Lion of the Blogosphere

Chinatown (1974)

with 69 comments

Yeah, I know I said I was going to watch more 80s movies, but this movie has been sitting around a long time waiting for me to watch it. When I took Creative Writing at Stuyvesant High School with Frank McCourt, the author Angela’s Ashes, he made us go out and buy the book Screenplay by Syd Field. And then he never made us actually read any of it, so mostly I didn’t, but I do remember that the screenplay to Chinatown was included in the book, because it was supposed to be an example of the best possible screenplay one could hope to write, or something like that. It should be noted that although Chinatown was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor. Best Actress, Best Director, etc., the only award it actually won was for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

So does Chinatown live up to all the hype? I’m afraid to say, I found it very tedious. There was a super-complicated plot about Los Angeles’ water supply that I don’t think anyone besides Roman Polanski (the director) and Robert Towne (the author of screenplay, later modified by Polanski himself) actually understood. There are plot twists that are really rather ridiculous, but because of good acting and good directing they don’t seem quite that ridiculous upon initial viewing.

Maybe this is a movie for the 1970s. It was meant to be watched on a big screen in a time when there were no other options for watching a movie besides going to a theater. Without distractions from a smartphone or the internet, people had time to sit back and appreciate how nice everything in the movie looked and how good of a job they did recreating 1937. Today we no longer have patience for these kinds of movies, and besides, everything looks really great these days thanks to advances in the craft of creating movies and television, so what stood out as exceptional in 1974 isn’t so special 45 years later.

The movie doesn’t even have anything to do with Chinatown! Chinatown is just a metaphor for a place where the cops are crooked and the rich and powerful literally get away with murder.

Certain events in the movie can also be interpreted as Roman Polanski justifying his own future sexually deviant behavior, like drugging a 13-year-old girl and then having sex with her. The same logic could be applied to Jeffrey Epstein.

There were no black people in this movie. Everyone important in the movie is white. There are some Chinese people in the movie, and they all have bit parts as servants who barely speak English and the important white people treat them as non-entities. There is some gratuitous anti-Semitism thrown in. I guess, as a Holocaust survivor, that’s a point that Polanski earned the right to make.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 30, 2019 at EST pm

Posted in Movies

69 Responses

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  1. You gotta watch True Romance. That scene with Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper discussing the racial origins of Sicilians is classic.

    GMR

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

  2. “There is some gratuitous anti-Semitism thrown in.”

    If there was ever a movie that signaled the fall from power of the Catholic Church in the US it has to be Rosemary’s Baby, Polanski’s 1968 hit made from a play by Ira Levin and Produced by William Castle (Schloss). The movie is so over-the-top anti-Catholic it is almost hard to believe it ever got released much less made.

    Rosemary’s Baby literally portrays the Pope as an assistant of Satan and has a scene where a very pronounced doppelgänger of JFK, even mimicking JFK’s verbal mannerisms, is commandeering the ship taking Rosemary to her rendezvous with Satan.

    That three non-Catholics got away with this blows my mind and I’m not Catholic. Maybe after that anti-Catholic screed Polanski felt the need to deflect criticism by striking out at his own group?

    Curle

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

    • The Exorcist (1973), on the other hand, is one of the most ardently pro-Catholic movies ever made. And the Vatican condemned it harshly.

      Stan Adams

      December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • I don’t think The Excorcist was “pro-catholic”.

        destructure

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

  3. One of the top 25 greatest movies ever

    Two in the Bush

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

  4. >> Chinatown is just a metaphor for a place where the cops are crooked and the rich and powerful literally get away with murder.

    I have only seen to move once, and the only thing that sticks with me is that throwaay line at the end about Chinatown, which is retarded, because universally Chinatowns are well run, self policing, and, except for the stinky food, models of urban convivence. Bad/corrupt/evil things usually don’t happen in Chinatowns. Chintowns are better known for efficencey and the type of mild vices that cities need. More realistically Towne should have structured the story around the emering Watts or Boyle Heighs, but little to do with NAMs is truly interesting.

    Daniel Heneghan

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

    • The final scene of the movie is in Chinatown, and ends with the line, “Forget Jake, it’s Chinatown” said by some guy to Jake, the detective main character in the movie. The idea is that the case and stuff Jake is trying to figure out is inscrutable and impossible for Jake to understand. The metaphor is that it’s inscrutable like Chinatown.

      Tom

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • “because universally Chinatowns are well run, self policing, and, except for the stinky food, models of urban convivence. Bad/corrupt/evil things usually don’t happen in Chinatowns”

      On what planet? Because if you’re talking about earth you’re 100% wrong.

