The devil you
At a time when fashionable noir thrillers tend to update themselves to the present day, Devil In A Blue Dress goes back to the post-war period when it all begin. Director Carl Franklin talks to Hannah Fries.
Carl Franklin is a critics‘ director. Critics love his
intelligence. his education. But no matter how much they praised his ﬁrst feature. One False Move, the
general public didn‘t get themselves along to the i V
cinemas. ‘With One False Move. we didn‘t get much ; ofa release.‘ Franklin acknowledges. ‘l mean, we g played the markets, but we had no real support. and so the ﬁlm was much stronger among the journalists than it was at the box ofﬁce.‘
This time around. Franklin has a much bigger movie on his hands. Devil In A Blue Dress has the backing of a major distributor (Columbia Tristar) and features Denzel Washington in the lead role. lt‘s faster, fuller. sexier — but there's still that doubt hanging over its commerciality. ‘I don‘t know if Devil In A Blue Dress is going to do the mass kind of business that will spell a real successful ﬁlm,‘ admits the director. ‘These detective ﬁlms don‘t typically make the big box ofﬁce money. Chinatown didn‘t make much money. My ﬁlm is not that Barman kind of break-out ﬁlm.‘
Franklin is a laid-back man who often doesn‘t ﬁnish his sentences. He muses over the reaction his ﬁlm is receiving in the States: ‘lt certainly is working to the big city audiences. in New York. in Los Angeles. it‘s playing to packed houses. But I wonder. . . lt‘sjust that I don't know how it‘s doing in the Midwest and the South. Somehow they have been designated the barometer of the movie-going audience. They are the people that have to be pleased in order for a ﬁlm to equal a huge box ofﬁce success.‘
So the rednecks don‘t like Devil In A Blue Dress? it isn‘t surprising. The ﬁlm is part noir-thiller. part social realism. it gives a stunningly vivid portrait of the swinging. poor and criminal black worlds of Los Angeles in the l940s. Not redneck material. really. Franklin suggests that his work appeals to a classier kind of person. ‘It pulls in more ofa literate audience: an audience that does a lot more reading. And that‘s not something that your typical ﬁlm-going audience does in the States.‘ ~
On the subject of reading. Devil In A Blue Dress is. I of course. based on the brilliant novel by Walter Mosley. Franklin's ﬁlm follows the text closely except for one major change: the hero. Easy Rawlins, does not get to have a night of sex with the white heroine. Daphne Monet. Could this be the result of some executive directive to paddle softly softly around the inter-racial bonk factor? Franklin has
proved himself keen to tackle this particular
American phobia before. in One False Move. No. he says. it was his decision to leave out the sex.
‘This is a studio ﬁlm in the sense that it was made at a studio. but in terms of the typical studio experience
! of loss of control. I didn't really have that. In fact. the
studio was really trying to push the whole sex scene.
but it wouldn‘t have worked. in the book. Easy
catches up with Daphne in the last ﬁfteen-to-twenty pages. They start a relationship and literally in the course of 2-1 hours of frolicking in this hotel. she explains her life and most of the loose ends of the
‘These detective films don’t typically make the big box office money. Chinatown didn’t make much money. Devil In A Blue Dress is not that Batman kind of break-out lilm.’
plot come together. Film would never allow that — there's no way after starting this caper. and getting the kind of momentum you have to get started, that you can stop it for them to begin having a relationship that basically plays itselfout in conversation.‘
Never mind; it is still a sexy ﬁlm. ‘We keep hearing about the Denzel audience.‘ says Franklin rather saucily. “and we get images ofthese legions of women. y‘know. swooning and falling out in the aisles. Everybody‘s saying that this is his most sensuous performance in years.‘
Franklin himself is divorced with two kids, and it‘s the children he wants to talk about. ‘You get much more of an idea of symmetry when you‘re raising children. thinking what their lives might be and what
Devil In A Blue Dress: ‘a stunningly vivid portrait of the swinging, poor and criminal black worlds of los Angeles In the 19403'
become more concemed with an overall view ofa process as opposed to being concerned with your own emotions. Directing is like that - you‘re guiding a theme - you gotta attach some through line. You‘ve got to unezmh that in order to find some point of cohesion so that everything can congeal around it.‘
Franklin grew up in Port Chicago in California. where his father was employed in the shipyard. He started working as an actor ‘doing plays and all of that. and then of course I prostituted myselfon television'. He eventually made it to directing via a bumpy road. ‘l didn't think i could possibly be a director until . . . l was taking classes — actors always take these classes to stay sharp — and. y'know. I decided i wanted to direct one of these little scenes in the workshop. And i was awful. i thought l'd never be able to separate myself from acting enough to direct. But I tried directing again in 85. and what tnade it more successful than earlier on was that. by that time. l'd bunit out as an actor. Things had changed a lot in my life.‘
For one thing. Franklin. like Jonathan Demme (who co-produced Devil In A Blue Dress) was taken under the wing of master exploitation ﬁlmmaker Roger
Corman. He laughs fondly at the memory. ‘Y'know.
there's an old saying as to why you work with Roger Corman — and Roger actually said it hitnself— which
is “if you do a good job for me. kid. you'll never
have to work for me again." And so that‘s the thing that motivates you to work for him.‘
Working up from these roots. Franklin leaves you with the impression that being his own man now comes before all else. His integrity shows through in his latest movie. And this time, the audiences will come.
Devil In A Blue Dress opens at the Film/rouse.
kind of influences you can bring into their lives. You i Edinburgh. on Friday [2.
The List 12-25 Jan 1996 25