A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

Where there's money, there's murder, and where the sun shines brightest, the shadows are darkest. That's why film noir was invented in Hollywood, and why California's greatest contribution to American literature may have been the pulp fiction of James M. Cain and the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Chinatown, which draws on that tradition, has a kind of valedictory quality about it, harking back to the 1930s roots of noir, although the genre's heyday was the postwar 1940s and paranoia-filled early 1950s. (Curtis Hanson would exploit that latter era in his 1997 film L.A. Confidential.) But it's also very much a film of the 1970s, which is to say that 42 years have passed and Chinatown is showing its age. The revelation that Katherine (Belinda Palmer) is both the daughter and the sister to Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) no longer has the power to shock that it once did, incestuous rape having become a standard trope of even TV drama. Nor does the "dark" ending, which director Roman Polanski insisted on, despite screenwriter Robert Towne's preference for a more conventionally hopeful resolution, seem so revolutionary anymore. It remains a great film, however, thanks to those quintessential '70s stars, Dunaway and Jack Nicholson, in career-defining performances, the superb villainy of John Huston's Noah Cross, and Roman Polanski's deft handling of Towne's intricate screenplay, carefully keeping the film limited to the point of view of Nicholson's Jake Gittes. Production designer Richard Sylbert and costume designer Anthea Sylbert (Richard's sister-in-law), aided by cinematographer John A. Alonzo, are responsible for the stylish evocation of 1930s Los Angeles. The atmospheric score is by Jerry Goldsmith.