      Peterike

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

  5. 70s movies…did Lion to an post on Network?

    Also, I think an interesting movie of that time is 78 Superman. The glut of superhero movies today are all basically videogames for idiots. Even the “serious” batman by the boring and pretentious chris nolan.

    But Christopher Reeve. . .there was such humanity and innocence in this movie thanks to him. And yes, even wit and sophistication, because it was made by adults who understood and celebrated that superheroes are fanciful kids stuff.

    Fakeemail

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

  6. In a better film 23 years later, L.A. Confidential, set in 1950, there are two blacks, but both are inconsequential – one’s a losing boxer, the other a passed-out rapist. So no real difference on that score.

    I always found John Huston tedious, but he did have a great line in a PBS interview. He said, “I’ll try anything once, except homosexuality.”

    Department 11

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

  7. They should have made a supercomplicated movie about NYC’s water supply, a slow-moving but neverending story. I believe Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were brought into Westchester to quell Italian masons angry at the Croton Dam. Also, they have been working on a supplemental water tunnel for decades just so they can access the original tunnels to fix them. Water sucks, but you can’t live without it, and we’re made of it. A multigenerational movie about sandhogs could work.

    Tunnel No. 3

    November 30, 2019 at EST pm

    • >>A multigenerational movie about sandhogs could work.

      Sandhogs are a laborers union, historically comprised mainly of Irish and Guidos, but they will let anybody into the union these days. There was a story in the Times two years ago about aspirants to the union. All they had to do to get in the union was to pass a few weeks of “shape-up” at the union trailer somewhere off 2nd avenue on the upper east side. Good wages, good benefits. If a prole can’t get a government job he should get a job with one of the few remaining unions that protect workers. The Sandhogs are one of these unions.

      Daniel Heneghan

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • About 2 weeks ago, I encountered a prole on the NYC streets with blonde hair and light eyes telling an African black that his father was from Sicily. The sambo type then asked the man in an African accent, whether he dad was indeed from Sicily, given his fair complexion.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        December 1, 2019 at EST am

  8. Polanski was going to bring his new girlfriend to a 45th anniversary celebration of the movie, but she’s not toilet trained yet.

    Peter

    ironrailsironweights

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

  9. you meant to watch “big trouble in little China.” It’s not our fault you fucked up.

    Joe

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

  10. There may have been a time, relatively recent, when no one lived in LA. No Indians, Mexicans, gringos, or Chinese. No one. That is, if you believe Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. He was writing about California in the 1830s, when the scanty population of the future state was concentrated north of the LA River basin. The Indians, never numerous, had been wiped out by disease introduced by the Spanish, and Spain and, later, Mexico had never cared for their farflung northern territory and had never seriously encouraged their people to populate what became the American Southwest. So that bullshit about La Raza recovering what was formerly theirs is just that, bullshit. Yankees, mostly ranchers, merchants, and sailors, outnumbered Mexicans in the years of Mexico ruling California. LA was won fair and square before, during, and after the war with Mexico, which was by far the best and most glorious war the US ever waged (not counting the Revolution, because that was not waged by the US). Thank you, President Polk.

    The history of California and LA involves Indians, Russians, white Protestants, white Catholics, and East Asians, not just Guatemalans who crossed the border yesterday.

    Off Topic?

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • Hispanicism will entrenched America like a open floodgate. It was said by at least one Spanish intellectual with supremacist attitudes that Anglo and French territories in the New World will one day be populated by a large group of people from the numerous Banana Republics of New Spain.

      Ok, what, who's this again?

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • O/t – Non-English languages that dominate Anglophone Canada are Chinese and Punjab, basically Eastern Asiatics and Hindus are the main non-white demography of the prolier, boring region of Canada.

      Colorful Québec on the hand welcome a lot of immigrants from the former Spanish and Islamic empires, namely Mestizos and Muslims, as Spanish and Arabic are the 2 unofficial languages of the French Canadian province.

      https://forum.lasaweb.org/files/vol46-issue4/Debates6.pdf

      Ok, what, who's this again?

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • Utterly fascinating. Please, please post orders of magnitude more off-topic comments on every post in this blog about how everyone and everything is prole, Merirpolestan, Eastern Asiatics, Staten Island Guidos, and the cultural superiority of Spain and Quebec. We all just can’t get enough of your brilliant insights.

        Hermes

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • “Utterly fascinating. Please, please post orders of magnitude more off-topic comments on every post in this blog about how everyone and everything is prole, Merirpolestan, Eastern Asiatics, Staten Island Guidos, and the cultural superiority of Spain and Quebec. We all just can’t get enough of your brilliant insights.”

