It should have been the old man. The horn is blaring, like a trumpet signaling the end of the world. The girl is screaming in the car, which has rolled to a halt in the middle of the street. Evelyn Mulray has slumped over the steering wheel. Jake is the first one to get there. He opens the door and she falls to the side, her face blown apart, shot through the head from behind. Through her eye with the flawed iris. Jake is stunned, muttering the words “as little as possible” because he’s been here before. And Noah Cross, the old man, is lamenting, “Lord, oh Lord,” clumsily trying to cover the little girl’s eyes. “Don’t look, don’t look,” he tells her, though he is the reason she’s here. He comforts her and ends up taking her away, her father and grandfather both. Only now does Jake realize how powerless he is to stop any of this from happening, and the audience understands it as well. It should have been the old man who got gunned down in these lawless streets, but this is Chinatown. This is film noir in full color. Conventional film studies will try to tell us that film noir died in Orson Welles’ arms somewhere around 1958 when Touch of Evil was released. However, unlike other genres such as musicals or comedies, there are no concrete set of guidelines by which one can definitively stake their claim that a particular film is noir. According to many experts, it has always been easier to recognize a film noir than to define it. In fact, the term was unknown to most filmmakers of that time and what has come to be considered the film noir canon was defined in retrospect. French critics realized that the American gangster films of the 1940s had begun turning very dark, focusing on policemen and detectives who were frequently as diseased as the criminals they tracked down. This darkness seemed to reach into every aspect of these films, from the viewpoints expressed by the writers to the consistently shadowy images cast upon the screen by directors and cinematographers. These critics coined the name for this genre, a term derived from the black covers of crime novels in the French Serie noire, many of which were translations of American writers such as Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. The style and pervading soul of these dark films seemed to descend from the German expressionist films of the previous two decades. We only need to experience Fritz Lang’s M, a German production from 1931, to find the seeds of the first crime films that joined a dark visual style with an equally dark plot. When Lang fled Germany to escape the Nazis, he brought his distinct style to America in such films as Fury (1936), The Woman in the Window (1946), and Scarlet Street (1946). Other German directors to eventually join him include Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, 1944), Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour, 1945), and Otto Preminger (Laura, 1944), all of whom had classic films in what can be called the noir style. The first writings about Hollywood noir appeared in French film journals in 1946, concerning five films made during war time: The Maltese Falcon; Double Indemnity; Laura; Murder, My Sweet; and The Lost Weekend (though this last film would disappear from subsequent discussions of noir). While there are many differences between these films, there are more elements that they all share. Film noir stories were frequently convoluted, harsh, and misogynistic, with an emphasis on moral ambiguity and criminal psychology. The bad man meets a worse woman; opposites attract and push each other toward a mutual doom. There are endless smoky rooms, whirling ceiling fans, and neon signs with at least one of the letters missing. Shadows abound, and light tends to cut through the blinds to dramatically break up the faces of weary detectives. There is more than simply darkness on the screen, but typically in the hearts and viewpoints of the characters as well. This black-and-white photographic style was associated with film noir because it lent gritty realism to the gritty psychological places it depicted. Still, it was rather ironic when hard-boiled fiction, which had been a source for many these postwar films, was associated with the lurid color illustrations on the covers of pulp magazines. Therefore, it seems that the heart of noir need not beat in only black and white as purists had decreed, but there could occasionally be a splash of red. Chinatown was made long after the supposed end of the noir period, yet it thoroughly recreates the mood and style of film noir. The characters are ambiguous, from a seedy detective who doesn’t have the heart to charge a man for the pictures of his wife’s infidelity, to a coldly perfect woman whose passion is unleashed when someone finds the flaw in her eye. The storyline is intricate, with many surprising twists weaving in and out, leaving the characters as stunned as the audience. Darkness and shadows are thick in classic noir, pushing in on the action to create a sense of claustrophobia, and that element is not lost here in Polanski’s revisionist noir. Chinatown’s distinction lies in its fresh conception of this claustrophobia in brilliant color. Instead of establishing the actors in a standard shot, which would cut them off at the shins, Polanski and cinematographer John Alonzo frequently show them in a medium close-up. This cuts them off just below the shoulders, pushing the audience closer to the action without having an opportunity to adjust to the environment of the scene. Claustrophobia is then created without the interplay of darkness and shadows. With it comes a growing tension – between the characters as well as between the audience and the screen. This tension seems to be further enhanced, rather than subdued, by the fact that Chinatown is a color film. The dominant colors are brown, gray, and black and they seem to reflect the sweltering evil eye of the sun blazing down on the parched earth surrounding Los Angeles. As if even God refuses to relieve them with a little rain. Desert sand pushes in from all sides, effectively