I came to film noir rather late in life, but it is style of cinema that I thoroughly enjoy. Having joined the party late there are plenty of classic noir and neo-noir films that I have yet to see, chief amongst these is the 1974 classic neo-noir Chinatown.
Before I dive into my first screening of the bit of film history, let me take a few lines to address the horrid, diseased elephant in the room, Roman Polanski. Given the crimes he is accused of, his behavior over the years, and the generally likelihood of his guilt, I can come to no other conclusion that he is a reprehensible human being. I would not socially associate with the man and firmly believe that he appears unrepentant for his assault. All that said, I can separate the artist from the art. If you have a different moral stand on the issue I can respect that. It is a line each of must draw and live with.
Chinatown is a dark cynical film set in Los Angeles in the late 1930’s as the town is becoming a city and the water wars are raging between urban needs and rural ones. Jack Nicholson plays Jake Gittes a private detective whose meat and potatoes is catching unfaithful spouses. Jake’s life starts to unwind when he unwittingly assist in the public disgracing of an important city official. With his reputation and livelihood at stake, Jake begins digging into a twisted case of murder, deceit, and sexual perversion.
This film is a quintessential example of both 70’s cinema esthetics and Polanski’s. It is a bitter dark and cynical story with major themes of corruption and futility. One does not simply walk into Mordor and one does not simply expect a happy ending from a Polanski movie. All through the 1970s films became progressively darker, reflecting a world where few expected dawn, but only an everlasting midnight of the soul. Chinatown, though a period film, perfect capture the mood of the 70s. It is a masterwork of a film and getting to see it on the big screen as my first viewing was a treat. I doubt I will add it to my personal collection. While dark movies and film noir do appeal to me, this movie’s sense of futility carried almost to sense of destiny, is not something to strikes a resonant cord in my own emotional matrix. If you have not seen it, do so.