Chinatown is the story of private eye J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) and his descent into a dark world filled with double crosses, deceit, and murder. It's a Film Noir straight out of the 1940s that just so happens to be filmed in the early 1970s. Roger Ebert, in his Great Movies review, says that when Chinatown was released it was seen as a "neonoir," yet due to Director Roman Polanski and Writer Robert Towne's (who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) successful grasp of the genre, it has rightfully been grouped together overtime with some of the best from the original batch.
One of the things I admired most about Chinatown was just how dark the movie eventually becomes. Like some of the best Noirs, not every ending is tied up nicely. The worst outcomes are saved for the most innocent (who in a noir is never actually completely innocent). These movies always teach their lessons with bullets instead of words and Chinatown is no exception. The timing of the movie is perfect as it seems to have come out in what is now the mythical era of the early-to-mid 1970s, where some of the best American movies were able to be made, far away from the hands of studios looking to make a quick buck. Maybe if we all click out heals together and wish hard enough, we will eventually go back to that system.
It's hard not to compare Chinatown with this year's "throwback" The Artist. While Chinatown chose the cool, dark world of Film Noir to dive into, The Artist instead hearkens back even further to the era where sound was still considered an experiment in film. While Chinatown uses the backdrop of Film Noir to create a new story that pushes the genre forward, The Artist is a gimmick film. No one will ever consider The Artist a great silent film, because it isn't. It's certainly a fun movie, but it's like praising an amazing impersonator. They may have talent, but unlike Chinatown, there is nothing to really chew on.
It can be hard watching a movie like Chinatown and trying to view them through the eyes of a film viewer in the 1970s. Having the knowledge of where film went from that point on can make it harder to appreciate the new boundaries that the film pushed. Still, it's hard to deny just how fresh Chinatown feels, even to this day. It's one of the rare films that is both a throwback to a previous era and also a member of a new breed that helped define a new generation of film. How had I not seen this yet?
Valuable Life Lesson Learned: Salt water is bad for the grass.
- The Thin Man
- Dog Day Afternoon
- The Untouchables
- Battle Royale