The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown (1974) - The Culture Files Blog - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Essential Movie Library #33: Chinatown (1974)

You can't forget it, Jake

The L.A. private-eye up against his greatest nemesis, L.A. itself, with nature snarling at the city’s edge in the form of parched valleys, forbidding deserts, and the sea with not a drop to drink. This is all back in the 1930s before anyone heard of Philip Marlowe, whom Faye Dunaway might have tried to hire except that Marlowe wouldn’t have touched this case. It was the good luck of the filmmakers (writer Robert Towne, producer Robert Evans, and Roman Polanski directing his first major studio picture since the ghastly murder of his pregnant wife) that the movie was released the same summer Watergate devoured the presidency of Richard Nixon; by then, some corruption of the American spirit seemed so indisputable that even the film’s unspeakable evil—Dunaway’s terrible secret about fathers and daughters—survived by its metaphorical authority.  

Maybe the moral dismay of Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, when Nicholson always seemed too hip for moral dismay, anticipated the actor’s own true-life discovery regarding the secret of mothers and sons, when his mother turned out to be the woman he thought was his sister. Maybe such psychic incest made him cynical before the cynicism of Marlowe or Hammer or Deckard (Essential Movie Library #21) otherwise seemed fully earned. Nicholson’s pursuit of the truth, apparently out of sheer obstinacy more than idealism, hints at a town where there are secret lives inside artificial ones inside secret ones. When Chinatown came out, no one would have thought it was retro even if anyone knew what retro was, and no passing of years, no deepening of perspective, no revision of opinion has been necessary: Everybody knew it was a great movie from the opening moments, Jerry Goldsmith’s gleaming score blowing in on a sirocco the color of sunset.



Read them all:
The Essential Movie Library #32: Stalker
The Essential Movie Library #31: Weekend
The Essential Movie Library #30: Some Like It Hot
The Essential Movie Library #29: Red River
The Essential Movie Library #28: The Passenger
The Essential Movie Library #27: Singin' in the Rain
The Essential Movie Library #26: Heat
The Essential Movie Library #25: L'Atalante
The Essential Movie Library #24: Sunrise
The Essential Movie Library #23: His Girl Friday
The Essential Movie Library #22: Black Narcissus
The Essential Movie Library #21: Blade Runner
The Essential Movie Library #20: Persona
The Essential Movie Library #19: The Shop Around the Corner
The Essential Movie Library #18: Lost Highway
The Essential Movie Library #17: Tokyo Story
The Essential Movie Library #16: 8 1/2

The Essential Movie Library #15: City Lights
The Essential Movie Library #14: Seven Samurai
The Essential Movie Library #13: Lawrence of Arabia
The Essential Movie Library #12: Citizen Kane
The Essential Movie Library #11: Jules and Jim
The Essential Movie Library #10: My Darling Clementine 
The Essential Movie Library #9: Double Indemnity 
The Essential Movie Library #8: That Obscure Object of Desire 
The Essential Movie Library #7: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
The Essential Movie Library #6: Casablanca
The Essential Movie Library #5: The Lady Eve
The Essential Movie Library #4: The Third Man 
The Essential Movie Library #3: The Passion of Joan of Arc 
The Essential Movie Library #2: Vertigo 
The Essential Movie Library #1: The Godfather Trilogy
 

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