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David Fincher and James Ellroy Head to HBO
This could be the most exciting news for crime fiction fans in a while. It is reported that legendary film director, David Fincher, and the historic crime novelist, James “The Demon Dog” Ellroy are teaming up for a 1950s crime noir series set in the City of Angeles. HBO are currently holding negotiations with the two auteurs which would mean, if it happens, that we may be about to have our hands on the first great TV noir.
It’s not the first time Fincher and Ellroy have tried to collaborate on a piece of material, as they had a deal in place about a decade ago to adapt Ellroy’s 1987, The Black Dahlia, which Fincher was going to adapt into a five-part miniseries. It was given a huge TV budget of 80 million dollars by HBO. However, the deal fell through (not much information on why it actually did fall apart) leaving the material to be adapted by Brian De Palma in his 2006 film, which did not receive a very warm welcome by both critics and even Ellroy himself, who thought the film was a poor adaptation.
It’s no surprise Ellroy’s work is so hard to put up on the big screen because of the sprawling storylines and countless sub plots, so apart from the successful 1997 film, L.A Confidential, it seems Ellroy’s work needs to be given more time for the story to be told.
It feels about time that Ellroy moved to the television world, as noir hasn’t really taken off on TV as yet, even though some shows have tried, but ultimately fallen flat and failed to deliver the rich narrative of an Ellroy 1940s’ world.
This year’s Mob City for TNT was a perfect example of a failed attempt at a noir series. Like many shows who try to do noir right, Frank Darabont’s Mob City just went for the typical tropes of the genre. Darabont used the smoke filled jazz bars, seedy clubs, Pacheco gangs, and tough talking gangsters with a tipped-down Fedora. Many fans have seen these types of tropes before; we’ve known these from all the 40s’ and 50s’ films of that era and even fiction from the likes of Raymod Chandler to James M. Cain. These elements have been almost considered a cliché now, and don’t add to the story but only to the atmosphere of the piece. It is the old adage: style over substance, even the underrated Boardwalk Empire is guilty of this. So, why do these creators feel the need to create an atmosphere instead of breeding natural atmosphere out of the plot?
It’s easy enough for these writers and directors to come out and defend their projects by saying “But you haven’t seen this type of genre on TV before” and yes, they are right, but we’ve seen it too much in fiction and film already.
What really makes great noir work, is the deep psychological storylines, rich characters, and original, but relevant plots to the era that make great 1940/50s’ noir so great. Many of these show runners who tried to make these shows don’t have a very deep understanding of the ways in which these eras actually work; hence why, sometimes, they fall back on story clichés of that era if they can’t think up where to go next – for instance, the femme fatale, or the drunk about-to-retire cop. That is why we need to move away from these stereotypes and who better to do it than Ellroy? He is perfect for the reinvention of noir television, and not only because of his passionate and unique style for the genre but because, as he said himself, he lives in that era creatively – he knows it inside and out.
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles 1948, the now 66 year old veteran author, has been considered one of the greatest living crime writers to date, his fiction has mostly all been set in 40s’ and 50s’ Los Angeles, with his first trilogy, and his L.A quartet all set there. It was the latter which made him a household name of fiction. He found his own style in the series, with the daring and political plots that covered so many themes like race, religion, wealth, sexuality, sexism, honesty, and violence. For many networks though, all these sensitive themes may not be allowed to be touched upon, but this is why I think HBO is the perfect fit for “The Demon Dog.”
It will take some time for production to begin as James Ellroy will take time crafting something equally as complex as novels. HBO are a perfect suite for this: they are great risk takers when it comes to creativity.
The main reason why HBO and Ellroy will be a match made in Heaven is because the channel does not shy away from violence, colourful language, and darker plot lines, allowing Ellroy to not hold back and give us an Ellroy–lite story. You could see with this year’s True Detective, which was arguably pretty close to an Ellroy story, that there is potential for a noir show with more of an oppressive and seedier tone. Just look at HBO’s latest series, The Leftovers, to see how far the channel is willing to back gloomier tales.
Also, HBO’s only period drama, Boardwalk Empire, is a strong reason why Ellroy and Fincher’s show might be popular, because there’s already a fan base in place for historic fact/fiction. Also, as Boardwalk Empire is currently in its final season, it makes sense for the Fincher/Ellroy show to fill Boardwalk’s gap.
We have obviously got to remember that negotiations are still ongoing between all parties, so the deal could still fall apart, and the only reason I could think of why it might, would be because of shooting locations and budgets. Period TV drama is notoriously difficult to shoot if you want a show that will have a lot of scenes with different locations as there are very few modern day locations that still carry a period feel. This problem usually results in a lot of green screen for backdrops which will obviously cost HBO a bit of money; a similar problem that Boardwalk Empire has had to deal with.
Nevertheless, we will be hoping a deal can be struck because let’s face it, David Fincher and James Ellroy creating a noir TV show is going to be something special.
Let me know below whether you think these two artists can create the first great noir TV series.