Directed By: Roman Polanski
Written By: Robert Towne
Most of the movies we own are dear to us in one way or another. However sometimes I see a movie I find so impressive I feel compelled to own it. Chinatown is a movie in the latter category. It was in my college film class that I first saw this movie and it surprised me. I bought it shortly after seeing it and don’t think I watched again since. It has just quietly sat on the shelf for about six years now and I had nearly forgotten what it was about all together. Watching it now I am suddenly reminded what it was that compelled me to add it to the collection in the first place. I am again finding myself surprised how good this movie actually is, and enjoying the mystery.
All I could remember about this film was that it had something to do with water. That sounds so boring but like I said, this movie is surprising. It takes place in 1937 Los Angeles, where control over water in the desert climate can get tricky. This is a fascinating mystery that keeps you guessing all along. It was nominated for everything back in 74 but only Robert Towne went home with the gold, for writing. This film is very well-regarded, and it has even been suggested as the greatest movie ever made. It is considered historically significant because it brought attention to a little known problem out west being the disputes over land and water rights in California. It also solidified the careers of two rising stars in Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson.
I will be honest and admit that I do not know enough about Roman Polanski to have a fair opinion of him. I know that he was involved with a sexual situation involving a minor that he fled the country to avoid charges over, but I know few specifics in regard to what happened. I know that he has lived through quite a bit of diversity in his life and has overcome it all to be very successful despite it. Polanski survived the Holocaust as a child. That alone should be enough horror for ten lifetimes of ordinary people but in 1969 chance would work against him again. His pregnant wife, the movie star Sharon Tate, along with her friends were savagely murdered by the Manson Family for no discernible reason. It’s not really fair for anybody to have to live through that. That does not justify his crimes, I’m just noting the unfortunate circumstances he has had to live through. With this film Polanski really enjoyed a lot of success, he just barely lost the Oscar to Coppola though, who won for The Godfather II. Polanski even has a small cameo in the film as the gangster who slashes Nicholson’s nose. It’s a bold move too to slice the nose of your lead star, but I think it had the desired effect. Nicholson did very well with this role, even with a bandage over his face for most of the film. I am no Jack Nicholson fan, but I’ll give him the respect he deserves when he is due, and he is definitely due in the role of J.J. Gittes. It’s one of the marque roles in a long and successful career full of big time roles.
Give this movie a chance and Chinatown will speak for itself. I am always partial to the film noir genre so this movie is real easy for me to like. I love movies that keep me guessing and really make me think. Chinatown sports what is apparently considered one of the greatest screenplays ever and the movie is the focal point of many lectures and classes in film schools. That alone makes it worth your time to see it.
I’ll be honest, I have never seen this movie. I had never even heard of it and actually had no idea that we owned it. When we started watching it the other night it was really late and I fell asleep early on. I am going to watch it eventually because what I did see was very interesting. I will come back at a later date and fill this entry in with a real review after I have seen it.
NEXT MOVIE: The Chinese Connection (1972)