×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘L.A. Confidential’ Author James Ellroy on Curtis Hanson: ‘He Was a Voyeur, He Was a Camera’

My strange and strangely gifted friend Curtis died earlier this week. His film of my novel L.A. Confidential was a signature moment in my life. The signature was his, more than mine. Thus, this eulogy and post-mortem note of thanks for the splendid gift he gave me.

Curtis was movie-mad. The world outside of films escaped his attention to the same extent that films held him spellbound. He mentally catalogued every film he saw and tagged the good ones as learning texts. He was a natural autodidact and a superb film-watcher. He possessed a voyeur’s gaze.

He was ever the lonely man perched outside an unreachable woman’s window. His films refract his voyeur’s gaze and a concurrent reluctance to smash the window, and grab the woman whole. Curtis Hanson’s films are finely crafted, painstakingly realized, restrained at their core. They are characterized by emotional stasis and suffused with muted yearning. You don’t feel Curtis Hanson’s films. You admire their allegiance to craft.

Curtis Hanson’s gaze was ever deferential to the art of film itself. His films explore and never explode. Even his heartbreak unfolds in restraint. There is a debit and credit sheet here. The viewer flails for emotional coherence and fails to find it. The viewer comes away with a sense of life deftly observed. Voyeur, filmmaker, observer — the most circumspect man I’ve ever met. Curtis Hanson was a camera above all else.

The camera’s gaze illuminated my ninth novel twenty-odd years ago. Curtis treated me respectfully and deferentially at all times. I responded in kind and did not meddle in the making of the film itself. “L.A. Confidential went on to be grandly praised and honored and is properly viewed as the finest American crime film of the era. I find the film problematic and emblematic of the Curtis Hanson disjuncture. What I failed to feel, I admired. What I lost in emotional pop, I regained in a rush of breathtaking craftsmanship.

L.A. Confidential, my novel. “L.A. Confidential,” Curtis Hanson’s film. Disjuncture within disjuncture — and my world as his world, reconceived and revealed. In the end, a primer on novels-as-film.

I conceived a tale of 1953 L.A. and populated it with men and women in extremis. Curtis Hanson rearranged my world and repopulated it with men and women less extreme than mine. My plotlines were reduced and re-stitched, my time frame was compressed, my love stories were re-triangulated. I created a world on paper. Curtis Hanson re-created it for film. It was my world but his world but my world to the point where all claims of ownership were blurred and lost. My dramatic sense and Curtis’s dramatic sense were always at odds. It didn’t matter. I don’t make movies, Curtis Hanson didn’t write novels. He gave me the gift of my words in a luminous new form.

Curtis is gone now. I’ll introduce his film to a hundred more audiences before I go myself. Curtis Hanson, 1945-2016. He was a voyeur, he was a camera, he was a filmmaker — and he was the audience itself. The concept of the audience warms me as I write this.

Here’s an epitaph, courtesy of A.E. Housman:

Eyes the shady night has shut, Cannot see the record cut, And silence sounds no worse than cheers  — After Earth has stopped the ears.

More Voices

  • Hollywood Has Come Far With Diversity

    An Insider's Look at Hollywood's Diversity Efforts and How Far It Still Needs to Go

    I am a white man working in Hollywood. I grew up in Beverlywood, an all-white, predominantly Jewish, Los Angeles neighborhood sandwiched between 20th Century Fox Studios and MGM, where my elementary school had only one black student. I am compelled to write about diversity in Hollywood because “diversity” — in front of and behind the camera [...]

  • Venice Film Festival A Star is

    How Venice, Toronto and Telluride Festivals Stole Cannes' Luster (Column)

    In all the years I’ve been attending film festivals, I have never seen a lineup that looked as good on paper as Venice’s did this fall, boasting new films by Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Damien Chazelle (“First Man”), Paul Greengrass (“22 July”), Mike Leigh (“Peterloo”) and the Coen brothers (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”) in competition, [...]

  • Black Women in Medicine BTS

    Hollywood Needs to Include People With Disabilities on Both Sides of the Camera (Guest Column)

    In five years, nothing has changed. Despite open calls for greater diversity and inclusion, recent research shows that there was little change in the number of characters with disabilities in popular films in 2017. A study conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that [...]

  • Seven Seconds

    Fighting the Racial Bias at the Core of Hollywood’s Cop Shows (Guest Column)

    If fiction is the lie that tells a deeper truth, the TV crime genre has been, for the most part, the lie that simply tells a lie. As a storyteller (Veena) and an advocate for racial justice (Rashad), we collaborated for the past two-and-a-half years in an attempt to reimagine the roles of cops, victims, [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Trial

    Column: Documentarian Barry Avrich Ponders Whether Harvey Weinstein Will Be Convicted

    Will Harvey Weinstein go to jail? That’s perhaps the most debated topic in Hollywood. It’s a question that makes me miss my friend Dominick Dunne, the controversial Vanity Fair columnist who would have already succeeded in interview-ing the chambermaids at Harvey’s sex-addiction clinic. Dunne once prophetically told me there would be a massive reckoning in Hollywood. He [...]

  • Janet Mock Pose

    'Pose' Writer Janet Mock on Making History With Trans Storytelling (Guest Column)

    I first met Ryan Murphy on location in Hollywood in July. The set was a nightclub, filled with background actors staged as glistening go-go dancers, shirtless revelers, and twirling drag queens. They were all basking under the glow of a spinning disco ball — a fitting setting for my first Hollywood job interview. I was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content