarter-century of watching him, has become so entrenched that we take both it and him for granted.

"Eventually stardom is going to go away from me. It goes away from everybody and all you have in the end is to be able to look back and like the choices you made." -Matt Damon

Matt Damon is an amiable, if cautious, interviewee, and to a degree that’s almost disorienting, his vibe is deeply normal. Talking to him was like making conversation with a former classmate or colleague whom maybe you didn’t know all that well but of whom you always thought fondly. But Damon doesn’t just play nice guys. Far from it. There’s Jason Bourne, whom he has played in four hit films and who is a miserable, self-loathing killing machine; the sociopathic social climber Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; the crooked Colin Sullivan in “The Departed.” Over the course of his career, Damon has seen the films like the ones that sustained him—that is, the $20-million drama, what he calls his “bread and butter”—mostly disappear. “You need those roles to develop as an actor and build your career, and those are gone,” Damon said: “Courtroom dramas, all that stuff, they can’t get made.” Those sorts of movies have been replaced by more easily exportable, higher-budget but lower-risk ones. “You’re looking for a home run that can play in all these different territories to all these different ages,” Damon said. “You want the most accessible thing you can make, in terms of language and culture. And what is that? A superhero movie.”

“Whatever those wholesome associations are that people say I have,” Damon said, relentlessly self-deprecating, quite resistant to parsing his own appeal, “having them allowed me a chance to work with clever directors who want to subvert that.” He’s a pleasingly inoffensive, non-threateningly masculine, apple-pie type, but like so many all-American commodities, there’s more lurking in that designation that meets the eye. Damon has long benefited from a public-facing opacity. This goes back to “Good Will Hunting,” which established Damon as someone to root for after he and Affleck came from somewhere just north of nowhere to write and star in the picture together. The duo won an Academy Award for best original screenplay and strolled onstage to accept the award with pure enthusiasm, utterly free of jadedness. Didn’t they seem like such nice boys? For one of them, that stuck. Damon, in the years immediately after, managed to freeze his persona in that moment of, well, good will. He had a couple of high-profile relationships (Minnie Driver, Winona Ryder) and then vanished from the tabloids, which he talks about as a healthy career move. “If people can see x pictures of you drinking coffee or walking your dog,” Damon said, “I think it dilutes the desire to see you in a movie.” Some of this insight has most likely been arrived at through his proximity to Affleck, who has not been able to avoid tabloid attention: We know about his failed relationships (Ana de Armas), his addiction problems, his preference for iced beverages from Dunkin’ Donuts, his propensity to look sad when snapped by a long-lens camera.

Here’s what we know about Matt Damon: He and his older brother, Kyle, were raised in Cambridge, Mass. by their father, Kent, a stockbroker, and mother, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor of early-childhood education. The couple divorced when the boys were small children, but the relationship remained amicable. “They really co-parented,” offered Damon, whose posture stiffened slightly when questions crept toward the personal. Damon said his mother knew that he’d be an actor from the time he was a small child. Damon and his wife met in Miami, where she was working as a bartender and he was filming the Farrelly brothers’ slapstick comedy “Stuck on You” (2003) and have now been married for 16 years. Matt Damon had a two-year relationship with Winona Ryder which ended in 2000. Winona said (in an interview with Black Book magazine), “Matt couldn't be a greater, nicer guy. I'm really lucky that I'm on good terms with him.” After he met Luciana Barroso, Matt was done looking. 

Lucy, as he prefers to call her, and her daughter Alexia from a previous relationship had been with Matt throughout the European shoot of 'Ocean’s Twelve'. But the big test came in 2004 when Matt brought Lucy home to meet his family and friends in Boston. When they renewed their marriage vows in St. Lucia (April 13, 2013) with 50 guests for the sunset ceremony, Damon vowed to his wife, “to keep my sense of humor, to defend you in public and correct you in private, to hold the handheld shower when you're rinsing the dye out of your hair even though you say I don't do it right, to always respect your views even when we disagree—like about the fact that there's a right way and a wrong way to hold a handheld shower… to make a fool out of myself in front of you—but not too often… to be the dad our four beautiful children deserve, to be your best friend, and no matter what unpredictable direction life takes us in, to be right next to you loving you with everything I have.” Matt and Lucy married in a civil ceremony on December 9, 2005 at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau in New York City. Matt became officially the stepfather of Alexia. The couple’s first child together, Isabella, was born on June 11, 2006. Their second daughter, Gia Zavala, was born on August 20, 2008, and their third child, daughter Stella, was born on October 20, 2010. Their first two daughters were born in Miami and the third was born in New York.

