The second offering from TNT’s Suspense Collection is the highly anticipated I AM THE NIGHT, a six part, mini-series about the Black Dahlia case, staring Chris Pine and India Eisley, directed by Patty Jenkins (the director of Wonder Woman), Victoria Mahoney, and Carl Franklin. This review contains some mild spoilers, so perhaps you should read it after you binge the series.
The series tells the story of Fauna Hodel, played wonderfully innocent, sensible, and intelligent by India Eisley, who was given to an African American woman, Jimmy Lee, to be raised as her own child. Fauna, who believed herself to be of mixed race, travels to Los Angeles to find her real mother, Tamar Hodel, but she discovers a dark truth about her family.
Golden Brooks who plays Jimmy Lee does an incredible job portraying a complex woman. Jimmy Lee loves Fauna but she’s emotionally abusive to the girl. But I never get the sense that Jimmy Lee is mean. That’s how talented the actress is — she is able to suggest how conflicted the damaged Jimmy Lee is towards her adopted daughter.
But the show belongs to Chris Pine who literally scorches the screen with his charisma. Perhaps I have a thing for broken men. I’ve never cared much for Pine before, I thought he was conventionally good looking and therefore dull; but I love him as the resourceful reporter, I think he’s smart and cool to work closely with a woman director like Patty Jenkins and to take on a project like I AM THE NIGHT with TNT.
The Black Dahlia case has horrified true crime fiction fans for quite awhile for the murder was brutal: Elizabeth Short was found dead, drained of blood, bisected, and posed like a murder doll with a grotesque smile carved into her face. In death, the woman smiled like the Joker. Who could do something so cruel? A sociopath with a driving need to humiliate women.
I’ve wondered what Elizabeth Short was like in real life: she wanted to be an actress, she enjoyed fashion, she liked to drink and meet new people and have fun. She was high-spirited and pretty but some men despise confident women. Beautiful women have ‘power’ in our society (while they are young), and that may infuriate male narcissists who feel inferior: they hate what they cannot have, which may explain why Short was tortured and her body posed like a mutilated Barbie doll.
There’s been a number of suspects over the years but the number one suspect was George Hill Hodel, Fauna’s grandfather. George Hodel, played by a creepy but distinguished Jefferson Mays, was a strange man; he was a brilliant doctor, a child prodigy, and an artist who imagined himself to be an extreme surrealist on the cutting edge of art. He thought he was beyond the normal rules of decency, and that he could do whatever he wanted, even rape his own daughter and possibly other members of his family.
But Chris Pine’s character— Jay Singletary knows that something is off about George Hodel. Pine plays the smart, savvy, reporter with cool hair who destroyed his career when he tried to take George Hodel down for a scandal. His editor tells him to ‘forget Hodel, forget that case,’ but a reporter like Singletary can’t. He’s obsessed. He’s a man who cares about his job. He may even believe in justice. What a gallant fool! My god, I love him. He is certainly a gentleman around Fauna, who absolutely needs a real friend to confide in when she discovers how creepy her grandfather is.
George Hodel was accused of sexually assaulting his 14-year old daughter, Tamar Hodel — but the misogynistic judge and jury thought that Tamar was “crazy” and acquitted George Hodel. Tamar was sent to a reformatory, where she later gave birth to Fauna, who was given to a stranger and raised as a mixed child even though she wasn’t biracial. Tamar listed the father on the birth certificate as African American because she wanted her daughter to be raised in the black community.
An article by Sheila Weller suggested that the storyline for Chinatown was based on Tamar Hodel’s sexual assault, which is odd considering that Chinatown is considered the greatest script ever written. The actor, John Huston, who played the rapist father in Chinatown was, in real life, George Hodel’s best friend and he most likely knew Tamar as a teenager. But why would he want to play a role that might have been based on his best friend’s incest? That’s weird, right? He knew about Tamar accusing her father of incest in court — everyone in elite LA knew.
The fact that Roman Polanski directed Chinatown has not escaped my attention either. The Black Dahlia case is an onion of misogyny, each peeled layer reveals another layer of men abusing women in the name of ‘art.’ Some even say that the Sowden house in Los Feliz was used by George Hodel to torture and murder Short and other women during the worst years of LAPD corruption, the very corruption that may have protected George Hodel from prosecution.
But the Sowden House where the series filmed last year is absolutely fabulous, with a gaping Mayan mouth for a roof. There’s a moment in I AM THE NIGHT when Singletary sneaks into a party and hides in George Hodel’s art room; he turns and sees the art collected on the walls: bisected women, gloved women, women with their legs roundly hacked off, women without faces in strange poses, and he has a stunning realization: George Hodel is a murder artist.
He assumes this means that George Hodel is the Black Dahlia murder. But was he? Maybe he was fascinated by the Black Dahlia case like many of us.
One thing is for certain, there was a creep out there crazy enough to pose the dead body of Elizabeth Short as a piece of homicidal surrealism in 1947. Maybe George Hodel was that creep or maybe he was a shitty artist who got off on murder doll dioramas (the 101 Cliche of Art School Hack), so he collected art in homage to the murder of Elizabeth Short. Who knows?
Steve Hodel, his own son, believed him to be the murder. But was he really? That’s what the six part series explores: Was George Hodel the Black Dahlia murderer or just some pretentious, incestous, white dude?
One of my favorite scenes in the series is early on when Fauna experiences performance art at the infamous Sowden House, performed by Hodel’s new wife, Corinna, played by Connie Nielsen. Corinna, while touching up her makeup, asks Fauna if she liked the art show and Fauna responds, “No.” Haha, no. Thank you, Fauna. No. I don’t like your dumb performance art. You can’t fool me with your pimp talk, your art sucks. And your husband sucks. And you failed Tamar. YOU’RE A CLICHE.
If this case haunts you like it does many people, check out Fauna Hodel’s memoir ‘One Day She’ll Darken,’ and Steve Hodel’s best seller ‘Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder.’ This TV series will get into your head and make you google ‘Who was the Black Dahlia Murderer,’ at two in the morning, so as they say in The Purge — be careful out there. You can get lost for days reading theories about the murder surrealists and wander the rabbit rat hole of Man Ray’s painting, Le Beau Temps.
I AM THE NIGHT premieres on TNT as part of the TNT’s Suspense Collection on January 28th, 2019.
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