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    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Sort Of Related: Hollywood Station, by Joseph Wambaugh (2006)/Confessions of a Superhero (2007)

    LAPD veteran Wambaugh is perhaps the master of cop fiction. He turns his attention back to his old department for the first time in 20 years – at fellow author James Ellroy’s urging – and it’s obvious the man hasn’t missed a beat.

    Station has a plot of sorts, involving a pair of tweakers and some Eastern European thieves whose fates are destined to collide. But the bulk of the novel is devoted to the day-to-day of the police officers who work the still-mean streets of Hollywood. And quite the motley bunch they are: surfers and wannabe actors, single moms and wily veterans. Wambaugh makes no bones about his dislike for the federal consent decree that the LAPD has been operating under in the wake of the Ramparts scandal, but aside from a single chapter it never overwhelms the narrative. It’s rich, compassionate, funny and heartbreaking stuff. A TV series based on the book is in the works, but there’s no sense in waiting for that. I’ll be jumping on the just-published sequel Hollywood Crows ASAP.

    Wambaugh’s cops aren’t superheroes. As it turns out, his superheroes aren’t superheroes either. Some of the novel’s action takes place around the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, where people in costume pose for photographs with tourists outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Wambaugh spells out exactly how low-rent this spectacle is. According to him, many of the “performers” are meth addicts, and the police ID three similarly clad figures as Fat Elvis, Thin Elvis, and Smelvis.

    Matthew Ogens’s offbeat documentary Confessions of a Superhero profiles four people who don capes to stay afloat in Tinseltown. The movie’s Superman, who identifies with his alter ego to an alarming degree, is a recovering addict who’s also the son of Academy Award winner Sandy Dennis – unless he’s not. Wonder Woman’s tale is all too common: the belle of her high school, she heads west to learn that she’s too “voluptuous” to book TV commercials. And wait ‘til you see what happens to Batman. Sometimes “only in L.A.” is the appropriate response.

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