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Author Topic: Chinatown (1974)  (Read 32745 times)
Novecento
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« Reply #120 on: January 22, 2012, 07:29:15 AM »

Film noir was shot in what is called "low key" light. That is to say that the ratio between the hard, direct "key" light and the soft, diffused "filler" light was huge. This was very different from the standard practice of having a small ratio between the two which used the diffused filler light extensively to even out the harsh shadows caused by the key light. The Femme Fatales were shot in this "low key" light to give them a harsher, more accentuated, beauty that suited their roles perfectly. Consequently when Polanski asked Alonzo to shoot without diffusion, he was basically asking him to shoot her in a noir style.

By the way, my principal source for this comment, save the Polanski observation at the end, seems to have been posted online here:

"Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir" - Janey Place & Lowell Peterson (1974)

It's a great article.

« Last Edit: January 22, 2012, 07:34:45 AM by Novecento » Logged
dave jenkins
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« Reply #121 on: January 22, 2012, 10:57:59 AM »

Soderbergh:
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If you watch say "Chinatown," there's no one better then Polanski about knowing precisely when to put the camera on the shoulder and when not. "Chinatown" is like a perfectly modulated piece of filmmaking. You'd think in a period film shot anamorphic, well you don't want to be throwing the camera...but they're isolated, very important instances where he goes handheld and it's exactly the right thing to do.

This is from a recent interview, but he makes similar comments in the "Appreciation" documentary on the 2009 DVD (which will be included on the Blu-ray as well). The handheld work is subtle but it is used several times. This was well before the in-your-face approach to shakey-cam, so the effect is almost subliminal. In fact, until I heard Soderbergh mention it, I hadn't really been conciously aware of the technique in Chinatown (of course, when you start looking for it you can find it easily). This is another example of how the filmmakers took their "old" material and invested it with a new sensibility.

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« Reply #122 on: January 23, 2012, 03:17:19 AM »

Oh I just read an amazing interview that Polanski gave during the shooting of Chinatown and where he said:

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[...] absolutely no gay subtext in X-men so I really wanted to make a Noir, and then came the script of Chinatown and I thought "wow that's almost the Once Upon A Time In The West of Noir!" Let's do this Neo-Noir! It will be filled up with light but it's gonna be a Noir anyway since Noir is not about light! "PI Films" is not even a genre and [...]

Then he compares Chinatown to an early script of OUATIA and says that what he didn't like about OUATIA is the whole "it was dream after all" ending (which was much clearer in the version he read at the time), but that's another topic.

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« Reply #123 on: January 23, 2012, 06:01:19 AM »

Makes sense for me. Polanski really had a concept and it shows.

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« Reply #124 on: January 23, 2012, 01:36:41 PM »

Did he say anything about whether he thinks Angel Eyes is Mortimer's evil twin?

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« Reply #125 on: January 23, 2012, 02:09:17 PM »

Oh I just read an amazing interview that Polanski gave during the shooting of Chinatown and where he said:
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[...] absolutely no gay subtext in X-men so I really wanted to make a Noir, and then came the script of Chinatown and I thought "wow that's almost the Once Upon A Time In The West of Noir!" Let's do this Neo-Noir! It will be filled up with light but it's gonna be a Noir anyway since Noir is not about light! "PI Films" is not even a genre and [...]

Then he compares Chinatown to an early script of OUATIA and says that what he didn't like about OUATIA is the whole "it was dream after all" ending (which was much clearer in the version he read at the time), but that's another topic.
Must have been the same magazine where Kubrick confessed that he actually staged the Moon landing of 1969, George Lucas admitted that the Star Wars prequels were a stupid idea in the first place and Leone said he never directed a scene in My Name Is Nobody. A real treasure, that magazine.

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« Reply #126 on: January 23, 2012, 02:21:31 PM »


Must have been the same magazine where Kubrick confessed that he actually staged the Moon landing of 1969


But he did!
It is well known fact. It was the only way for Kubrick to get a decent enough budget for 2001, and the right for the final cut. Otherwise MGM would have cut 2001 to pieces, like they did with every other ambitious film in those years.

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« Reply #127 on: January 23, 2012, 04:27:34 PM »

This is from a recent interview, but he makes similar comments in the "Appreciation" documentary on the 2009 DVD (which will be included on the Blu-ray as well)...

Is that the short-lived 2009 DVD that was rapidly withdrawn after release? From what I can make out, it seems all the documentaries on that one are being brought over to the new BD release.

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« Reply #128 on: January 24, 2012, 06:21:57 AM »

You are correct (and these include the docs that were on the 2007 disc).

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« Reply #129 on: March 22, 2012, 06:21:25 AM »

Some interesting material here: http://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=8394

Two things in this surprise me, and I wonder if they can be right. First, the statement that Towne and Evans disagreed over the ending. It's the first I've heard of this. The disagreement between Towne and Polanski is well documented, but maybe there was a subsequent disagreement with Evans.

