I mentioned earlier that I made a rare trip into the video store today; one of the most interesting things that I saw there was a sign that read ‘True Stories’. Yes, for some reason the store had decided that this was a genre akin to horror and comedy, or a classification like foreign of Aussie. It seemed a little strange to me, especially since it contained both documentaries, acted features and even some that were animated. On further thought though there usually is something that separates films that are true stories from those that are simply stories; this is a grievous generalization of course, but there is a sense to them, maybe something about the structure of the scripts that stands out as being ‘true’. This film was in that section but it doesn’t have even a drop of that feeling: it features famous actors playing famous actors in a famous city who are involved in a famous crime, i know on every level that it’s true but to me it felt one hundred percent like a film? Does it matter? Having watched the film I’m inclined to say no, that real and unreal aren’t important; it’s all about image.
Tv’s Superman stood for three things and these were made clear each and every week during the opening credits: Truth, Justice and the American Way. Little did he know though that the latter holds no love for the former; hell it almost contradicts them. He and all who played him were the American ideal, what they strove towards in theory; while Hollywood was and still is the home of the American dream, the place were its made and where maybe you too can make it. Hollywoodland brutally shows us that none of these notions are based on reality, none of them are ‘true stories’ they’re just characters that the country acts out to make itself feel better, to scab the bloody wound.
We know this of course: that Superman is a sleaze when off the screen and that America isn’t an ideal nation (nor Australia), though similar to how a kid can know that the actors aren’t really who they play on TV but still idolize them sometimes that line between truth and untruth is a hard one to see and the fantasy an easy one to get swept up in. These subtle illusions that we live under can be shattered and an event like Superman committing suicide is just the thing to do it, tipping one side of these scales to the floor. The strength of the image is so great and the thematics so fitting that it seems hard to believe that these events weren’t scripted
There is no better medium for such bleakness, no better delivery service for shattered dreams and no better type of late-forties film than film Noir. Noir was birthed from the womb of World War One and raised by its sequel so it knows a thing or two about darkness and about disappointment. Noir is the only genre that can show the dark shadows cast over the uncast in Hollywood and Superman in literal greyscale. Taking that true story and twisting it to fit this new formula was a fantastic idea from Paul Bernbaum and surprisingly the execution of it is similarly excellent.
Though this is one of his stronger performances I expected Ben Affleck to steal the show so it was Adrian Brody’s Jake-esque detective who surprised me. While Ben’s brooding is big and brutal Brody’s breezy nature felt like something very new from the actor and from the archetype; the wry smile and the charm -even if it is just a cover – helped his role – the weaker of the two – stand on its own against Affleck’s. Diane Lane too gives her best turn to my mind, though I honestly can’t think of many films that she has starred in, which probably says something. The cast as a whole is excellent though and you can tell because a good number of them have gone on to bigger, if not always better things.
The other falsehoods, the literal facades, set design, etc. are all equally stunning; there is something about a vintage LA setting that gets to me, but what Allen Coulter did with our expectations of that was brilliant. The front of the white brick houses have lush green grass and constant care while the backs are all brown and overgrown; blatant maybe, but ominous and effective when seen in action. The score too is so evocative of the old Hollywood pictures of the period. It’s all so convincing and yet all so cinematic; you believe this to be shot in the era and yet it feels modern.
Like all good noir films Hollywoodland gets darker and more chaotic as it goes along to the point where the end is an ambiguous and depressing emission; this, along with the period-appropriate pace and non-linear narrative will scare away many but it is well worth staying. SPOILER ALERT for those yet to see the film, watching Adrian’s Dick imagine different scenarios for the murder like movies in his head was a perfect way to present facts in a still unsolved crime and the one that Coulter chose for last hit hard thematically. We want the complex corporate conspiracy to be true, or the revenge of the scorned lover, anything pulpy we can palette but sometimes there simply is no Hollywood ending and worse yet, sometimes there is no ending at all.