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HOLLYWOOD NOTES: JULY 17, 2003

Ripley rides again as a forger, the late alcoholic beat poet, Charles Bukowski gets animated, and the 60 year old mystery of the grisly ‘Black Dahlia’ murder in Los Angeles gets another going over, as Nick Roddick notes with his binoculars focused on Hollywood.

FOR YEARS, YOU used to have to speak French or German to appreciate Patricia Highsmith properly on the screen. Not, of course, that it was always like that: Highsmith on the screen started with Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train in 1951, and you don't start much better than that.

But then Hollywood seemed to lose interest and, for the next half-century, all screen versions of the author’s delightfully nasty novels - never, she said, whodunits, because who did it was never in any doubt - were the work of European directors.

"classical post-war French film-makers"

The generation of classical post-war French film-makers gave us René Clément's Plein soleil (Purple Noon) in 1960, the film which launched a very young and impossibly beautiful Alain Delon on the road to stardom; and Claude Autant-Lara's Le meurtier (The Murderer, 1963), which had a screenplay by the two greatest screenwriters of the French postwar cinema, Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost.

The New Wave discovered Highsmith a decade or so later, when Claude Miller turned perhaps her most disturbing novel, This Sweet Sickness, into Dites-lui que je l'aime, with Gérard Depardieu as the romantic psychopath. Ten years later, and Claude Chabrol made Le cri du hibou (The Cry of the Owl, 1987) - which, sadly, was one of the master's less-memorable movies.

In the meantime, Wim Wenders had turned Ripley's Game into Der amerikanische Freund (The American Friend, 1977), with Dennis Hopper as Highsmith's best-known character, Tom Ripley (plus cameo performances from directors Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray). And another German director, Hans W Geissendörfer, directed what is still one of the finest adaptations: Ediths Tagebuch (Edith's Diary, 1986), with an unforgettable performance by Angela Winkler as the very ordinary housewife who starts to keep a diary which gradually becomes more real to her than the world outside.

But that was pretty much it until Anthony Minghella started things up again four years ago with The Talented Mr Ripley, a real ‘movie’ movie with stunning settings and a top cast (Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow). Minghella also placed a gentle emphasis on the homosexual undertones - in all of Highsmith's novels, and this one in particular - an approach made all the easier by the fact that it was hard for anyone watching the film not to be a little seduced by Jude Law's Dickie Greenleaf.

This past season has kept Highsmith in the moviegoer's mind, with John Malkovich bringing his unique brand of urbane menace to Ripley's Game, in which Italian director Liliana Caviani, in her first really memorable movie since The Night Porter, captured more of the seductive cruelty of a Highsmith hero than anyone since Hitchcock.

"if a movie idea's worth doing"

And now, as if to prove the modern adage that, if a movie idea's worth doing, it's worth doing as many times as possible, along comes the third major Highsmith adaptation in half a decade: White on White, based on Ripley Underground, the second novel in the Ripley series, in which young master Tom has become an art forger accused of counterfeiting the work of a dead artist. To prove everyone wrong, he stages a press conference to show the artist is still alive - by impersonating him. The director is Roger Spottiswoode and Ripley (here called Tom Blessing) is played by Barry Pepper, who was so memorable in Spike Lee's otherwise best-forgotten 25th Hour. Tom Wilkinson plays the detective on Ripley's trail, with Willem Dafoe, Claire Forlani, Alan Cumming and Ian Hart also in the cast. Shooting began in London on June 30, with locations also set to include the Isle of Man.

Speaking of Law, one of the more intriguing prospects to be added to the actor's 'To do' list recently was the title role in a remake of Alfie, the 1966 movie which did more than anything else to make a star out of Michael Caine. The film, whose efforts to show the darker side of Alfie's philandering lifestyle were somewhat overwhelmed by Caine's charm, was also memorable for its soundtrack, which boasted both an unforgettable jazz theme by Sonny Rollins and a cheesy song by Cilla Black - "What's it all about, Allllll-fie?" - which went to No 1 in the UK and was covered by Cher in the US.

Law won't be starting on the role right away, however: he is currently working with Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie on the sci-fi movie The World of Tomorrow and will then make Closer with Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen for veteran film-maker Mike Nichols.

I’VE never been backward in praising the achievements of Klasky Csupo, the duo that gave us Rugrats. Indeed, been watching Chuckie, Tommy and the rest since my kids were old enough to control the television (and, for that matter, has continued to watch it long after they moved onto Ashton Kutcher and Punk'd).

