"L.A. Noir" A Poem by James Ellroy

Under the smog-skin of contemporary Los Angeles lie precious remnants of the grand, parochial city that lent itself, and the shadows of its lowlife inhabitants, to the light, sleazy film noir gems of the '40s and '50s.

I'm rolling eastbound on the Hollywood freeway, heavy on the gas pedal of my rented 1989 Mustang all black, call it the "noir car". In the distance L.A. City Hall looms like a pornstar crection. Call it my favorite noir location. I'm remembering the establishing shot in Pushover-the same freeway in its infancy, that same structure. Weak, lust-crazed, pussy-whipped. Fred MacMurray flushes his life down the toilet for Kim Novak. Now my hand is going for the flusher rather than the shift knob--I'll bet she was worth the ride down the bowl. Ditto City Hall establishing shot in Criss Cross--pussy-whipped Burt Lancaster flushes over Yvonne De Carlo. And it was City Hall again in D.O.A, but in the closing moments--Edmond O'Brien keels over dead. In noir you pay for your obsessions.

Now I'm off the freeway, southbound on Spring Street to the Bradbury Building--groovy latticework interior and creaky elevators used well in the noir sci-fi dud Blade Runner. This is also where lust-crazed Edmond O'Brien shot it out in D.O.A.-- some feat--he was dying of radium poisoning. (He must have stumbled to City Hall to croak.)

The noir car stalls dead at Spring and First, and late century lowlife urbanites surround it like sharks. In the noir universe, reality gets blurred. They look suspiciously like noir psychopaths, and if I have to endure them, I wish the rest of L.A. would just turn to grainy black and white to keep it all in the same movie.


James Ellroy is the author of The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere and the forthcoming L.A. Confidential.