corralling the action in the middle of a sun-beaten oasis ruled by corrupt men. Red appears primarily in the final scene, Evelyn’s blood splattered across the brown seats of her car. During the filming of Chinatown, a major conflict developed over writer Robert Towne’s proposed ending. In the original draft, Evelyn Mulray goes to jail after killing her father, allowing their daughter to escape to Mexico. Polanski, however, drawing from his own tortured past, lobbied for the character’s death. “When people leave the theater, they shouldn’t be allowed to think that everything is all right with the world,” he said. “It isn’t, and very little in life has a nice ending. Even blondes die in Hollywood.” These are dark sentiments, spoken by someone who had earned them, in a time that was equally as dark. The 1940s, when film noir had come to prominence, was a time of world war and the foreign evil of the Nazis. However, the 1970s were witness to a war that would never end in victory marches and in the apparent corruption of our own leaders. Apparently, the good guys didn’t always win (and sometimes they might even become the next bad guys). The death of Evelyn Mulray might seem harsh, but then Fred MacMurray had to blow Barbara Stanwyck away at the end of Double Indemnity (1944) as well. In terms of both the time in which it was made and the film history upon which it drew, Evelyn’s death makes perfect noir sense. Even the location where her death takes place is very noirish, being the scene of an earlier incident, undisclosed, which still haunts the protagonist. Mulray finds that Jake is reluctant to talk about his past connection to Chinatown, but he admits, “I was trying to keep someone from being hurt. I ended up making sure that she was hurt.” This is all that we are allowed to know about Jake’s past, but we know that it still influences who he is today. When he sees Evelyn, bloody and destroyed in the front of her car, the warning he received about Chinatown years ago returns to him, echoing up from the darkness of the past: do as little as possible. While the character of Jake may have some emotional baggage that holds him down, Polanski could have done no better than choosing John Huston to bring a cynical gravity to the evil Noah Cross. While not known primarily as an actor, Huston supplies the easily confident aura of someone long accustomed to being in control of events. He began his long directing career with what has been classified by cinema historians as the first noir triumph, 1941’s The Maltese Falcon. Many other acclaimed works were to follow, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and another noir classic, The Asphalt Jungle (1950), all of which showed characters whose human weaknesses were their undoing. In most Huston films, the “black bird” or its equivalent is the object of the quest, a possibly worthless icon of desire, riches, and power. Screenwriter Robert Towne considered the first meeting of Jake and Cross as an education for the detective, who thought he understood the darkness that was in the hearts of men. Then he comes up against a real monster, and there is nothing he won’t do. Cross tells Jake that some people have no limitations, that people are capable of anything. In many ways, Cross is akin to Harry Lime in another great work of film noir, The Third Man (1949), where people seen from his lofty height are little more than “dots” to be manipulated. The difference is that in the movies of classic noir there were production codes which insisted the evildoer ultimately be punished for his acts, so Lime is gunned down by his former friend as he tries to escape. In a film about the 1930s, being depicted in 1974, there are no such codes. The leading lady is gunned down in the street while the hero stands shocked and helpless, watching the bad guy walk away with his sins unatoned. There may be more light and color in Chinatown than in cinematic cities of the past, but that doesn’t make it any less noir. If color film had been as readily and cheaply available in the late 1940s, there is little doubt that many producers and directors of film noir would have used it. As in the case of Leave Her to Heaven (1945), many of them did. Many are still creating and recreating film noir even today, from The Long Good Friday (1980), Blade Runner (1982), Blue Velvet (1987), The Grifters (1990), Reservoir Dogs (1992), and LA Confidential (1997), to name only a few. It’s a cinematic expression of pessimism and darkness that seems to reflect more than just one era in time. Those who chose to look back on a brief period in film and retroactively define it might have missed something. They were too narrow in their view, too strict and snobby in the parameters of what they had named. Film noir was about being subversive, about slipping under the watchful eye dressed in shadows. It was about expressing a heart of darkness, lifting a rock and exposing what squirmed inside all of us. Roman Polanski had seen it. In true film noir fashion he gave us a simple story: it’s about a detective and this dame who walks into his office one afternoon. Then he gave us a little lesson: “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” See larger image Chinatown [Blu-ray Steelbook] Chinatown (BD) (Steelbook) Landmark movie in the film noir tradition, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown st ands as a true screen classic. Jack Nicholson is private eye Jake Gitte s, living off the murky moral climate of sunbaked, pre-war Southern Cali fornia. Hired by a beautiful socialite (Faye Dunaway) to investigate her husband’s extra-marital affair, Gittes is swept into a maelstrom of dou ble dealings and deadly deceits, uncovering a web of personal and politi cal scandals that come crashing together for one, unforgettable night in …Chinatown. Co-starring film legend John Huston and featuring an Acad emy Award®-winning script by Robert Towne, Chinatown captures a lost era in a master fully woven movie that remains a timeless gem. New From: $19.85 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.