50 fantastic films
July 14, 2010, 2:17 am
Filed under: 50 fantastic films

“chinatown” (u.s. 1974), director: roman polanski, born paris, france (1933), with jack nicholson and faye dunaway

it certainly is not fortuitous that pictomat decided to pick this film, “chinatown”, today as one of the 50 fantastic films. when choosing “the grifters” another neo-noir film a few days ago, pictomat promised the very best neo-noir film would be posted someday in the future. pictomat can think of no better day than today to unvail that film. today the swiss government finally decided not to extradite director roman polanski to los angeles. polanski, 79, one of the greatest living directors, is a free man after 9 months in prison and house arrest. pictomat will not get into the myriad of reasons polanski should never have been imprisoned in switzerland at california’s request in the first place, so …

… instead let’s talk about why “chinatown” is probably one of the tightest hollywood films to ever be written. this script by robert towne is frequently said to be one of the finest scripts to come out of hollywood. it was so perfect that polanski and towne only wrangled over one piece of plot. polanski’s pessimistic view of the world led him to make a change in their disputed ending. polanski had plenty of reasons to have a rather dark view of the world. though born in paris, he grew up in poland, and as a child somehow walked back to france to escape the nazis take over of his country. the director’s early life, accentuated by the brutal death of his wife sharon tate by the manson family, quite naturally gave him a suspicious view of human behavior. his previous films, “knife in the water”, “repulsion”, “rosemary’s baby” and “macbeth”, showed his penchant for films with dark themes, and made the choosing of “chinatown” fit quite naturally into his oeuvre.

the movie is about crime and corruption in l.a. in the 1930’s city water and power department. both faye dunaway and jack nickolson are at their finest here. he, as a private detective and she, as a woman with a secret. polanski’s attention to period detail, the expert set design, the classic style, the haunting score by jerry goldsmith make this film one of the very few crime/mystery films that had pictomat thoroughly engaged and perplexed. the moody and mysterious “chinatown” is, hands down, the greatest neo-noir film made in america.


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