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De Palma Symposium: The Black Dahlia

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De Palma Symposium: The Black Dahlia

House managing editor Keith Uhlich writes in defense of Brian De Palma’s most recent picture, the psychologically-charged noir pastiche The Black Dahlia, for the Reverse Shot De Palma symposium.

The Black Dahlia is a veritable mishmash of textures and styles: A world where the Sixties-coiffed Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson)—Blanchard’s live-in girlfriend and Bleichert’s distant object of affection—attends a Terence Davies–esque revival of the silent film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs, its crackly, romantic score bleeding seamlessly into Mark Isham’s postmodernist reconstruction (heavy on the Herrmann–ish theremin). A period where k.d. lang officiates (in a top hat and tails get-up straight out of von Sternberg’s Morocco) over a lesbian bar sideshow that sets the stage for the exemplary drag-queen entrance of mannish Dahlia wannabe—and Bleichert seductress—Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), her name as much a reference to Proust’s aromatic recollections as to Hitchcock’s obsessive blond/brunette dichotomies. A place where Bleichert is as likely to stumble on a Vietnam-styled death tableau in a guilt-ridden abstraction of Chinatown as upon a Beverly Hills manse’s hierarchical theater-of-the-absurd stairway, all eyes intently focused on the explicative, suicide-note brayings of the insanely love-struck Ramona Linscott (Fiona Shaw) who, as a perhaps unknowing complement to the views of her jealous husband, smilingly proffers that “[the rich] safeguard [art] for future generations.”“