        Thank you.

        Mike Street Station

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • I’ll take your sarcasm as a serious note.

        Fascinating that specific tribes gravitate towards specific locales and HBD has a lot do with it. Most Eastern Asiatics and Punjabis (Hindus) avoid Québec, because culturally and linguistically, they cannot thrive in the French Canadian province. Meanwhile lower IQ groups like the Mestizos and Muslims, with more colorful and primitive cultures, not only find Québec a more congenial place (because the intellectual French tolerate them in a nicer way while Meriprolestan/the Anglos do not), these groups have no chance to compete successfully in the boring Anglo Saxon-work ethic, capitalistic paradigm. Eastern Asians and Curry Spicers who are smarter and more money oriented (and with blander cultures as a result) are more suited to the Anglosphere of just accumulating wealth.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • “the cultural superiority of Spain and Quebec”

        Places that are very “aesthetic” with a legacy of artistic grandeur are culturally superior. Any art historian from the West would tell you that Spain, Italy/Rome, and Greece have produced artistic and architectural masterpieces that are unrivaled/unparalleled by the Nordic/Germanic traditions (which the Anglo-Saxons are part of and the worse of the bunch). The French tend to be in the middle ground between the Mediterranean and Northern European traditions, and seem to master this domain quite nicely.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • What has Greece done recently? Not much.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • The only reason why America and to a certain extent the rest of the Anglosphere is doing so well is because of modern day slavery coming from non-white immigrants and value transference by the parasites at the top.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • “Places that are very ‘aesthetic’ with a legacy of artistic grandeur are…”

        …often morally bankrupt.

        “modern day slavery coming from non-white immigrants and value transference by the parasites at the top.”

        There is indeed value transference by parasites at the top. But immigrants are also parasites. They sponge off the civilization created by others; simultaneously driving down wages while driving up costs.

        destructure

        December 3, 2019 at EST am

  11. Review worthy movies:

    Mulholland Drive
    Igby Goes Down
    Bitter Moon
    Clockwork Orange
    Midnight Cowboy

    Roli

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • Another movie from approximately the same era, also with a gay undercurrent is Cabret. The movie is well renowned for Liza Minelli’s performance, but overlooked is her love interest, played in a great understated performance by Michael York (who was a lead actor in Logan’s Run, recently reviewed here as well). Cabaret is set in Berlin between the two world wars and conveys a strong sense of the cultural and social decay in that city in the run up to the Second World War and ties that decay into the rise of Nazi Germany. Despite being a musical, this movie is worth watching.

        Roli

        December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • Do any movie based off of anything by Raymond Chandler….the movie The Long Goodbye (1973) is based off of one of his books.

        Another movie in the neo-noir vein, which I’m not sure is good thing or bad thing based on how much you liked Chinatown….

        GondwanaMan

        December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • Guys, Hollywood is not and never has been “all-gay all the time.” These exaggerations are really hurting the cause, cut them out.

        Behind the scenes Hollywood was about as gay in 1935 as it is now. There were double entendres in many old movies (Franklin Pangborn, anyone?). The ’70s saw the rise of the buddy movie and the near absence of great female leads. Of course, the eggheads all said that this was repressed homosexuality. I disagreed then and disagree now: I just think that by the 70s, screenwriters didn’t know what to do with women’s liberation, which was a very radical and hostile movement. So they resorted to what they knew, which was male friendship. There was not a great female star until Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

        The overwhelming majority of movies nowadays are heterosexual. When it’s a gay movie, it is labeled as such. I didn’t see Captain Marvel, but Wonder Woman was basically a romantic comedy with a little akshun thrown in. I enjoyed it.

        gothamette

        December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • I watched Mulholland Drive recently and even though I like movies that make you think, Kubrick for instance, I don’t like movies that are little more than an exercise in filling in a jigsaw puzzle. I had to watch a video explanation of the movie afterwards and only then did I grasp what might have been going on.

      That’s too much work. I prefer a well made straight forward De Palma thriller any day.

      Curle

      December 1, 2019 at EST pm

  12. Lion, you may enjoy Paul Morrissey’s movies, Flesh, Trash and Heat, starring Joe Dallesandro. Morrissey has a satirical sense of humour. At the very least they are worth it for the scenes of old New York (LA in the case of Heat).

    Morrissey made these in loose collabortion with Andy Warhol. Warhol had no input into the films, he just gave them his name and notoriety. Warhol and Morrissey put a few thousand into these films and made million of 1970’s dollars off of them.

