Page 45 Review by Stephen
"All he'd been thinking about the past few weeks is who could've murdered Val...
"He'd forgotten to ask why."
He'd forgotten to ask why.
In which I begin to understand what an exceptionally vivid character actor Sean Phillips truly is.
Oh, I've written thousands of words about specific, expressive elements of Sean Phillips' craft in reviews for CRIMINAL, FATALE, KILL OR BE KILLED, THE FADE OUT softcovers and THE ART OF SEAN PHILLIPS etc, but here we are in Hollywoodland so it strikes me as apposite that I finally speak about the acting involved on the part of our favourite artists.
Give me love! Give me lust! Give me conflicted ambivalence and emotional exhaustion! Now give me terrified out of my bloody mind. Sean Phillips delivers on every single page.
It's Los Angeles, 1948.
Cinema screenwriter Charlie wakes up in the bath of a bungalow in Studio City, built to keep stars close to the set. The night before is an alcohol-induced mystery to him, but there's a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminds him of a smile, the smile leads to a face, and that face belongs to the woman lying dead on the living room floor.
It's Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie's working on. She's been strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie begins to remove all trace of his and anyone else's presence. But that's nothing compared to the cover-up the studio's about to embark on. They're going to make out it was suicide, smearing the poor girl's name, and it's going to make Charlie, now complicit, sick to the stomach.
"Studios had been covering up murder and rape and everything in between since at least the Roaring Twenties. That's what men like Brodsky were there for
to prevent scandals.
"And he'd helped them this time. He'd helped them."
As for Gil, it's going to make Charlie's old friend, mentor and covert co-writer very angry indeed. It's going to make him drunk and dangerous - especially to himself.
Period crime from the creators of CRIMINAL, FATALE and KILL OR BE KILLED, this homes in on Hollywoodland, famous for its writing and acting and myth-spinning slights of hand. They're lying professionally before they've begun to be truly mendacious.
Acting itself is a form of lying - creating the semblance of someone else - but so often stars extend this dissemblance off-screen as well, aided and abetted by elaborate campaigns to make actors more attractive to their idolatrous fans. Take the profile of dreamboat actor Tyler Graves, concocted by bright publicity girl Dotty Quinn, playing up his years as a manly ranch-hand in Texas.
"Dotty, you're a riot
I've never ridden a horse in my life."
"I know, I still prefer the first one we came up with
"Oh right. I was a mechanic Selznick discovered when he broke down in Palm Springs."
"It was your own little Cinderella story."
There's a telling line in Posy Simmond's British classic TAMARA DREWE from the horse's mouth of successful crime novelist, Nicholas Hardiman: "I think the real secret of being a writer is learning to be a convincing liar... I mean, that's what we are: story tellers... liars..."
He should know: he's a serial philanderer.
This complete twelve-chapter graphic novel gives room for Brubaker to examine relationships in detail. Gil and Charlie's co-dependent career ties them inextricably together. Gil has been blacklisted while Charlie's lost his literary spark so the former dictates to the latter. This should make them allies for they both seek the same thing, albeit searching in different directions. But since both abuse booze for different reasons - Charlie for oblivion, belligerent Gil for release - they're set on a collision course instead. What one does will inevitably impact upon the other but, as I say, they're not working together: Charlie doesn't trust Gil to act rationally, with restraint; Gil doesn't trust Charlie to act at all.
"They were two broken-down writers, running on desperation and booze....
"And they'd written their story wrong."
Actual plot points I'm steering well clear of. We don't do spoilers around here. But, boy, there are some pretty brutal (if strategically brilliant) scenes of intimidation and one huge misstep when intimidation gives way to condescension.
The recasting of Valeria Sommers with the similarly styled Maya Silver - and the subsequent reshooting of the film - allows Brubaker to examine the worst of Hollywood and its interminable, often last-minute rewrites ruining what was originally inspired. It's cleverly done with the film's eloquent and affecting first shoot recalled, immediately juxtaposed by the second lacklustre effort.
As to Phillips, an early morning beach scene gives him a rare opportunity to show what he can do in full sunlight rather than the twilight or midnight he normally resides in. Here the lines unfettered from their shadows are unusually crisp, smooth and delicate. Lit more lambently still by Breitweiser with a palette of sand, green and aquamarine, and the sea becomes virtually irresistible. Both their endeavours enhance what is a similarly rare stretch of innocent play free from subterfuge. Of course, that would also be the perfect time to lob in an equally innocent question and a guileless answer which will nonetheless send your mind spinning right back to the beginning.
Because Charlie remains haunted by Valeria there are also some scenes depicting both actresses. Maya was cast partly on account of her striking similarity to Val, but thanks to Phillips you couldn't mistake one for the other for a second, either on the beach or on set. Maya is beautiful, talented, intelligent and caring; so was Val, but her deportment is instantly recognisable as far more experienced, confident and - there's no other word for it - classier.
As I say, it's a period piece, the period being rife with tight-knit nepotism, closed-doors studios and overtly voiced bigotry. Wisely Brubaker has refrained from redacting that. Some people are shits - they just are - and there is such a thing as the non-authorial voice. So much here is tied to the Congressional Hearings just before McCarthyism really hit its stride including a role for Ronald Reagan. Thankfully Sean Phillips is a dab hand at likenesses for Reagan is joined in this fiction by the likes of Clark Gable.
Phillips' eye for period detail is exceptional, whether it's the way skirts hang or fly at an angle during a dance, the home furnishings or a buffet banquet. It's perhaps there that Breitweiser's decision to avoid local colour shines best, refusing to let your eye settle but dazzling you instead. I can't imagine how dull and lifeless the spread of food would have looked had it been lit literally instead. Instead it's both impressionist and expressionist, concerned with the colour and quality of light not as it actually falls or what it falls on but as it might dance on the brain. It's rendered in free-form, panes of light and slabs of colour with scant regard for the line on the page and every regard for your eye and emotional impact.
As to Brubaker, as ever he excels at making you want to linger as long as possible in each of his characters' heads. I challenge anyone to foresee what's coming. Certainly Charlie doesn't. He hasn't been able to for ages. It's no coincidence that for the entire book Charlie's been looking through cracked glasses which Phillips has turned into yet another of his fortes. There have been bits of Charlie missing, both as a man and as a writer, ever since he saw combat, and this is the brilliance of Brubaker, tying the two together:
"In that moment, he saw why things always went wrong for him now.
"He understood his problem.
"It was that he'd lost the ability to imagine what happened next."
This complete collection of THE FADE OUT three softcovers also includes a cover gallery of the fully painted portraits of each of the protagonists.