Sunday, June 22, 2014

'Chinatown' at 40

'Either you bring the water to L.A.,
or you bring L.A. to the water'
It seems like yesterday when I saw "Chinatown" for the first time in Westwood, where a huge copy of the poster (at right) was painted on the side of the theater.

I knew then, as did most of my college friends, that it was a classic movie, one that would surely stand the test of time.

Forty years on and I still feel the same way about it.

"Chinatown" is not only a great detective mystery film with impeccable art direction. It's not only a master work from one of the more controversial directors in history. It not only has the best acting of the stars' careers. It not only has memorable dialogue and a haunting musical score.

"Chinatown" also has one of the best scripts ever written, about something that matters.

And that issue is water. And the power that ensues from it. And the venality that follows.

In 2014, California faces a critical time of dwindling water resources combined with increased demands on that most essential element of life. 

As screenwriter Robert Towne said, "Why not do a picture about a crime that's right in front of everybody. Instead of a jewel-encrusted falcon, make it something as prevalent as water faucets."

"Chinatown" worked so well then and does so now because it showed how corruption, evil men and greed combined to control the destiny of a city and a state.

It could be any city or any state.

Bend has its OSU-Pumice Pit fiasco, which is being guided by the greedy hands of a few players.

Anywhere in America, you can find examples of how a few, rich men can control how and where a city, a state or the nation grows.

Few films have done so well in all those style categories listed above as "Chinatown."

It's beautiful to watch, to listen to and to feel.

The film is as much about multiple crimes as it is about what we've lost in the pursuit of "progress."

While still in college, I got a copy of the original poster, screenplay and vinyl soundtrack.

Yet, I'm nowhere near as obsessed as others about "Chinatown."

Here's another appreciation of the film that shows what a fetish "Chinatown" is to some people.

Also, check out this link to read how Towne was inspired to write about L.A.'s water issues by reading a book he checked out at the University of Oregon.

Forty years later, though, the line by Noah Cross to J.J. Gittes says as much now as it did then: "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but, believe me, you don't."

Just when you think you've got it figured out, you sense that it's much worse than you could possibly imagine.

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