Saturday, September 24, 2016

In Memoriam: Curtis Hanson, The Quiet Intellectual

Curtis Hanson
In case you missed it (you probably did, what with the first Clinton/Trump debate coming up and the riots in Charlotte, and of course Brangelina splitting up), filmmaker Curtis Hanson passed away last week. Now that last sentence makes me sound profoundly shallow, but I try to have tunnel vision into what's going on in pop culture, and I'm sure I'm late AF to the Brangelina party, just like I missed the Hiddleswift split party, and it's too late for my Best/Worst dressed list for the Emmy's (Sarah Paulson took my breath away). 
Alas, this is not to be overlooked. Not very prolific, and always a bit under the radar, Curtis Hanson has not made many films; most of which, like him, flew quietly under the radar with one exception; L.A. Confidential (1997) which sweeped 9 nominations at that year's Oscars and lost all of them (save for one; Kim Basinger for Best Supporting Actress) to Titanic (just threw up in my mouth a little bit, it's fine). 
Poster art for L.A. Confidential
A little backstory about the film; it's based on the novel by James Ellroy who writes pulp fiction novels, for those of you who don't know the term past the Tarantino movie, let me enlighten you. From the time of writers like Raymond Chandler and Charles Jackson, there have been pulp fiction novels. They're kind of like the B Movie of books. They are seedy, salacious, and over the top; dealing with murder, a hot girl (a Femme Fatale for the expert), and a caper of sorts. They are a great read because they are somewhat easy to digest; they aren't exactly Dostoyevsky. But Ellroy took it to the next level and coupled that camp with the dingy, seedy (again), and deliciously fucked up world that is Los Angeles in the 50's. It's an insider's view; kind of like the back end of the website to the glamour facade of Hollywood; and entire industry and culture built on lies, prostitutes, dirty deals and crooked people. That's basically what the film is about. The film is probably as close to the book as an adaptation has ever been, and that's why it's confusing as hell, even for someone like me. Who's that, why is he doing such and such, wait, I though that was the good guy, wait, who even is that? Those kind of questions run through your mind constantly but you can't help but be swept away in the writing, the performance by now some of our favorite actors...among them; Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, and (arguably) Russell Crowe; and most of all, this nostalgia that most of us don't even remember because we didn't live through it. 
James Ellroy. He could not look like more of a pulp LA writer if he tried. 
Me? I'm a sucker for Old Hollywood. I don't know why I had to make that public and put it in writing, because most people are already saying to themselves; duh!. But hey, let's make it official. I won't go into the convoluted plot that is nuanced brilliantly and beautifully by Hanson, because as I said he had a whole filmography under his belt, among them lesser but still great films like 8 Mile and Wonder Boys. He wasn't exactly an auteur, just a really competent filmmaker. And with L.A. Confidential, he rose to being an amazing filmmaker. And some of us just need that one diamond in the rough to seal our legacy. And that he did. 

-How did you know I was a cop?
-It's practically stamped on your forehead. 
In 2005, it was my first year in New York, I had just transferred to NYU where a professor took a liking to me (not that kind of liking ...I don't think) and happened to be on the Board of Review which meant he got to go to a lot of pre-release screenings, of which I accompanied him to many times. One of them was for Hanson's more blah films; In Her Shoes, a totally forgettable Cameron Diaz vehicle capitalizing on Sex and the City culture, with a weak script and boring plot. Even for a sub-standard chick flick it blew, but I went because I was promised there would be Q&A afterwards. But I didn't know that my professor was on first name terms with Hanson, and invited me down after everyone left so that I could talk to him. I really didn't know what to say except ask him questions about L.A. Confidential's aesthetics, themes, etc. So basically I sounded like a pretentious film student, which I kind of was at the time, but whatever.
Anyway, I think it's important to acknowledge his passing, but moreover his body of work, which yes, was hit and miss, but I believe every director, even some of the best have misses under their belt. He was a very astute and competent man, and a very talented and perhaps deeply intellectual person which you definitely saw come out even in his sub-standard films. He was that quiet New Yorker type who strove desperately to make the films that he wanted, but unfortunately didn't always get his way.

Below, some trailers and scenes: 

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