Page 45 Review by Stephen
Period prime crime from the creators of CRIMINAL and FATALE, set in the city of secrets and lies.
"Charlie doesn't notice. He's already being pulled back under the waves.
"He's written a dozen murder pictures, or parts of them, at least...
"But 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.
Poor Charlie - he's so driven he's distracted. Clues are now surfacing in the most casual of conversations and Charlie's finally beginning to piece some of them together with earlier hints he'd previously missed that Hollywood has been far from healthy. We've all heard of the casting couch but some abuses of power are even worse than others. Yet not every secret, however vile, is a motive for murder and I myself am beginning to look in another direction as well...
In Page 45's review of THE FADE OUT VOL 1 I write extensively about the fantasy and lies of Hollywoodland - of the writing and the acting and the myth-spinning slights of hand. They're lying professionally before they've begun to be truly mendacious, but at Victory Street Pictures they're all of them at it, even screenwriter Charlie. For that and the set-up please see THE FADE OUT VOL 1 but basically this:
It's Los Angeles, 1948.
Charlie woke up in 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 and it's going to make Charlie, now complicit, sick to the stomach.
As for Gil, it's going to make Charlie's old friend, mentor and covert co-writer very angry.
Unlike the CRIMINAL books which are all self-contained, this extended series allows room for Brubaker to examine relationships in richer 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 could 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.
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 almost 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 back to THE FADE OUT VOL 1 then right through volume two again.
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.
For further history and its emotional complications between Charlie and Gil you'll have to wait for THE FADE OUT VOL 3. Or not, for THE FADE OUT #9 which follows straight on from this very volume is on sale right now.