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Chinatown


Chinatown a film by Roman Polanski


Introduction

“0:04:38” “0:04:44” “0:12:40” [0:13:32]

Chinatown

Fate

Water

Past

“0:19:51” [0:22:21] [0:26:36] [0:31:57] [0:39:50] [0:57:33] [0:58:47] “0:59:10” [1:15:03] “1:15:07” [1:17:00] “1:18:29” “1:19:47” “1:21:45” [1:31:14] “1:42:03” [1:42:18] “1:46:10”

Sight

“1:56:33” “1:56:45” “1:57:25” “1:57:44” “1:58:04”

Power

“2:01:05” [2:02:21] “2:02:31” “2:02:57” “2:03:08” note: “” denotes a quotation and [] denotes an image.


Introduction Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic neo-noir film starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Its award winning screenplay by Robert Towne is a throwback to the film noir classics of the 30s and 40s. The film is a taut blend of mystery, romance, action, and suspense. Polanski crafts his characters with precision and effectively incorporates elements foreign to the noir genre such as concepts of Greek tragedy and psychological thrillers. Ultimately his characters are unable to escape their inevitable fates. On the whole the film is one layers with innumerable symbols, themes and a conscious attention to detail and artistic film design. This book is an examination of key themes and connections throughout the film, illustrated by key quotes and images. The screened back images on some pages are a nod to Chinatown’s historical roots. They include depictions of Los Angeles in the 1930s and structures within the modern day L.A. Aqueduct and Water system.


Chinatown as a theme is pervasive throughout the film. Some examples include: the “Chinaman” joke at the barber shop, all of the “help” in the film is Chinese, Chinatown is the symbolic heart of the corruption in the city, Escobar didn’t fight it when he was there, and it Chinatown became the symbol for the ruin of Gittes. Chinatown is a place to be avoided at all costs, a sort of purgatory.

AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE... Chinatown is a place where corruption is the status quo and where regular people are forced into silence. Its appearance in the film is a harbinger of doom to the film’s characters and represents their inescapable and haunting past.

“1:18:29” Gittes’ explanation to Evelyn of what he did during his painful time in Chinatown.


“2:02:57” Following Evelyn’s murder Lieutenant Escobar, realizes that he too is powerless in Chinatown, lets Gittes’ go free, thinking he is freeing him from his guilt and burden.


“1:21:45” Foreshadowing of Gittes’ eventual fate and a recurring fate that he will endure.

I was trying to keep someone f ro m b e i n g h u r t . I e n d e d u p m a k i n g s u re t h a t s h e w a s h u r t .


Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown... “2:03:08” This line from the final scene, which Walsh (Gittes’ operative) speaks in a sympathetic voice as he leads Jake away from Evelyn’s dead body, sums up one of the film’s major themes. Throughout the film, several characters suggest that Chinatown is a place to be avoided at all costs. It is where corruption is tolerated and where good people are forced into silence. Walsh suggests that Evelyn and Jake knew their fates when they went to Chinatown and should have known the story would end as it did. The best Jake can do now is regret his terrible mistake and leave it all as quickly as possible.


. owing.. n k t o n f gs lie. etter of let sleeping do you’re b “0:04:38” Gittes’ advice to Ida Sessions (posing as Evelyn Mulwray) to leave her suspicions that her husband is cheating on her as just that, suspicions. This is especially significant because as the events of the film unfold it is Gittes who should have heeded his own warnings.

you see Mr. Gittes,

MOST PEOPLE NEVER HAVE TO FACE THE FACT THAT

In Chinatown, Polanski has created a film that though it follows the visual rules (formally) of film noir, possesses the heart of a classical Greek Tragedy. His characters are misguided and lack the foresight or opportunity to change the course of events. They are victims of their own inner compulsions and the circumstances surrounding them. The characters elicit fear and pity.


Throughout the film, Polanski alludes to the powerlessness of each of the characters and their lack of ability to alter their tragic futures. He entangles them in situations in which are impossible for them to overcome or escape leading all of the characters to be overrun by the parties in power, specifically Noah Cross and on a more abstract level, the Albacore Club. Gittes, through an arduous and complex series of events, unfortunately finds himself Fate back in a familiar place and situation, Chinatown. Even though he works tirelessly to leave his past behind and create a new future for himself, he is ultimately a tragic character that is overcome by the sheer power and rampant corruption that surrounds him.

AT THE RIGHT TIME, THE RIGHT PLACE, THEY ARE

CAPABLE OF ANYTHING

“1:58:04” This line suggests there is evil in everyone’s heart and that given the right provocation, anyone is capable of committing a heinous crime. But on a deeper level, Cross doesn’t mean what he says in the slightest. The calm and even tone of Cross’s voice suggests that he sees his actions as reasonable and understandable indulgences—an even more sinister facet of his character.


“1:17:00� When driving from the Mar Vista Senior Home Evelyn seems to pick something out of her left eye as they escape the gunshots of Mulvihill and his goons.


It’s a

in the iris…

“2:02:31” The earlier driving scene is a clear foreshadowing of Evelyn’s imminent and tragic death.

It’s a sort of ‘birthmark.’ “1:19:47” Evelyn Mulwray’s left eye, the eye she loses when shot.


“0:12:40” Gittes’ operative’s comment on Mulwray’s activities only days before his murder.

