Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947, while informed by history, is more akin to a collection of short, vivid, interconnected stories. These big-picture ideas become the background for human-sized dramas that need no footnotes to be musically or emotionally affecting. Penn’s austerely arranged, effortlessly melodic songs retain the same yearning quality as his earliest, career-establishing work, when he channeled the protagonists and dreamily melancholic spirit of Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet into his radio and MTV hit, “No Myth.” Intimate relationships unravel, romantic betrayals unfold, and hopes waver amidst a fast-moving world of superficial promise. Most of this takes place, Penn says, “in a Los Angeles that doesn’t exist anymore” – a near-mythical place preserved in the period novels of Dashiell Hammett and John Fante, as well as in vintage California film noir and evocative modern flicks like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.
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