    Daniel Heneghan

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • Oh year, Paul Morrissey appears in Midnight Cownoy. He plays the part of the photographer who confronts Joe Buck and Ratzo Rizzo in the diner and hands them a leaflet to a “happening” later that night, where Joe Buck finally makes a score with the character played by Brenda Vacarro. Joe Dallesandro appeard in the scene of the “happening” but his scenes didn’t make the final cut.

      Daniel Heneghan

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • I like that “collabortion.”

      You could say that about most of Hollywood.

      gothamette

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

  13. Only 16% Americans believe Epstein committed suicide. 45% believe he was murdered.

    My 2c

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • And in other news, 50% of Americans have an IQ below 100. Probably even more than that what with massive immigration of low-IQ people.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • It confirms my anecdotal evidence. Good customer service in America is only 50% at best, if you’re lucky.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        December 1, 2019 at EST am

      • Americans with “an IQ below 100” weren’t the ones running that pedophile ring.

        There were a couple of interesting interviews with women the last few days. One was with an acquaintance of Ghislane Maxwell’s who ran in some of the same circles and attended some of her parties. The article appears to be mostly quotes from the woman.

        https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10437510/jeffrey-epstein-madam-ghislaine-maxwell-says-biggest-prince-andrews-virginia-roberts/

        The other article concerns a woman who spied on Harvey Weinstein’s victims. She says the spying was arranged by Ehud Barak with a private intelligence company with ties to the Mossad.

        https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7742171/Spy-admits-befriending-Harvey-Weinsteins-alleged-rape-victim.html

        The interesting thing about this is that Ehud Barak was also close to Epstein, frequently staying at his home. Nothing particularly unusual about that. Epstein made his home available to lots of influential people visiting New York. The interesting part is that he stayed there even after Epstein was charged the last time. This is particularly interesting given the role Barak played in trying to cover up Weinstein’s rapes.

        destructure

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • Quite a few bright/powerful people have urges to have sex with minors. The state cannot allow them to do it uncontrollably because it is a potential security issue (other states can use it to compromise/recruit them). So, Epstein was hired to run a secretly sanctioned (by the state) ring to have the urges satisfied in controlled environment. Kind of like you would rather have your teenager having sex in your house rather than somewhere else. Epstein most likely understood quite well that at some point he would be thrown under the bus and erased. For few reasons, he could not do anything about it. And he was erased.

        My 2¢

        December 2, 2019 at EST pm

      • These dumb Epstein conspiracy theories keep getting more ridiculous.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        December 2, 2019 at EST pm

      • We live in interesting times.

        My 2¢

        December 2, 2019 at EST pm

      • There isn’t anything uniquely interesting throughout the ages. Humans are just who they are – essentially engaging in conflict with others.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        December 2, 2019 at EST pm

  14. How about a review of Taxi Driver?

    toomanymice

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

  15. Well, I saw Chinatown in the theater when it first came out (yeah, I realize I’m really givin’ it away here), and I found it quite good. Not the greatest movie ever, but a lot better than this review would indicate. Maybe I wouldn’t think so now. I do think that reviewing a movie you see on a TV screen doesn’t do justice to the medium. A movie should be seen in a theater, sharing the experience with an audience.

    Anyway, in other news, I so want Trump to run against Biden. If nothing else, it will be pure comedy platinum.

    gothamette

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • I saw that video and just couldn’t believe it; I laughed out loud. A campaign between Trump and Biden would be the greatest ever.

      Mike Street Station

      December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • “I’m not a praying man.” George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life.

        I’m praying for it.

        I love that movie. It’s a great movie. Don’t argue with me about this.

        gothamette

        December 2, 2019 at EST am

      • Kids do these weird things to each other, but what happens in childhood should stay in childhood. And don’t bring it up on the campaign trail!

        gothamette

        December 2, 2019 at EST pm

    • This is almost as good as corn pop.

      You know the Trump campaign has gigabytes of videos on this guy.

      And so does Epstein.

      map

      December 2, 2019 at EST pm

  16. I never saw Chinatown when it first came out or later in it’s multiple TV appearances, but I corrected that last year, wondering (as I always do now when dealing with a decades old movie) if it would hold up.

    It didn’t.

    I largely agree with Lion’s review, with the addition that the ending seemed to come to a jarring end, without a real conclusion. Not a great way to end a movie.

    Mike Street Station

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

  17. One of the best movies ever but like most of those it is more enjoyable on subsequent viewings. I’ve watched it about half-a-dozen times and there are only one or two others movies I’ve watched that many times.

    “Bad for glass.”