Second, can it be true that some of Cortez's work survives in the finished film? Given the fact that the two cinematographers' styles were so different, this is hard to believe. I'd like to see more information detailing exactly where the Cortez material is (until which point I will remain highly sceptical of the assertion).

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« Reply #130 on: March 22, 2012, 01:57:02 PM »

Disappointing news about the Blu-ray from Robert Harris (via hometheaterforum.com):
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I love Roman Polanski's Chinatown.

 

It is, without a doubt, one of the finest films ever made.

 

A 1974 production, shot on 5254 in Panavision, and along with The Godfather Part II, which was the final production to go through the dye transfer process, a film that made it through towards the end.

 

It was magnificently photographed by John Alonzo.

 

But although the color looks beautiful on this Blu-ray, the disc just doesn't look film-like.  There's nothing horrific going on here.  It just doesn't look correct.  Possibly a bit too much softening or de-graining.  I can't be certain. 

 

There are shots of Mr. Nicholson that have no visible grain whatsoever, but grain can be seen, albeit lightly, in the background, and in neutral areas.

 

This also doesn't look like a recent transfer, as there is more image movement than one might normally see in a current image harvest.

 

The storyline of Chinatown from screenwriter Robert Towne is brilliant, and you'll receive no information in this thread about it.

 

Acting is superb,

 

Everything is superb.  It's one of my favorite films.  It just doesn't quite look like I believe it should.

 

Do I sound troubled?  I am.  I cannot tell you have much I wanted to love this Blu-ray.

 

That said, and let me make this point loud and clear, 99% of viewers are going to love this Blu-ray.  It's colorful, clean, and well...

 

pretty.

 

From a final user perspective, it has everything going for it.  Could it have been better? 

 

Absolutely.

 

Image - 3.5

 

Audio - 4.5

 

Recommended.

 

RAH
Harris doesn't mention whether this represents a useful upgrade from the 2009 DVD, and I'm guessing it doesn't. I think I'm going to pass on this...........

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« Reply #131 on: March 22, 2012, 02:13:07 PM »

Second, can it be true that some of Cortez's work survives in the finished film?
In the comments section of the piece reproduced above is this interesting comment (from our old friend and erstwhile Leone board poster, Richard--W.!):
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RAH, get yourself over to the AFI library and read the interview transcript with Stanley Cortez. About one-fifth to one-fourth of the film was shot by him. For example, the restaurant scene where Gittes questions Mrs. Mulwray. Note how Faye Dunaway is photographed in this scene as opposed to how she's photographed in other scenes. "Different woman," according to Cortez. He talks a little about portraiture. He was replaced by John Alonzo. There is a difference in the footage.

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« Reply #132 on: April 03, 2012, 07:34:14 PM »

This film would be merely great if it weren't for Polanski's mise-en-scene, which takes the whole thing to a higher level of art. Unlike American directors, he tends not to use many establishing shots. Instead, he jumps right into a scene, forcing viewers to pay strict attention.

Here is a rare example of an establishing shot, one of only a handful in the film.


Early on, Polanski establishes his use of depth-of-field.


Here he combines depth-of-field with a character POV shot.


Character POV shots are infrequent, Polanski preferring over-the-shoulder ones that enable us to see what Nicholson's character sees from the side (we aren't the character, but we are with him). Polanski never follows these with reaction shots of Nicholson: he lets us make up our own minds about things.




When using characters in a depth-of-field shot, Polanski likes to cover three planes whenever possible: foreground, middle, and back.


He is not, post-Antonioni, above the occasional tableau:


He can also produce a tableau with impressive depth-of-field:


A three-plane depth-of-field shot with two actors: Nicholson's reflection in the background glass completes the triad.


Here is an excellent example of P's compositional technique in a single-take scene. John Hillerman, in the foreground, is looking at Nicholson, middle, who is looking at another man, back. The axis is right-to-left.


Hillerman crosses to frame left, creating a triangle that speaks to the conflict generating in the scene.


The triangle collapses; tension mounts.


Tension is diffused, and a new alignment is established, left to right. The new character has supplanted Nicholson and is now in the middle position; Nicholson, about to exit behind elevator doors, is now in the background.


Symmetry is all: bye bye for now.



I just the other day finally bought a DVD of Chinatown and watched it tonight so I feel better commenting on the film and these posts.

Quote
Unlike American directors, he tends not to use many establishing shots. Instead, he jumps right into a scene, forcing viewers to pay strict attention.

I don't know if I completely agree about that, it could be a case of there not being many suitable outdoor LA locations left that are going to resemble anything close to circa 1935 LA so that was the only route to take.

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« Reply #133 on: April 03, 2012, 07:37:40 PM »

Speaking of Leone, has it occurred to anyone else that Chinatown does for the PI film what OUATITW did for the Western? I've spotted allusions and even direct quotes to The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

Yes I did notice.