Call it what you will, boring or shrewd, but Damon sees himself as “in the last of that line of people who want to maintain privacy,” he said. “There’s this new line of people inviting everybody into their daily lives: Hey, I’m at the gym! This is me working out! There’s something tactical about it in the sense that you’re controlling the narrative, but it’s the exact opposite of how I’ve always thought, which is ‘Move on, nothing to see here,’ and just doing the work.” But even at Damon’s Hollywood-mainstay level, the movie-star business is tenuous. A scant few years ago, “Suburbicon” and “Downsizing” fizzled back to back, and the historical fantasy “The Great Wall,” which was a stinkeroo. Damon worried that his career “was in real peril.” He felt more secure when “Ford v Ferrari” scored. If “that hadn’t worked,” he said, “it would have been a big problem for me.”

In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement’s momentum, Damon said that allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior needed to be seen as existing on a “spectrum.” Later he apologized for it publicly, “I was and am tone-deaf,” he said shaking his head contritely. “Like everybody, I’m a prisoner of my subjective experiences and that leads to having blind spots. Me more than most given the experience that I’ve had as a white male American movie star. It’s a very rarefied air. So, yes, I was and am tone-deaf. I do try my best not to be.” Looking back on this misjudgment, Damon said that the best piece of advice he got at the time came from an old Cambridge friend who told him to focus on listening to the criticisms rather than responding. “It was wise,” said Damon. “I did listen, and once I got out of my defensive crouch,” he paused: “I really started to understand what it was I said that people took exception with.” We don’t really want to begrudge Matt Damon. We just want to like him. And yet, Damon is the movie-star epitome of the nice white American male at a time when the trust in what that kind of figure represents is increasingly suspect. There’s a reason there is no obvious next Matt Damon—and it doesn’t just have to do with the disappearance of the $20-million-to-$70-million movies he came up in.  You can look at the roster of those younger than Damon and see plenty of likable white guys, but they’ve all taken different tracks than Damon. Timothy Chalamet comes off more like a species of exotic bird than a man with whom you might plausibly share a beer. Source: nytimes.com

"Building a strong, solid, educated middle class is ultimately the best thing for America. Someone like FDR. There's a misconception that leaders lead. They don't. They follow. Every great movement has come from the bottom up." -Matt Damon

The ensemble for Christopher Nolan’s next film Oppenheimer keeps growing in star power as sources tell Deadline Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. have joined Cillian Murphy in the Universal Pictures tentpole. Nolan is writing and directing the film that revolves around J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who ran the Manhattan Project that led to the invention of the atomic bomb. The project has set a July 21, 2023, release date. It’s also roughly two weeks before the anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Universal is calling the movie an “epic thriller that thrusts audiences into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it.” Murphy is portraying the theoretical physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II. According to sources, Blunt is playing his wife, Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, while Damon will play Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. research initiative that developed the first atomic bomb. Downey will play Lewis Strauss, the infamous chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission who initiated hearings that questioned Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the United States and famously had the scientist’s security clearance revoked. The project is based on American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin. Published in 2005, the book won the Pulitzer Prize. Damon is coming off of starring in Ridley Scott’s period drama The Last Duel, which he co-wrote. Source: hollywoodreporter.com

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Nightmare Alley, The Big Con, The Black Dahlia

