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James Ellroy

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Tom Sefton
James Ellroy
on Aug 19, 2013 at 12:22:50 pm

I'm a huge fan of James Ellroy. I knew his work before LA Confidential, and loved the film. My favourite trilogy of all time is Underworld USA (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood's a Rover). For the past 5 years or so, I have kept reading about different production companies buying the right to create a TV miniseries that follows Underworld USA - first Bruce Willis, then Tom Hanks' company Playtone, then James Franco (!?). Nothing so far.

Does anyone out there have any idea why this hasn't been picked up and made yet?

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Tim Wilson
Re: James Ellroy
on Aug 24, 2013 at 6:31:59 am

[Tom Sefton] "Does anyone out there have any idea why this hasn't been picked up and made yet?"

Ellroy seems made for Hollywood, but, other than LA Confidential, I don't know that they've gotten it quite right yet.

I'd like to see what Franco's got for American Tabloid, the first of the Underworld USA Trilogy. I love his ambition - nobody is swinging for as many fences as he is right now. Look at his IMDb sometime, I guarantee you'll be floored: 13 projects in some stage or another of underway.

The one that's already completed that intrigues me most is As I Lay Dying, based on Faulkner's novel, which Franco ADAPTED, is starring in, and DIRECTED. Sure, why not?

I'm just not sure he has TIME to do something of this scale.

I'm a little more intrigued by Blood's A Rover, which is the third in the Trilogy. That was announced last September, before Franco's January announcement, and is being produced by Ellroy himself. (Nobody working on the second one?)

The thing that jumps out at me is, philistine that I am, I'd never heard of anybody at the helm of this one before I read the announcement! If the claim to fame of your EP's is that one produced "The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag" and the other "Devil's Knot," I don't have the first idea what that actually MEANS.

The Ellroy adaptation that completely fell under the radar was an episode of Fallen Angels, an anthology series on Showtime, 2003-2005. Talk about a who's who! The series was EP'd by Sydney Pollack, episode directors included Bogdanovich, Soderbergh and Cuaron (who used his Children of Men DP Emmanuel Lubezki!!!), with cast members including Gary Oldman, Tom Hanks, ALAN RICKMAN, Joe Mantegna, Kiefer, James Woods, Danny Glover, Isabella Rosselini, Laura Dern...and in the episode Ellroy wrote, Gary Busey :-) ....I mean, it's just insane.

Some of these people were obviously more marquee at the time, others, considerably moreso now. The results were mixed, but this was way, way ahead of its time. Can you imagine how some channel would bang the drum for this now? No WAY it would fall under anyone's radar.

Ellroy only wrote one episode, but it does make me wonder if TV might not be a good home for him. Do it UK style -- each book becomes 3-5 lean, mean episodes, once a year.

None of which is exactly an answer, Tom, but I think you're right. It seems like there should be a lot more action around him.

The analogy, though, might be Elmore Leonard. He wrote a bazillion westerns, but only one novel, Hombre, and one short-story, 3:10 to Yuma (adapted twice) really came to much. A bunch of adaptations of his movies fell way flat until Soderbergh stuck the landing on Out of Sight, followed by Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty -- both perfect in their own ways -- and Tarantino's Jackie Brown, an ENTIRELY perfect adaptation of Rum Punch.

But so so many messes along the way, easily a dozen, as well as a couple of failed series.

Justified really is one of the great TV shows of all time, on any network, in any genre, and the Elmore Leonard short story it's based on is really remarkably thin. It's amazing that ANYTHING came out of it, much less something damn near miraculous.

Leonard's an easier sell -- mostly pretty lightweight stuff. Ellroy's work is some of the darkest ever published for my money, with none of Leonard's winking. Even compared to other noir guys like Jim Thompson -- Ellroy is really beyond noir into something that doesn't have a satisfying name. I've seen "neo-noir," but what does that even mean?

The fact that none of Ellroy's adaptations has been a trainwreck is a good sign...

...but as I'm thinking about someone who's done a pretty good job with anything I'd call neo-noir, the name that jumps way to the top of the list is Ben Affleck. The Boston noir of Dennis Lehane and Chuck Hogan is nowhere nearly as dark as Ellroy's LA, but Ben really had a deft touch with both Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Throw in his performance in Hollywoodland....makes me think it might be fun if he took a spin with Ellroy. There's surely more than one great movie in his books....

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Tom Sefton
Re: James Ellroy
on Aug 24, 2013 at 10:27:37 am

Pleased to hear that some of the Underworld USA trilogy is being optioned. Honestly, I couldn't see Tom Hanks pulling them off. As you say, they are too dark. Someone like David Fincher maybe...also George Clooney did a great job with Goodnight and Good Luck-the claustrophobia and shady times of the mid fifties were presented brilliantly.

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