RogerBW's Blog

Chinatown 11 July 2021

1974 noir, dir. Roman Polański, Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway: IMDb / allmovie. They never just want you to follow their erring husband… Spoilers.

But I had to start by getting past the Shadow of Polański, which is rather dark here. He told Dunaway to style her mannerisms after his memories of his mother, who died in the camps; her character is someone who was abused as a girl; by the end, another girl is clearly going to be abused more. All right, this was made four years before Polański drugged and raped the thirteen-year-old girl that he was caught and prosecuted for. So yeah.

The thing that strikes me as very odd about this plot, though, is the way it takes historical events and bends then out of shape but sticks recognisably close to what actually happened – very like Stewart Turton's The Devil and the Dark Water, it assumes that you won't spot the historical parallels and say "hang on, it didn't happen like that" or "I know exactly where you got this from". (Of course, in the real LA Water Wars, there weren't any good guys on the city side, not even failed ones. And the Saint Francis dam collapse happened in 1928, well after the other stuff, and ended Mulholland's career anyway.)

I'd still call this "noir" rather than "neo-noir": the tropes are there even if we get sunlit spacious vistas to play them against. And the viewer is expected to know the tropes, just as Gittes is: if he didn't, the plot wouldn't work, and if the viewer didn't, they wouldn't be as surprised by Evelyn's motivations as they're clearly intended to be.

My impression of Dunaway has gone down again: she's all right here, but she's very constrained by her role, and of the three films I've seen her in it's really only in Bonnie & Clyde that she seems to be having much fun. Some actors can carry grim and serious well, but she doesn't seem to be one of them.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

See also:
The Devil and the Dark Water, Stuart Turton

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