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« Reply #134 on: April 03, 2012, 07:48:41 PM »

Absolutely spot-on:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204261704574274152752739772.html

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The Perfect Film Score
At 35, Goldsmith’s ‘Chinatown’ sounds better than ever


By TERRY TEACHOUT

New York

Does film music really matter to the average moviegoer? A great score, after all, can’t save a bad film, and a bad score--so it’s said--can’t sink a good one. Well into the ’40s, it wasn’t uncommon for big-budget Hollywood movies to contain little or no underscoring, and many of today’s directors, following the lead of Martin Scorsese in “GoodFellas,” accompany their films with pop records, not original music. So why bother hiring a high-priced composer and a 50-piece orchestra to crank out a commodity that next to nobody notices?

One word: “Chinatown.”

Roman Polanski’s stark tale of political and moral corruption in Los Angeles, which came out 35 years ago last month, is one of the undisputed classics of a bright decade in American filmmaking. In “Chinatown,” Mr. Polanski and Robert Towne, who wrote the school-of-Raymond-Chandler screenplay, took the disillusioned, shadow-dappled cinematic language of ’40s film noir and translated it into contemporary terms. Every neo-noir film released since then has borrowed from “Chinatown,” which looks as fresh today as it did in 1974. Yet a preview audience hated it, and studio executives were sure that it would bomb at the box office—until Jerry Goldsmith, working against the clock, wrote a brand-new score that helped turn a costly disaster into an unforgettable hit.

Goldsmith, who died five years ago, was one of the most admired composer-craftsmen in Hollywood, a pupil of Miklos Rozsa who scored 170 films, many of them successful (“Basic Instinct,” “Patton,” “Planet of the Apes”) but few of which were artistically distinguished. “Chinatown” was by far the best of the lot, and if you want to understand how film music works, you can’t do better than to pay close attention to Goldsmith’s score. Unfortunately, the soundtrack album has been out of print for years—used copies of the CD now sell for as much as $125—but the music comes through clearly on the remastered DVD version of “Chinatown.” To listen to Goldsmith’s score is to realize what first-rate music can contribute to the total effect of a first-rate film.

The score to “Chinatown” features a highly unorthodox instrumental lineup: one trumpet, four pianos, four harps, two percussionists and a string section. At first glance that looks like the sort of ensemble from which you’d expect to hear a piece of avant-garde classical music, and some parts of the “Chinatown” score are startlingly modern-sounding. But the film opens with an elegiac yet sensuous trumpet solo that floats freely over a cushion of tolling harps and brooding strings, a “love theme” that evokes the doomed romance of Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, the film’s stars. Uan Rasey, the celebrated Hollywood studio trumpeter heard on the soundtrack, later told an interviewer that Arthur Morton, Goldsmith’s arranger, “told me to play it sexy—but like it’s not good sex!”

The tension between the dark romanticism of the string-accompanied love theme and the crisp, bristly clatter of pianos and percussion is what gives Goldsmith’s spare score its powerfully individual quality. Though “Chinatown” runs for 131 minutes, it contains only 23 minutes of music—but every note counts. Instead of the usual wall-to-wall underscoring, Goldsmith saves his fire for the film’s key moments, allowing most of Mr. Towne’s Chandleresque dialogue to be heard “in the clear.” The result is a score so intense and concentrated that it can be listened to independent of the film with equal pleasure.

It isn’t unusual for movies to be rescored under pressure, but Goldsmith’s music for “Chinatown” is so well suited to the film that it’s hard to imagine that he knocked it out at the very last minute. The original score, written by the classical composer Phillip Lambro, was heard on the soundtrack of the version of the film that was shown seven weeks prior to the film’s release date at a preview in San Luis Obispo, a small town north of Los Angeles. “By the time the lights came up, half the audience had walked out, scratching their heads,” Robert Evans, the producer of “Chinatown,” wrote in “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” his 1994 autobiography. Concluding that Mr. Lambro’s “dissonant, weird, scratchy” music (as Mr. Towne would later describe it) was responsible for the film’s poor reception, Mr. Evans called in Goldsmith, and 10 days later “Chinatown” had a new score. Mr. Towne, who was present at the first recording session for Goldsmith’s score, later told a journalist that “you could see the movie come to life. It was like you couldn’t see the movie with the other score, and now you could, and I thought, ‘Omigod, we may have a chance.’”

So it did: “Chinatown” is now universally acknowledged as one of the key American films of the ’70s. Yet most of the critics ignored the score, and though Jerry Goldsmith received an Oscar nomination for “Chinatown,” he lost out to Nino Rota for “The Godfather, Part II.” Nowadays, of course, film connoisseurs don’t need to be told twice that the music of “Chinatown” is central to its greatness—but how many people are aware that Goldsmith’s score is one of the finest compositions of the postwar era, regardless of genre? If only he’d thought to turn it into a 15-minute-long tone poem for orchestra! Perhaps some talented arranger will do the job for him posthumously. I can’t think of another piece of American music written in 1974 that I’d rather see programmed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony or Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic—even if it was written in Hollywood in 10 days flat.
—Mr. Teachout, the Journal’s drama critic, writes “Sightings” every other Saturday and blogs about the arts at www.terryteachout.com.

Write to Terry Teachout at tteachout@wsj.com

This I don't agree with I just got done watching and do not even remember the score.

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