Megan Abbott on Zodiac: I’ve long wrestled with serial-killer movies, a genre historically fraught with issues of gender and power. For every American Psycho, with its wildly subversive take on toxic masculinity and capitalism, or for every Dressed to Kill, with its twisty, provocative deconstruction of sex and the body, there are countless others that are queasy, underdeveloped, exploitive, tedious. But one of the greatest riches of David Fincher’s extraordinary 2007 film Zodiac is how little gender and sex matter in traditional ways. The Zodiac’s victims were both men and women: a pair of couples, a lone cabbie... The murders aren’t sexualized in obvious ways. Their horror emanates from a place that seems, somehow, at least in Fincher’s parlance, beyond or before sex. A heart, Zodiac is not a serial-killer movie. It’s about our relationship to darkness, our attraction to it, our obsession with the shadowy unknown. “I need to know,” Graysmith says at one point, exhausted and baffled by the depth of his own obsession. In its final, shattering moments, the movie teeters perilously close to a solution, a confirmation. But Fincher is after a far deeper truth than identifying a killer. Solving the crime would provide momentary satisfaction, but the void it would create is too terrifying to ponder. Obsession—perpetual, inexhaustible—keeps alive the possibility of a deeper logic, a sane world, satisfying answers, closure. On some level, you don’t really want to know the truth, because if you did, it would be over and you’d have to face a larger truth—that the darkness isn’t just out there, and spreading. It’s inside you. The virus is you. Source: www.criterion.com

Steve Hodel takes great offense because he believes that Larry Harnisch has been “misinforming his readers.” Hodel portrays himself as a man who cares about the truth and cares about getting his facts straight, yet the facts paint a very different picture of Steve Hodel. Months ago, I posted by my review of Hodel’s book Most Evil. In that review, I proved, beyond any doubt, that virtually all of Hodel’s Zodiac-related claims were 100% false. Most of Hodel’s bizarre solution to the Zodiac case is based on geography and geometry, and I proved, again, beyond any doubt, that virtually all of Hodel’s presentations were inaccurate on both counts. Hodel continues to claim that this already-debunked material is still valid, going so far as to boast of his PowerPoint presentations and continuing to post the same material on his site as if it were factually accurate. An examination of Hodel’s “message” in Most Evil and on his website proves that his work is consistently inaccurate and his claims are easily debunked. One of Hodel’s recent blog entries featured his already-debunked presentations as if they are still valid. Source: zodiackillerfacts.com

Nightmare Alley (2021). Like a stage magician, writers can take advantage of the way we think to keep us looking in one direction while important things are happening somewhere else, burying plot-critical information where it can be uncovered later, without drawing your attention to its significance too early. The hold that stories naturally have on our attention and imagination helps the process along. The psychologist Melanie Green and her colleagues have found that people are more open to persuasion as a function of what they call ‘narrative transportation’. When a story is gripping, vivid, engaging and immersive, we are less on guard, less concerned about whether all the details add up, and more willing to follow a narrative wherever it wants to take us. In the 1970s, the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman observed that people often take an approach to reasoning that can be described as ‘anchoring and adjustment’. Presented with some piece of information – the asking price for a condo, early results from exit polls, a sample answer to a trivia question – people tend to use that information as a starting point in formulating their own estimates, hypotheses and predictions. 

Nightmare Alley (1947). Characters make particularly useful vessels for misleading information, because they add deniability. A character can lie or be mistaken without making the story as a whole inconsistent or dishonest. This handy fact works nicely with another predictable feature of human cognition: our relatively bad memory for source information. Especially if we’re distracted (say, by some compelling, emotionally engaging story content), we can encounter claims in dubious settings, or even see them being debunked, but later remember only that we’ve heard them somewhere before. Then if we encounter the claims again, that sense of familiarity can make us more likely to take them seriously. The psychologist Daniel Schacter, a major figure in the cognitive and neurological study of memory, calls this failing and others like it the ‘sins of memory’, and stories can use them to plant information in places where we are likely to remember the misleading bits while losing track of the caveats. Fortunately, despite our tendency to lose track of this information, we never fully lose track of the distinction, so if a story shows us that a source we trusted was unreliable, we get it. The source is blown, but the story itself can still be on the up-and-up. The con artists in The Big Con (1940) are fond of the maxim ‘You can’t cheat an honest man.’ That claim holds true for some kinds of confidence tricks, perhaps. It’s also a nice thing to tell yourself if you happen to cheat people for a living.