"their take on the world"

But one question has always kind of niggled. Sure, Arlene Klasky got the idea for Rugrats when she was a mother of very young children and became fascinated with their take on the world. But Klasky's kids must now be of an age to take themselves off to the mall. So why hasn't that formidable creative force latched onto something a little more adult?

The answer, it turns out, is: It has. And how! The next worldview to be espoused by Klasky Csupo will be that of beat poet, alcoholic extraordinaire and professional derelict Charles Bukowski.

Working together with UK-based production and sales outfit Winchester Films, Klasky, Gabor Csupo and their new, more grown-up label Global Tantrum will start work in September on an animated movie based on The Way We Dead Love, a set of stories which explore sex, death and the devil to music by Radiohead and Peter Gabriel.

"Our goal is to create a new genre of film that's twisted and funny and original," says Csupo, who promises "a whole new edgy form of entertainment for the cyber generations."

"a dark masterpiece all its own"

For those of us who thought that Spike the dog was about as edgy as Klasky Csupo was going to get, this is a challenge indeed. Readers may like to be reminded that several film-makers have attempted to come to grips with Bukowski before, most notably Italian director Marco Ferreri, who launched Ben Gazarra onto a sexual odyssey along the bus routes of West Los Angeles in Tales of Ordinary Madness. That was based on a collection of Bukowski short stories called Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and Tales of Ordinary Madness, which I once (foolishly) asked Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly if they had in stock. The phrase 'that kind of book' was central to the reply. But it wasn't 'that kind of book' at all: it was a dark masterpiece all its own.

Anyway, next came Barbet Schroeder, who set Mickey Rourke up as a screen equivalent of the alcoholic maestro in Barfly. Bukowski put in an appearance on a bar stool in that one. And then there was Belgian director Dominique Deruddere, who probably came closest of all to the writer's unique worldview in his 1987 film Crazy Love (aka Love Is a Dog From Hell).

Anyway, I guess you get the picture about the kind of books Bukowski wrote - and how he wouldn't be entirely what you might have expected from the guys that gave you Rugrats.

One thing, though. The great man won't be available for voice-over work on The Way We Dead Love: he died in 1994. 

"a one-man LA legend"

IF BUKOWSKI WAS a one-man LA legend, another tale from the City of Angels' murky past could be due for a major makeover: the famous Black Dahlia murder, which had a more profound effect on the city in the late forties than any of the more famous crimes of the past couple of decades.

The victim was Elizabeth (aka Beth) Short, a 23-year-old wannabe actress who arrived in Hollywood from Medford, Massachusetts; was last seen alive at the Biltmore Hotel; and whose naked body was discovered, cut in half and drained of blood, in the Crenshaw district of LA early on the morning of January 15, 1947.

Beth had something of a reputation as a man-chaser, and picked up the 'Black Dahlia' nickname from her dyed black hair and fondness for black clothes. One of the strangest aspects of the story is that several people came forward to confess to Beth's murder. And, while the case remains unsolved, interest in it has never really gone away.

James Ellroy, whose own mother was murdered, wrote a fictionalised account of the case in 1987, which David Fincher was at one stage trying to develop into a film. In 1995, Janice Knowlton, who had been sexually abused as a child, got her own back with a book called Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer - a claim which the police did not bother to follow up.

"a mystery"

Three years later, the irrepressible John Gilmore - author of, among other things, a sensationalised account of James Dean's love-life, came out with Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder. And this year, another writer, Steve Hodel, put in a claim for his own father being the killer in Black Dahlia Avenger: The True Story. Despite the line-up of potential killers, the name of the person who cut Beth Short in two remains a mystery.

There is also an Australian retro band called Jimmy Vargas and the Black Dahlias, many of whose songs focus on Beth's short life. Curiously, though, despite the grisly details and the fringe involvement of the movie business - Beth allegedly counted Marilyn Monroe among her friends - the case did not attract the attention of Kenneth Anger in his deliriously tasteless book, Hollywood Babylon.

The story has been filmed once already - well, kind of, in the movie True Confessions, starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, loosely based on the novel by John Gregory Dunne, which was in turn loosely based on the case.

Now, however, Variety reports a Hollywood bidding war around Hodel's book, which is currently riding high on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list.

Published July 17, 2003

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