    CamelCaseRob

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

  18. Gothamette: “not a great female star until Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.”

    Elizabeth Taylor in 1951: “Hold my beer.”

    njguy73

    December 1, 2019 at EST am

    • @Njguy73:

      Did you read what I wrote?

      I specifically limited that to the era of the 70s to Pretty Woman. If you can tell me a great female star that came out of the 1974-1991 era, I’d love to know the name.

      gothamette

      December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • Meryl Streep? Goldie Hawn? Sally Fields?

        A Dilettante

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • None of them could open a picture.

        Jane Fonda, maybe, but she started in the 60s.

        gothamette

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • So I guess technically only Streep counts here, as Hawn and Fields are disqualified for emerging in the late 60’s.

        A Dilettante

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • I thought of that as well. Sally Fields came into her own in 1979 with Norma Rae, but really, that was a boy’s decade.

        gothamette

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • How many Great Female stars do we ever have?

        Since I never cared for Julia Roberts and not much for Streep I’m at a bit of a loss. I’d go see Holly Hunter, Karen Allen, Nancy Allen, Amy Irving or Meg Ryan long before I’d see Roberts or Streep in a movie. BTW- Did anyone include When Harry Met Sally in their ‘80s review list?

        Curle

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • “How many Great Female stars do we ever have?”

        From the silents to the 70s, many.

        gothamette

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

      • Streep wowed everybody with her acting chops, but she wasn’t the picture-opening “star” that Julia Roberts was. I distinctly remember when Pretty Woman came out, and it was like a bombshell. There hadn’t been such a female draw in ages. No one expected it.

        “Nobody knows anything.” William Goldman

        gothamette

        December 1, 2019 at EST pm

  19. Chinatown is indeed a bit of a bore. You should check out “Night Moves” which was a much better noir film that came out around the same time. It stars Gene Hackman in one of his best performances and features a young James Woods. Instead of a boring plot about water, this film’s mystery revolves around Jailbait and Incan Artifacts. The jail bait character was played by a legitimately underage (15 at the time of filming) Melanie Griffith, which would never happen today, and features legitimate underage nudity, which would definitely never happen today. You’ll also note that the film is completely braless. None of the female characters ever wears a bra at any point in the film!

    Night Moves was directed by Arthur Penn, who taught on and off at Yale through most of his career. He was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Director, but never won. The ending of Night Moves is similar to Chinatown except Penn uses visual metaphor rather than dialogue and his film is more about the human condition in general than government. Ebert rated Night Moves the second best film of 1975, which is high praise indeed considering the great films that came out that year.

    PerezHBD

    December 1, 2019 at EST pm

    • While Melanie Griffith was 15 or 16 during the main part of the filming, her nekkid scenes weren’t filmed until a later date, following the completion of most editing, shortly after she turned 18. So it’s all legal.

      Peter

      ironrailsironweights

      December 1, 2019 at EST pm

  20. SCTV – Polynesiantown

    MEH 0910

    December 1, 2019 at EST pm

  21. I watched it a few years ago. I don’t get the appeal at all. The scene where he smacks around the female lead to get her to admit that her father raped her is very disturbing. Not that that’s not the main thing I didn’t like about it. I just thought the plot was overly complex and not interesting.

    I watched it on DVD, of course, but I don’t think I checked my phone at all, so distraction wasn’t the problem.

    Blue Tribe Dissident

    December 1, 2019 at EST pm

  22. Chinatown is my favorite movie. Besides being an artfully constructed history of the city of Los Angeles (Hollis Mulwray= Mulholland) it has the force of myth: Noah Cross, Water & Power. “Chinatown” is a metaphor for a forbidden world where trying to help people causes harm to them. “What did you do in Chinatown?” “As little as possible”.

    Lawrence Weissberger

    December 1, 2019 at EST pm

    • That’s a much better line than the more famous, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

      ice hole

      December 2, 2019 at EST am

  23. Fair enough people differ I happen to love the movie. I also studied trumpet with Uan Rasey who played that gorgeous solo throughout the movie which makes it extra special to me

    Michael Rotman

    December 1, 2019 at EST pm

  24. I wonder if the creator of this blog has seen the 1985 movie Real Genius. It features young Val Kilmer. Rotten Tomatoes summary- “This teen comedy from director Martha Coolidge stars Gabe Jarret as Mitch, a 15-year-old science whiz who is recruited to join a university think tank that is unwittingly developing a weapon for the military.”

    The hack film reviewer Roger Ebert gave it 3 and a half stars and wrote that “Real Genius allows every one of its characters the freedom to be complicated and quirky and individual.”

    Scott

    December 2, 2019 at EST pm


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