Following up my reviews of Shopgirl and Chinatown for Movie Rob’s Genre Guestimation with a look at Hollywoodland. Hollywoodland is a pretty solid 2006 release that attempted to revive the Noir genre, and I don’t feel like it has gotten enough attention over the years, which is why I chose to highlight it today.
The film follows Louis Simo, played by Adrian Brody, as he is investigating the death of George Reeves, played by a pre-Batman Ben Affleck. As he digs deeper into the life of the television star, he is exposed to the ever-corrupt Hollywood movie scene and the greediness of people trying to make it big in the city of dreams. The film demonstrates that in Hollywood, not everyone’s dreams come true. George Reeves was given a starring role on a highly rated television show and yet he wanted more. He could not have more because once he was Superman that is who he would always be. He wanted to star in major motion pictures and he wanted to be a success. He could not have all of that though because the small success he had gained in the end turned into his ruined career.
As is true in Los Angeles and Hollywood, many people come to make it as big stars and few actually get the satisfaction of achieving this dream. Hollywoodland contrats the parties of movie stars and producers with darker sides of the city like police corruption. It suggests Hollywood is where dreamers come and more often than not they are severely disappointed. Reeves has found success but is then restricted by it, and in the end unhappy with the way his life has turned out. This is a true Hollywood story. It happens every day and it happened to Reeves.
The film pits Simo’s own stalling career and unhappy life against that of Reeves. He is a prime example of the classic jaded detective from a Noir film. He drinks too much, has a rough relationship with his loved ones, and struggles to find success. In the end though, Simo might actually have a more hopeful, if not happier ending than most detectives in the genre. It is the ending that makes this film feel very much like a “Hollywood film” in that it can’t quite commit to too harsh a finish for our main character. It has to leave a smidgen of hope for its audience to cling to, and in that respect it is very LA.
I love stories about LA. It’s one of the reasons I chose LA Films as the genre for Movie Rob’s Genre Guesstimation. I just reviewed the film I recommended Rob watch (Shopgirl) so today I thought I’d check in on a classic LA Film, Chinatown.
In Chinatown, Jake Gittes is investigating the murder of an official from the Water Company. During his investigation, he discovers a hidden plot by the company to cheat thousands of farmers out of water that was promised to them (among other devious truths). The story shows that there is corruption and deception in everything. In the movie, Gittes is left dealing with betrayal and disappointment. He has come from a tragic loss in his former job to have the same thing happen all over again. He tries to prevent someone from getting hurt and ends up making sure that’s exactly what happens. Jake gets pushed around in a web of intricate lies and it really is a sign of how corrupt Hollywood and Los Angeles were in the 1930s. It shows the darker side of LA history.
The cinematography and production design of Chinatown allow the audience to view what Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California looked like in the 30s and 40s. The buildings, cars, clothes, shops, etc. are all made to look and feel like Los Angeles in the past. It is shot on actual locations all around Los Angeles County so it really feels like you’re right there with the characters. It even has the racial segregation and dried up river.
In keeping with Noir tradition, the film delves deeper into the idea of disappointed hopes through the use of shadow effects, a femme fatale, and a broken down detective who is weary and searching for something better in a city gone to crime. Chinatown uses this style to show the desperation of some people to find hope in the city after everything has gone wrong for them. Gittes loses in the end. He’s watched an innocent die and come face to face with pure evil and watched it win in the end. Chinatown shows that in Los Angeles dreams die and people lie. It isn’t a pretty side of the city but it might be a more truthful one. Chinatown is both a classic Noir, and a classic LA Film.