Reviewed at AFI/L.A. Film Fest, June 21, 1993. Running Time: 89 MIN.
Novelist James Elroy proves himself the energetic subject of a film portrait subtitled “Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction.” But the Austrian-produced documentary allows him to run on through his guided tour of the seamy side of Los Angeles without benefit of context, reflection or standing. The resulting film is for the aficionado and best suited for television and videocassette sales.
Densely packed with autobiographical detail and commentary from Elroy, the profile is wall-to-wall narration, punctuated only by vaguely related travelogue montage. The author is smart, glib — in short, supremely entertaining. Nonetheless, the filmmakers’ failure to challenge Elroy’s narrative or lend it specificity makes the project feel incomplete.
Elroy’s personal saga is especially riveting. He was born and raised in less fashionable sections of the city. His mother was murdered, the killer never found. He succumbed to alcohol and drugs, joined the Navy and settled into a marginal lifestyle as a caddie. Elroy began to write around his 30th birthday and five years later had the confidence to turn his passion into his profession.
Only slightly less commanding are the author’s observations about the city, crime fiction, the police and criminals.
The film is a true fan letter from director Reinhard Jud and producer Markus Fischer. But ultimately its approach short-changes its subject, who,in the absence of a good challenge, retains his crown without a fight.