Friday, January 22, 2010

He Made Me Watch It ~ Chinatown (1974) @ the Brattle

I know I know, it's the wrong decade for me. I usually avoid the 70s like the plague. But the film takes place in 1937 and it's as historically accurate as it could be, so I'm letting that slide.

Me? A Film Buff? More like a Film Bluff if you ask me.

I'm really tired of being the person who claims to have extensive knowledge of classic films but has yet to see many of the classic classics. Those films that everyone and their mother has seen and permanently reside on important lists like the AFI's top 100. I'm embarassed to admit that I haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Bonnie & Clyde (1967), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), 12 Angry Men (1957), among others. Every decade has some classics that I've avoided for whatever stupid reason I have come up with. My biggest excuse is that it's popular. I've always been a bucker of trends and the additional layer of popularity on the film is like that nasty icing on a cupcake that you have to eat through to get to the cake (or you remove it like I do).

So I've been very very very open-minded lately. Carlos suggested we see Chinatown (1974) on the big screen and I immediately acquiesced. It's not even really He Made Me Watch It but more like He Subtly Suggested It and I Immediately Jumped on the Bandwagon.

I came to Chinatown (1974) with almost no prior knowledge except for the fact that it starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway and that the film has won critical acclaim and some Oscars. I'm very glad that I hadn't because I came with no preconceived notions and the film to me was fresh and new.

Carlos, Kevin, Lisa and I saw Chinatown (1974) at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square on Wednesday night. Chinatown is a favorite of both Carlos and Kevin but Lisa and I were both newbies. Although I was very tired and perhaps didn't pick up all the details of the complex plot like I could have if I had been perky, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Much of what I liked of it was that it felt more like 1937 than 1974, which I appreciated. The style of the film was very noir but seeing as the movie was shot in post-Hayes Code days, they could take a lot more liberty with sexuality which I thought was interesting. I've always been fascinated with the abuse of power when it comes to natural resources, like water, and this film focuses on the redirection of water in Los Angeles during a late summer drought.

I was happy to see that many folks came out on a Wednesday night to see Chinatown at the Brattle. A few folks laughed during a scene they found particularly campy (the Daughter-Sister-Slapping scene with Dunaway and Nicholson), but I chalked that up to their unfortunate ignorance and incapacity to understand the film. I have absolutely no patience for people who mock classic films. Those people should not even be allowed to see these films in public, in my honest opinion. They couldn't ruin my night though, I had a blast.

Stay tuned to this space as Carlos makes me watch another film on the big screen!


  1. i would love to see this on the big screen. that score would really sound great there i bet. i loved this film & the performances are great. stellar writing too!

  2. Chinatown is a masterpiece of style and mood, and what great performances too. and has John huston EVER been more disturbing???? what you said about people laughing at what was a totally inappropriate time reminded me when i saw Vertigo on the big screen and people chuckling in scenes that were NOT meant to be chuckled at!
    hey dont feel bad i've never seen Lawrence of Arabia (its on my must see list) or my Fair Lady (not much interest) either. 12 Angry Men is awesome though, i think you'll enjoy that one a lot so hop to it :)

  3. I'd love to see this on the big screen too!

    Chinatown is such a brutal and depressing film. The infamous ending, and how California was built on theft and misery. Even more sad is that a few years later, Polanski turned into Noah Cross.

    The slapping scene has been made fun of so many times that most people seeing the film for the first time have seen parodies; it still irks me when they have to laugh instead of mentally noting, "oh, that's what SNL was goofing on..."

  4. I often avoid the major classics as well, especially if they don't involve a favorite actor/director!

    I haven't seen Lawrence of Arabia or Bonnie and Clyde either, so...

    Great review though! I'm sure I'll watch this some day! ;-D

    Oh, my gosh! I know what you're saying about the laughing. At the screening of Rebel Without A Cause this one group of people laughed all the time, mostly at things Plato did...when it wasn't funny! IT WAS TRAGIC! Sheesh...

    Anyway, I always love your posts even if I've never seen the film, this is no exception! :-D

  5. MrJeffrey - I hope you get an opportunity to see it on the big screen, it was a great experience.

    Artman - I have 12 Angry Men on my DVD queue on Netflix. It'll be another He Made Me Watch It entry.

    Tommy - Please explain the Polanski - Noah Cross thing? I'm intrigued.

    Millie - Did you see my post about Rebel? People were laughing at Plato too at the venue I went too! Horrible. I'm so glad you liked my review. That means a lot.

  6. The 1970s were probably the last era when a significant number of artistic, creative & independent films were made. By the 1980s, bean counters, not movie people chose what was made. Corporations made blockbusters and middle of the road films and those have become the norm.

