Chinatown (1974) Directed by Roman Polanski

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown
I have a new hobby: I go shopping in online stores, put things in the basket and yearn after this and that. Then I leave the site without buying anything and feel free. The NEW part comes from not buying. It's satisfying, because I'm kind of decluttering at the same time. This next piece of info will lead you to Chinatown: our home is starting to look nice. It has nice corners and little things that I love – a lot of hand-me-downs and old pieces of furniture mixed with colour. It's not a blog home by any means, but I'm comfortable and happy here on our green sofa. And sometimes, in my mind, it's a stylish home – like Chinatown (see the connection there?).

Oh, to have perfect style, oh to live in the 1920s and there the ohs shall end...because there is a grin from Jack Nicholson, and a pained look from Faye Dunaway, (and Chinatown is dangerously close)  – style is a shell and inside horrible cruelty and broken down-humans live. That's why I like my style with plenty of faults. Too much perfection is a facade. I also like the cinematic imagination of the 1970s. Chinatown is a meandering story. Having seen the movie a couple of times before, this was the first time that I followed the narrative without problems or boredom. You can get lost and worried that it's a boring film about LA and water politics. But it's not. It's a tragedy. It's about human flaws and the sad chains of blood relations.

You know how some people do not stomach Woody Allen? Well, I have that problem with Roman Polanski. But that's enough about the director. I totally understand why Diane Keaton seems to be forever in love with Jack Nicholson. He's infuriatingly charming and I'd be scared of him if I ever had to be in the same room with him. Faye Dunaway is out-staged by Nicholson, she is so subtle and reserved. But her tragedy is all the more believable because of her distance. After all, it's the private detective's perspective that the story is told from. But it's her story.

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Reds (1980)

"L.A., uptight, city in the smog"sang Neil Young, around the time Polanski was filming this definitive picture from the City. Polanski avoids visible smog, but his neo-noir obscures in other ways with a sense of atmosphere and genuine suspense. Of Course Chinatown is THE Los Angeles film, later attempts such as Mulholland Drive, L.A.Confidential (itself so reverent to Chinatown) never come close to what's on offer here. Its closest relative in that sense is Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, but arguably Chinatown shades it (just). Chinatown can also rank as the last great film noir and certainly Polanski's last essential picture. It's many things. This catches Jack Nicholson in his golden period, post Five Easy Pieces, Oscar glory awaits around the corner with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It would be a short decline to the Jack Nicholson we all know and love nowadays, the irascible joker, the-good-time-slightly-past-it Hollywood rebel. Here, Nicholson burns up the screen.  Faye Dunaway was rarely this good again.  Hollywood director John Huston remains forever memorable as the more than grotesque Noah Cross.

Nicholson in Chinatown
Why is Chinatown so good? What keeps it fresh?  Here's the lowdown: Chinatown's script, by Robert Towne (and regarded now as one of the finest examples of the art of, err, script writing) is the essence. It's a great piece of Chandleresque storytelling, reimagining Nicholson's Gittes character as a Philip Marlowe type, who literally gets tangled in a web of incest, land writes, disfigurement (his own) and obviously money. By using the California Water Wars as  a backdrop to this who-dunnit,  Towne's script also gives us an insight into disputes that characterised the L.A. we know today. There is so much detail here to pore over. Cinematographer John A Alonzo brings the noir with a New Hollywood twist, Chinatown still looks amazing. Jerry Goldsmith's score is one of his finest that harnesses so much mood and heady atmosphere to proceedings.

Dunaway & Nicholson
I've watched this so many times, yet I'm still stunned after every viewing. Roman Polanski has always been hit and miss for me, but Chinatown is his masterpiece, it's where he delivers in every way. It's also in some ways his most direct picture. This is after all popularist cinema, despite its obvious intelligence. If you've never had the pleasure, do yourself a big favour, you need to watch Chinatown now. Rarely has cinema combined loose talk, style and tragedy so seamlessly.


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