Chinatown

Wow.  How did I miss this film?  Thirty-six years it’s been out there and I’ve just seen it for the first time.  No wonder it’s on everyone’s top-ten list.

Yes, the noir atmosphere is superbly conveyed.  And yes, the acting is flawless.  Faye Dunaway is stunning, and very compelling as the troubled femme fatale.  I’d forgotten that Jack Nicholson wasn’t always demonic.  Makes me want to see “Five Easy Pieces” again, not to mention “Easy Rider” and “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest.” (Watch this space…)

But what really struck me was the tone of “Chinatown.”  The film was released in 1974, my senior year of high school.  In August of that year Nixon finally resigned over Watergate, after the evidence of his involvement in the conspiracy and the cover-up had become impossible to ignore.  Right up until the day he did, though, it seemed as if he was going to get away with it and I graduated high school a hardened cynic.  I remember reading Orwell’s 1984 in English class and thinking that it didn’t seem far-fetched at all.  Paranoia was the order of the day, to the point where even soap operas like “All My Children” used hidden tape recorders as plot devices.

Corruption in high places.  Justice that is far from blind.  Money running the show.  Tell me something I didn’t already know.  Unhappy endings?  Funny thing.  We used to be able to handle those in blockbuster movies.

(12 January 2011)

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