This is similar to my Casablanca thread, and I’ll be starting threads like this on a regular basis, I think.
A departure from Polanski’s typical style, this is primarily a Robert Towne film. Kinda gives new meaning to the kid stays in the picture, which Towne definitely does in this neo-noir.
Polanski (my personal favorite filmmaker) is, in my opinion, intentionally breaking here from his normal style in an attempt to capture the feel of Huston noir. Irony? What Irony?
Polanski’s trademark style only creeps through at the end of the film, and the first time that Gittes visits Evelyn Mulwray at the Mulwray house.
I love this film. The first time I saw it was on TV on an old black & white my dad had in his apartment and for years later I thought it was an actual noir. (I was a kid then and didn’t recognize Jack Nicholson or Faye Dunaway.) I saw it not too long ago and it’s the best adaptation of a Philip Marlowe book ever made, even though for some reason they pretend that Marlowe’s name is Jake Gittes. The style, the getting beat up, the depression, the knowingly foolish sympathy for a client, the knowingly foolish sex with a client, the stumbling in on the resolution of the mystery due more to luck than smarts, etc.
Chinatown is my perfect movie, a movie that fulfills all that I want out of a film. Everything is so exquisitely balanced and dead-on accurate that despite the convoluted story and the horribly down-beat ending (one of the worst in cinema, imo), watching Chinatown is a thrilling experience. There is not a single off-beat, wrong note anywhere - Chinatown is a film in which everybody who participated was at the top of their game, from the actors to the scriptwriter to director to Jerry Goldsmith.
Something that I’ve never thought about… for some reason, all my favorite scenes involve automobiles. Them driving away after their narrow escape at the retirement home, Gittes driving to the San Fernando Valley, the final scene where only Gittes is aware that the bad guy won, cars play an integral role somehow in my enjoyment of the movie. Go figure.
I’ve thought about that quite a bit. One of my favorite little directorial touches in movie occurs right after the escape from the nursing home. Evelyn and Jake are sitting in her Packard (I think her car is a Packard), and in exhaustion she slumps over, hitting the horn button with her forehead. The horn beeps, of course, and Evelyn jumps up.
Then in the final scene, as Evelyn is speeding away, and Escobar fires his pistol at her car, her car slows to a stop in the distance with the horn blaring. You KNOW Evelyn is slumped over the wheel dead. That is brilliant direction!
No, I couldn’t: The Godfather spawned a genre that hadn’t existed before. NOt sure what to call it, but let’s call it Gangster Allegory for now. All the great gangster films of the 30s, Cagney, Robinson, and why can’t I remember the name of the best one, the original Scarface?–those films were largely–with the possible exception of the masterpieces, Scarface–solidly within the Gangster genre. They were kinda modernized, urbanized Westerns, with the bad guy usually in the lead.
Coppola brought Proust and O’Neill and even Euripides into the mix to synthesize something entirely new. Of course, that was the thing back then: the 70s was when American filmmakers elevated pulp to high art: Carpenter, Hooper, Romero, Craven, took the horror/gore genre and made real art out of it. Leone, Argento, and Cronenberg were doing similar things in other countries. Coppola, and of course his near contemporary Scorsese, chose crime as the pulp genre the would transform into high art. Spielberg and Lucas, at about the same time, attempted the same thing with SF, but in my judgment failed where the others succeeded. I’ve always thought of this as a direct result of the French New Wave; Godard’s Breathless is a pretty thinly plotted crime film, with layers of depth that had rarely been applied to such pulp in the past.
Anyway, just ruminating, but in any case, even if Godfather were a genre exercise, it’s also so much more, and Chinatown doesn’t feel like much more to me. Godfather was about family and honor and capitalism and yadda yadda yadda; Chinatown was about Hollywood and Noir; subjects not nearly as universal.
What genre!?!? What came before the Birds that it was derivative of?
Don’t discount Polanski too much, many think he deserves an equal co-writer tag for the movie. As it is, he is “uncredited” as one of the writers, for example, if you go to IMDB. I have even read that there is tension between the two over whether or not Polanski deserves a full writing credit or not. Towne’s original screenplay, if I recall correctly, was much more political and the tragic ending was Polanski’s, Towne had a “happy” ending.
Lissner, I think you should give Chinatown another try. It’s not about Hollywood at all, and the noir genre is just the medium through which it delivers its messages about capitalism, power, family and the irreversible decay of the American Dream.
In fact, Chinatown is about many of the same things the Godfather is about, but seen from another angle. We see the Corlene family from the inside, but the Mulwray family is seen only from the point of view of an outside observer.
Chinatown hits harder than the Godfather. While Coppola clucks his tongue at Vito and Michael, the movie still admires them: they Get Things Done and fight for “the family”. Chinatown, on the other hand, makes it abundantly clear that Mulwray is a complete and utter monster who views the entire world as his toy.
Chinatown also has a darker worldview. The observer character in The Godfather is Kaye, who starts out fresh and innocent–suggesting a world where innocence is possible. The observer character in Chinatown, on the other hand, is Jake. He already views himself as being tough and cynical and thoroughly knowlegable in the evil that men do – and then the movie proceeds to show Jake that he doesn’t understand the half of it.
Re: The Birds: maybe Ilsa thinks of it as a horror or disaster movie, not realizing that the influence runs from The Birds to those genres and not the other way around?