Man, I’ve been doing a lot of reviews of movies/books with dead girls in them.
But that’s okay, because they are thought-provoking. I think that this is an issue that’s steadily on the rise, as fetishes and sexual perversions are blurred with art and self-expression; as we move into a permanent, instant-information culture shaded with the comfort of anonymity, sexual fantasies are playing themselves out in interesting, possibly frightening, trends.
The Black Dahlia, written by James Ellroy, fictionalizes the true death of one Elizabeth Short; brutally murdered in one of the most notorious unsolved cases in California history. To this day, there is still ongoing speculation as to who her killer was, but due to the incredibly long passage of time since her sad death, it looks like no one will ever uncover the truth about her last days.
This novel is based mainly on the story of Bucky Bleichert, a former boxer and member of the LAPD who becomes heavily involved with the mystery of her murder. This is definitely not a book for those of us who get queasy, as her murder was no pretty thing. The Black Dahlia, as Ms. Short came to be known as, was given a Glasgow smile (think the Joker), severely beaten, had her breasts burned with cigarettes and nearly severed from her body, a chunk of flesh was cut from one of her thighs, and there were countless lacerations on her privates. To top it all off, she was found cut in half with the blood drained from her body, and her internal organs removed.
One can only hope that she died quickly, and was not awake for any of these chilling tortures.
But moving on to the fictional part, while the story is rather sordid and gruesome, it does not compare to the dark, moral, ethical, and psychological undertones of this novel; a crime novel to match the likes of the Maltese Falcon and even the tales of Sherlock Holmes. Bucky Bleichert, while the main character, is by no means a hero, and his partner is hardly better. And, in the way that humans can always empathize and somehow, always relate to others (isn’t that what makes reading so fulfilling and satisfying?) We find Bucky falling in “love/obsession” with Elizabeth Short and her memory, and as he says about the people he’s interviewing, “the longer i listened the more they talked about themselves, interweaving their sad tales with the story of the Black Dahlia, who they actually believed to be a glamorous siren headed for Hollywood stardom. It was as if they would have traded their own lives for a juicy, front-page death.” Isn’t that interesting? Don’t you feel sometimes when you have a bad day, and someone can one-up you, you can actually be jealous of them?
This book focuses not only on the historical account of one of the most infamous murders in American history, but also the fascination, and even sexualization of the dead. One that we can all relate to, if we’ve read the book. Or any book featuring a gruesome death/disfigurement. We are so far removed, without all hopes of ever experiencing it for ourselves (until it’s too late) that any and all information is irresistible. Especially when it contains traces of the obscene or horrifying. We are so fascinated with what we don’t know, because we want the comfort of thinking we know everything. And it bothers us when that becomes impossible. We read the book, or listen to the news story, all the way to the end because we can’t let go of this breach of our norm. It makes us uncomfortable, and like Bucky we get drawn into it deeper and deeper, because we can’t let go until we solve the problem.
Black Dahlia, you are fantastic. A wonderful, beautiful young woman cut down before her big chance. But it’s been nearly 80 years since your death, and people need to stop asking why.