Chinatown

Polanski 1974

PLOTLINES SEASON: TRAGEDY
SUNDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2012
THE QUAYS 1819, VICTORIA QUAYS, S2

Film notes from this screening:

Dir Roman Polanski 1974, Producer Robert Evans, Screenplay Robert Towne, Starring Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Jack Nicholson

“Forget it, Jake. This is Chinatown”

This was the last film Polanski made in America before his exile to Europe.

Based on an original story by Robert Towne, the screenplay had been in development for a while, always with Jack Nicholson in mind as the central character. When famous badboy Robert Evans took on the production, both he and Nicholson wanted Polanski to direct, seeing the potential for a darker, “more European” vision ofHollywood. And of course there was an inherent darkness in Polanski returning to Hollywood after the bloody and sensational murder of his wife there by the Manson family.

Not just an homage to the noir thrillers of the 30s and 40s,Chinatown redefines the genre of the moody detective story.

The original script relied on a Philip Marlowe style voiceover from Nicholson’s character Gittes, but Polanski insisted on losing this, so that the film’s action happens in the present tense rather than as flashback history. An interesting parallel to Bladerunner thirty years later, also set as a noir detective story in a corrupt and dystopian city, where famously the director’s wish to lose the hero’s voiceover was overridden by the studio. In this case Polanski won.

Polanski also fought with Robert Evans to have a tragic ending rather than the initial happy ever after version. With Townes approval, “the script was rewritten just days and hours before the last scenes were shot, and it truly couldn’t get much darker, yet as Polanksi has said, the script is so well constructed (Towne rightly won an Oscar) that there are no loose ends and there is a cathartic satisfaction in the denouement as befits all the great tragedies.

Film writers have made much of the fact that Polanski’s career has echoed scenes from his life, hence the oppressive darkness colouring his vision of Hollywood.

But he describes it more pragmatically:

“When the film has a happy ending you forget the film over dinner. We wanted to go a little bit further and have the audience think about it for longer”

Cracking dialogue, brilliantly atmospheric visuals – again preceding Bladerunner as a film noir in Technicolor – perfectly pitched performances from the cast (Faye Dunaway in all her twisted glory and John Huston playing one of the screen’s most memorable villains) and a wonderful cameo from Polanski himself,  “You’re a very nosy fellow, kitty-kat”- all these combine to make Chinatown a classic.

If you haven’t seen it before, we haven’t included any spoilers here but please don’t expect a happy ending. Forget it, folks, it’s Chinatown…..

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