Public Choice Feature: Chinatown
A look at Roman Polanski's 1974 noir classic...
19 July 2010
On Tuesday 10 August FACT will be screening your choice of the greatest English-language film of all time. You can cast your vote here, where we have also provided a few suggestions. Building up to the screening, we’ll be looking at some of them in depth on the blog. First, we take a look at Chinatown...\r\n
Chinatown (dir. Roman Polanski) was it’s director’s final film made in the US, and probably his finest. Coming six years after his Oscar-winning screenplay for Rosemary’s Baby, Polanski turned to Robert Towne’s story of big-league corruption in pre-WWII Los Angeles, securing 11 Oscar nominations in the process, as well as one win for it’s writer.
Jack Nicholson is the successful private eye who takes a personal interest in a case outside his usual arc of sleazy divorce-snoopery, pitching him against the most powerful businessmen in the city, and culminating in an utterly soul-destroying denouement, and one of the most iconic lines in cinema history; fans of Hot Fuzz might agree that the original use of the line “Forget it Nicholas, it’s Sandford”, slightly trumps it’s numerous homages. The film’s triumphantly labyrinthine plot still has the power to confuse and confound in similar quantities, yet it is Nicholson’s position as the admittedly imperfect guiding light of morality and straight-shooting that draws the whole film together, and puts him up there with Bogey’s Phillip Marlowe as one of cinema’s greatest private dicks.
1974 was something of a doozy for fans of darkness; the Oscar’s of that year would be dominated by The Godfather Part II, while Deathwish and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre both represented surprise commercial successes of source material filled with shocks, and offering little in the way of a positive message. Chinatown bears little similarity to those films, though it’s plot may be said to be as shocking and as visceral and any of them. Where Deathwish and Texas Chainsaw present the most barbaric and animalistic vision of human nature, Chinatown and the second Godfather weave intricate tales that question how it is that seemingly normal people can become corrupted, and whether there is such a thing in the world as ‘pure’ evil. Where Leatherface is a bawling, murderous half-animal, John Huston’s Noah Cross is a respected, coldly calculating monster of the kind, so the film suggests, that builds cities and founds empires.
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