[0:31:57] Hollis Mulwray’s body is pulled from an L. A. aqueduct.

“1:56:33” Gittes’ operative’s comment on Mulwray’s activities only days before his murder.

he’s gotsalt

water in his lungs!

the guy’s got water on the brain.


[1:56:45] Noah Cross’ reference to where Hollis Mulwray was killed, in the place where life begins. This displays the dual nature water plays throughout the film, a symbol of life and death.

Water In Chinatown, water is a on of the most prevalent and important symbols. It comes to represent both life and death. Water is interestingly directly a part of the death of every character, save for Evelyn: Mulwray is drowned in the tide pool, the homeless man is drowned in the LA River, the faucet is dripping at the scene of Ida Session’s murder.


[0:26:36] Hollis Mulwray’s backyard saltwater tidepool representing the duality of life and death.

s

r gras

bad fo “1:42:03” The Chinese Gardener’s only words to Gittes. The pool brings about death, slowly seeping outward to poison the surrounding grass and any other plant incapable of tolerating the salt, an allusion to Hollis Mulwray’s murder.


“0:39:52” Shortly after Gittes breaks into the resevoir to investigate he is startled by a gunshot and hides in the aqueduct. Seconds later he is overwhelmed by rushing waters symbolic of his in-over-thehead situation.

Hollis was always fascinated by tide pools. You know what he used to say? That’s where life begins. Sloughs, tidepools. When he first come out here, he figured if you dumped water into the desert sand and let it percolate down to the bedrock, it would stay there instead of evaporate the way it does in most reservoirs. You only lose 20% instead of 70 or 80.

HE MADE THIS CITY.

Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.

“0:39:52” Cross’ plan to incorporate his new holdings in the Northwest Valley and his reason’s for taking control of the water supply and killing Hollis Mulwray.


Many of the film’s main characters hide a dark shame or haunting secret looming in their past. These past events parallel the larger scale of corruption and secrecy in their everyday world. By the film’s conclusion, nearly every character is finally overwhelmed, ruined or completely destroyed by their past. When Gittes returns to Chinatown, he finds himself placed in the same situation as years before, once again losing a woman (Evelyn) that he was trying to save. Evelyn is caught by her father (Noah Cross) as she desperately tries to escape with her daughter She is wrongfully killed Past killed by the police in the process. Even Hollis Mulwray could not escape his past, killed for his disagreement and involvement with the powerful and corrupt in the city and his guilt over the crisis he was earlier involved in.


“0:39:52” Evelyn’s release of her darkest secret to Gittes, which finally allows him to put the pieces of Hollis Mulwray’s murder together.


[1:31:14] Often throughout the film emphasis was placed on the left (flawed) side of Evelyn’s face, alluding to her eventual murder.


[1:42:18] Gittes finally discovers what was glistening in Hollis Mulwray’s tide pool, Noah Cross’ broken glasses.

Sight Sight, both literal and figurative, plays an important role throughout the film: Evelyn’s eye (the filming of this-both its flaw and the fact that it was shot out when she was killed), Gittes’ shortsightedness, and the eyeglasses that finally allow Gittes to solve the crime.


I hope you don’t mind Mr. Gittes, I believe they should be served with the head.

[0:58:47] “0:59:10” When Cross is dining with Gittes, trying to pry information out of him, there is a great deal of significance placed on the fish (they both focus on it intently).

The final climactic events of this film can all be tied together under the theme of power. Throughout the film those in power, represented by Noah Cross, and anyone affiliated with him through the Albacore Club, are quietly maneuvering themselves into positions of great financial and capital gain. Regardless of how noble Gittes’ intentions are to find the truth it is Power futile as the corrupt powers have even infiltrated the police of L.A.


Though the club is a front for large-scale corruption, the public sees only a gentlemen’s social club with a long-standing history that gives generously to those in need. Similarly, the Water and Power Department, which is aptly named, is actually engineering the drought it has purported to be combating. The department is seen as an organization that has helped Los Angeles grow from the desert into the city it is today.

[0:22:21] While visiting Deputy Engineer Yellburton’s office several game fish and the Albacore Club burgee are prominently displayed on the walls. [0:57:33] The Albacore Club burgee is displayed for several seconds upon Gittes’ arrival to the club for a meeting with its owner, Noah Cross.

[1:15:03] Emma Dill, a resident at the Mar Vista home, shows Gittes a quilt she made using the Albacore, connecting the dots of Noah Cross’ plan to Gittes.


[0:13:32] Noah Cross and Hollis Mulwray argue shortly before Mulwray’s murder.

WATER


HE OWNS THE POLICE!

“0:22:00” The aptly named L.A. water department.

POW & -ER


What can you buy that you can’t already afford...?


The future, Mr. Gittes, the future...

[1:57:44] Cross’ entire intentions in creating the drought and swindling the public of L.A. are not to earn a profit but to ensure that his future descendents (who will possibly be incestuous children of his daughter/grand daughter Katherine) will continue to hold power in a corrupt city.


Willem Van Lancker Rhode Island School of Design Making Meaning Jacek Mrowczyk Autumn 2008 Kinesis Std 11/12pt Trade Gothic 7/8pt Printed on 70lb Bright White Stock


a film by rom an polanski

CHINA TOWN

faye dunawa y Final Chinatown poster design, 20” x 30”.

jack nichols

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Chinatown Film Analysis