Erving Goffman, one of the most prominent sociologists of the 20th century, wrote his classic essay ‘On Cooling the Mark Out’ (1952) drawing on David Maurer’s The Big Con (1940). Maurer’s account of the later stages of a big con: the first work of grifters is to identify a target, or mark, and gain his confidence. Then the mark can be roped into the criminals’ fraudulent scheme, drawn further in with some small successes, encouraged at last to make a really large investment, and fleeced accordingly. But simply getting the mark’s money is not enough. ‘Suspicious marks are not unusual,’ Maurer reports; ‘in fact all marks are suspicious at first.’ The skilful cooler pours oil on those troubled waters, redirecting, mollifying, distracting and reassuring as needed so that, when it is time to make the big play, the mark goes quietly and willingly, a lamb to the slaughter. As a sociologist, Goffman points out that even though it’s pretty rare to be the victim of a big con, social life is full of people in need of cooling out. Any time someone is ‘caught out on a limb’, when their expectations are dashed and they feel that their status is precarious and their fate is threatened, there is a crisis. If not pacified, they could make a scene, file a lawsuit, or otherwise lash out and spin out of control. Behavioural economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber called ‘the curse of knowledge’: once we know something, it becomes impossible to fully remember or imagine what it is like not to know it. Our earlier selves seem gullible and stupid by comparison. How could we have failed to see what was coming? When we have this reaction to a story, it makes the plot seem brilliant and revelatory. When we have it to events in our own lives, we are more likely to feel guilty and ashamed, culpable in our own downfall. When a story serves up a convincing surprise, we get to have an epiphany about a deeper, truer interpretation of what went before. Source: aeon.co

While his name is likely derived from Charles 'Tex' Watson, Dr. Charles Montgomery’s character most similarly resembles the story of Dr. Walter Bayley, a prime suspect in the murder of the real-life Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short. Dr. Bayley became a popular suspect long after the initial Black Dahlia investigation. The doctor was a surgeon who lived one block from where Short's body was found; furthermore, after his death, an autopsy revealed he had been suffering from a degenerative brain disease, which could have caused sudden violent behaviors. A popular aspect of this theory is the belief that he had performed illegal abortions, and that he was angry with Short for lying about having a dead son because he had tragically lost his own son years earlier. Considering the fictional doctor performed illegal abortions, and was traumatized by the death of his young son, it’s clear that Charles Montgomery is based on the real-life Dr. Bayley. Dr. Charles Montgomery’s plotline also shares similarities to the real-life case of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. In March 1932, Charles Lindbergh, Jr. was kidnapped from his crib on the upper level of their home. Over two months later, a truck driver found the infant’s body on the side of a road. In Murder House (2011), Charles and Nora’s son Thaddeus is kidnapped from his upper-level crib by the boyfriend of one of Charles Montgomery’s patients, who then dismembered the baby in revenge. From the Charles Manson murders to infant kidnappings and a suspect in an unsolved case, Dr. Charles Montgomery in AHS is inspired by some of the most infamous criminal cases in American history. Source: screenrant.com

BLACK DAHLIA, RED ROSE - The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder (2017) by Piu Eatwell: “Nobody had expected her to be so sullenly beautiful,” says Eatwell, who speculates that Elizabeth Short’s striking beauty—which inspired the infatuated press to call her “The Black Dahlia” (“evocative of an exotic flower, of desire both toxic and intoxicating”)—prompted her enduring legend. Piu Eatwell's
 zealous efforts to solve the case and name the killer (in her view, Leslie Dillon) are less than convincing, but her immersive style is filled with camera-ready period detail. Leslie Dillon was an aspiring screenwriter who was both a former mortician's assistant and a bellhop. Dillon entered the investigation by reaching out to Dr. De River about the case. Dillon claimed a friend of his could have killed Elizabeth Short. De River thought it was a smoke screen and that Dillon may have actually killed Short. Source: nytimes.com

Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old Boston native committed to being married, her fiancĂ© being killed during the Second World War. Grieving, accounts tell of Elizabeth falling in with dodgy characters as she sought to stay in LA. She variously rented a room behind the Florentine Gardens nightclub and equally had been forced to stay with others at the Chancellor Hotel on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood. 
Red Manley was the last person seen in Short’s company, having dropped her at the Biltmore Hotel. Short had told Manley that she was meeting her sister there, but this was a lie, some speculating she may have been meeting another man or simply wished to be rid of Red Manley's company. Manley had been discharged from the army for mental instability and complained that he heard voices in his head. Despite this, Manley had a watertight alibi for the time of Short’s murder and successfully passed two separate polygraph tests. It seems evident that her killing had a profound effect on him, and he was committed to the Patton State psychiatric hospital in San Bernardino in 1954.

Seeking to keep the sensationalism going, the Examiner and other newspapers such as the LA Times needed to one-up the Herald-Express and began to add hints of sex and scandal, suggesting that Elizabeth Short had been a victim of a “sex fiend.” The claims not only hindered the investigation but left a lasting legacy with some still contending to this day that the victim had worked as either a high-class escort or prostitute. There is no evidence for either. On January 17, the Herald-Express first referred to Short as “The Black Dahlia,” a nickname she’d acquired at a local drugstore. Upon investigations, it was revealed that Short had stayed with Mark Hansen before her death, and he quickly became the new prime suspect in the murder despite the fact he would have been unlikely to send the press an address book with his own name on it. Legend tells of how this address book was full of Hollywood names. But this was fiction, and Hansen would later tell police he had given Short his address book as a gift. The nature of that relationship has come under much scrutiny over the years. Hansen had owned several theaters, two boarding houses, and he was a part-owner of the Florentine Gardens nightclub on Hollywood Boulevard. Short had lived with Hansen in October of 1946 and ten days in November. Hansen eventually asked her to leave because of what he saw as her undesirable associations. Some have claimed that Hansen and Short were romantically involved, while others as Elizabeth's close friend Ann Toth contend that she had rejected his advances. 

Others suggest that she had “led on” the businessman, angering him when she made it clear she wasn’t really interested. Yet others suggest that there was nothing between the two, and Hansen had merely allowed a lonely woman to stay at his home, being worried about the characters surrounding her. The various versions of the truth are standard with the Black Dahlia case, with much of the evidence convoluted and contradictory. Running a successful nightclub in 1940s LA likely meant that not all of Mark Hansen’s activities were entirely legitimate. Yet, there is nothing to suggest he possessed the level of psychosis attached to the Black Dahlia killing. He had no record of violence in his life and, by all accounts, had felt genuinely sorry for Elizabeth Short and concerned for unnamed associations she was involved with. Having dismissed Manley and Hansen as suspects, police eyes turned toward doctors and medical students. This was both the view of the LAPD and the FBI, with lead investigator Harry Hansen saying that the killer was a “top medical man” and “a fine surgeon.” Police thoroughly investigated medical schools in the area, including the University of Southern California Medical School, located a few miles from the dumpsite. Carrying out extensive background checks, nobody raised any red flags, except Dr. George Hodel for a while. 

However, George Hodel wouldn’t be the last physician to be linked with the case. Mainly proposed by LA Times copy-editor Larry Harnisch, Dr. Walter Bayley was a surgeon who lived a mere block south of the lot where Elizabeth Short’s body was found. He had left his wife in October of 1946, just months before the killing, and Dr. Bailey had possibly known Elizabeth Short, being his daughter Barbara a close friend of the Dahlia’s sister, Virginia. While Dr. Bayley had no history of violence or criminality, following his own death in 1948, it was revealed he’d been suffering from a degenerative brain disease. This disease may have made his behavior erratic, with the condition known to cause violent behavior in normally calm individuals. Source: medium.com