Episode 083 – Chinatown


It is a very great pleasure to revisit something you think you know well and find new facets and new dots to connect. That was certainly the case for both Cole and I when coming back to Chinatown (Polanski, 1974), though we have both seen it multiple times. There is the recurring motif of flawed vision and the lenses we use to try to understand the world, which I had never really put together. There were relatively little things like “apple core” = Albacore, and the visual connection drawn for us from the desert to the ocean. I only just learned that Faye Dunaway pushed for that very specific eye wound in order to draw a parallel to Oedipus and that Polanski urged Jack Nicholson to speak faster for the sake of film length, to no avail. What a different film could have resulted without the unhurried and yet efficient pace.

There is a lot to unpack and explore in this neo noir classic, and that is without broaching the discussion we must have when the lens of history focuses on the artist and away from the art. We began this discussion in the episode and would love to hear your thoughts. What happens when the actions of the auteur overshadow the work? Does timeline matter? Do the other artists and technicians at work make a difference? Do you revisit work you love and make a new assessment of it?

I hope you come back to Chinatown and look for those things you missed, as well as ask yourself these questions.

What you’ll find in this episode: should the art be separated from the artist, what other thorny films Ericca is planning to tackle next, and recurring motifs in the film.

– Ericca

Links and Recommendations:
Check out Chinatown on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of The Big Fix.
Cole’s further viewing pick of The Kid Stays in the Picture.
Mr. Show does Robert Evans.
A discussion of Chinatown by the filmmakers and principals.
The construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

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