WRETCHED REVIEWS: JAMES ELLROY’S LA: CITY OF DEMONS
JAMES ELLROY’S LA: CITY OF DEMONS
Starring James Ellroy and Barko
Anyone unfamiliar with James Ellroy’s writing, packed as it with bold intuition and amazing alliteration, might find the L.A. Confidential creator’s on-screen style not only off-putting but downright annoying in his duties hosting James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons.
Ellroy is best known for writing the book which became the movie L.A. Confidential, but he’s been detailing the sordid underbelly of his hometown of Hollywood (“Hollyweird” in Ellroy parlance) for over 30 years now. Anyone who has seen him in person knows that he is blunt and does not suffer fools, wielding righteousness and insight like a club, which makes this six-episode examination of crime in and around Los Angeles, both a distillation of everything Ellroy and a primer on the city’s putrid past.
First broadcast on ID (Investigation Discovery), Demons features the self-described “baleful bard of badness” confessing to his core motivations and how they have shaped his career. First episode “Dead Women Own Me,” for instance, explores the death of Ellroy’s own mother, Jean Hilliker, which he detailed in his gripping book “My Dark Places.” Handsomely-filmed recreations are combined with original interviews and period photographs to examine Hilliker’s murder and how the young Ellroy’s fascination with the death of Elizabeth Short – a.k.a. The Black Dahlia – transmogrified into an extension of his fascination with his mother’s snuff. Ellroy’s tough guy stance is contrasted with his passion for the material and its deeply personal nature.
Other episodes in the series examine the scandal rags of the 1950s, the death of gangster Johnny Stompanato, serial killers (including the Hillside Stranglers), the Brenda Allen call girl scandal (which nearly brought down the LAPD), the famous Fatty Arbuckle case and the death of actress Rebecca Schaeffer (including an interview with then budding attorney Marcia Clark, who would go on to prosecute OJ Simpson). Accompanying Ellroy is Barko, a CG pitbull who acts as Ellroy’s alter ego, voicing his darker opinions with mordant humour. It’s an odd stylistic choice but one which works.
At its best, Demons mirrors the tough-minded intelligence at work in Ellroy’s novels and tells some fascinating stories. It makes for great TV and will hopefully turn viewers into readers.