  7. I knew that CHINATOWN was a superb film, but it was so depressing that I had avoided it for ages. Lately, I have been more opened toward films with ambiguous or downbeat ending. And despite being depressing, CHINATOWN has one of the best endings I have ever seen in a movie.

  8. Quelle - i just watched it about a month ago for about the 3rd or 4th time. every time i see it i notice little bits of business more and more. such a great cast, great script, just an excellent picture across the board. and great fun for me too because of how Jack Klugman was in it and they spoofed it on the odd couple years later.

    btw i never thanked you for bringing classicflix to my attention but i joined IMMEDIATELY after i read your post and looked around the site! Even though it takes a while for the discs to get here it's still faster than waiting for TCM to play some of these films.

    anyway i will look forward to your thoughts on 12 Angry Men, positive or negative.

  9. I've always wanted to see Chinatown on the big screen. I generally don't care for a lot of Seventies films, but it really does feel like it could have been made earlier if not for the sex and language. It's one of the few films I know of that accurately captures the Thirties.

  10. Glad you're seeing some of the newer stuff! Of all the ones you list, though, the 2 I recommend most are 12 ANGRY MEN and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Wow. Talk about accurately capturing a bygone era...

  11. Chinatown is one of the few DVDs I actually own, and it's easy to watch repeatedly because of its languorous mood, tastefully reserved color palette and Nicholson's performance. May I demand that you see these other classics immediately, or is Carlos the only one who can "make you" watch certain classics?

    You mentioned My Fair Lady--see it for the laugh-out-loud scene at the racetrack, if nothing else. And Lawrence of Arabia save for the big screen, but:

    The Big Sleep: noir at its finest, and Lauren Bacall in evening wear to die for.

    Notorious: Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, champagne, Nazis! Need I say more?

    Gilda: Rita Hayworth igniting a powderkeg between Glenn Ford and george McCready, and the famous "Put the Blame on Mame" number!

    Citizen Kane: mostly this is homework, but its crane shots are justly famous, and Welles' use of deep focus lens will blow your mind!

    The Searchers: yes, a John Wayne western, but it does have Natalie Wood dressed up as a squaw and Wayne's character contains everything you need to know about Manifest Destiny.

    Sullivan's Travels: the only Preston Sturges film that's actually funny (yes, I said the ONLY one), even if it does go all soft on Disney in the end).

    Finally, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in which Marilyn Monroe is both bombshell and comedienne, with sparkling visuals and great song-and-dance numbers!!

    Thanks for this great post!

  12. I almost picked this up in Walmart today for $5. It's rare that I find such a gem in their cheap bins, although it does happen occasionally, but I resisted this time because I've been buying too many DVDs lately as it is. Kind of regret putting it back, though. A clip of Chinatown in class was screened in one of my classes last semester, but I've never seen the whole thing.

  13. It's a great film, tho certainly disturbing. Never having seen the parody of that scene (thus, not aware until I read comments that SNL did parody it) I would have guessed that people laughed out of discomfort--the scene is about incest, which isn't a very funny subject. Of course, the diversion of water from the Owens Valley to LA was permanent--when you drive on US 395 thru Owens Valley now, all the lakes & rivers are dried up.

  14. Bill - Too true. The pre-Star Wars days are truly the best.

    Artman - I'll make sure to write a post about 12 Angry Men when I see it. I'm so glad you got Classicflix! The wait is a pain, but it's such a great selection that it's worth it!

    Mercurie - I was surprised how accurate it was. They could have gone completely off but they stayed historically accurate. Amazing.

    PjOwens - Do you recommend I read the book To Kill a Mockingbird AND watch the movie? I haven't done either.

    Mark - I just sent you an e-mail. I've seen some of the movies you list. I agree with what you say and you put it quite eloquently about the langour, color & Nicholson.

    Caitlin - $5!!! That's a steal.

    John - Good point. Maybe some folks laugh because they have no other emotional outlet to react to something on screen that they don't quite understand or confuses them.

  15. i sure gotta disagree about Sullivan's travels being the ONLY Sturges film that's funny! Lady Eve is a hoot, Hail the Conquering Hero is pure insanity and Miracle of Morgan's Creek is right behind it. The Great McGinty is also very funny. it just shows that humor is a very subjective thing!

    and the Searchers is a cinematic masterpiece, absolute must-see for a lover of film of any kind. dont take my word for it, listen to Mr Scorsese on this one ;)

  16. Hey Raquelle, I nominated you for a Kreativ Blogger Award! Just thought you'd want to know. I love your blog. :)

  17. How have I been missing your blog? I'm a weirdo.

    I too am behind on classics. I just-this-year saw Citizen freaking Kane... Shame.

    I would like to see a Chinatown-esque redo of The Big Sleep. That is my favorite novel, but the core of it was out of bounds where Hollywood was concerned. Love Bogey, hated that film.


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