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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

LA Times' Black Dahlia Archive

The Los Angeles Times has opened up its archive of lurid, fascinating coverage of the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as still unsolved The Black Dahlia murder case — just in time to prime audiences for the Sept. 15 release of THE BLACK DAHLIA, Brian De Palma’s film of the James Ellroy novel.

The movie website has more photos (Mia Kirshner plays the unfortunate Miss Short) and a timeline of the initial investigation.
Ellroy’s novel came out in 1987, and it not only launched his career as a modern hardboiled crime writer– it reignited interest in the Short case. The book’s cover carried a haunting, stylized image of Elizabeth Short, based on a real photograph.
There are numerous true crime books and other, lesser novels about the murder, and whenever people cast the role of The Black Dahlia in their minds, I’m pretty sure it’s the ghostly goddess of the cover art that they think of, not the black and white photo. That Betty Short–a cute/beautiful girl trying to look older and tougher than she was, has a troubling expression on her face. Or in-trouble.
Because this stark photo looks so much like a mug shot, and accompanied the January 1947 Los Angeles Times coverage of the murder, I wondered if it was actually a police mug shot. However, a look at the numerous Black Dahlia-dedicated web sites out there told me that the front-and-side head shot was actually done as a work ID card when Short worked a civilian job on a military base. It was the first thing available to police and journalists after she was killed, and that’s how most of us remember her.
THE BLACK DAHLIA premieres at the Venice Film Festival.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon