Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Six, Part Two – ‘Chinatown’ (1974)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. They can be black and white, colour, silent, filled with the sound of music, western, or eastern. As long as they are a film, they are ripe for inclusion.

We are in to the top 20s, and it’s Fred’s choice of the week, one of the 1970s most well regarded thrillers. Is it Yasser’s cup of tea? Read on and find out…

You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

You can also access the lists so far by clicking here for Fred’s and here for Yasser’s.

Fred: My choice this week is ‘Chinatown‘, which was voted the best film ever made in The Guardian last year.

Yasser: I wouldn’t go that far. It was good. Very good. Like ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors‘ it left me feeling unpleasent.

FS: I did say there was a few downbeat movies on my list.

YA: But the good news is I didn’t text you!

FS: (laughs) I’m delighted!

1974 – USA
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, John Hillerman, Diane Ladd

YA: After Hitchcock, there must’ve been an era where there were a lot of pretenders trying to make a genuine mystery.

FS: Well, I think the ’70s was a period of bleak, but very powerful cinema.  Did you follow it okay? It’s a very mazy thriller.

YA: I followed it.

FS: You are a better man than me!

YA: It wasn’t hard, it just didn’t make sense until the jigsaw pieces started to come together.

FS: John Huston‘s character is a real scum-bag.

YA: Yeah, he was condescending too.

FS: Mispronouncing ‘Gitties’…

YA: Faye Dunaway, though. She was SO wooden, even when she was breaking down.

FS: She is an odd one. She’s not a great actress, but was in some of the best movies of her era.

YA: She did the cardinal sin too – over-the-top dramatic acting.

FS: You should see her in ‘Network‘. It was her Oscar-winning role and she goes really over the top.

YA: It pisses me off when females play those kind of roles. Their characters are supposed to be strong, but when they break down they go waaaaaay too far. No subtlties. No quiet single tear running down their cheeks, just “NO, NO”, sobbing, swinging their heads around.

FS: It’s almost like the director or writer thinks all women are fragile underneath. That said, if you had been through what Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway) had, you might be quite cold and hard-faced, but then be overwhelmed when you finally did break down.

YA: To be fair, you would lose the plot.

FS: In ‘Chinatown’ Dunaway is okay, but she plays third fiddle to Huston, who is very good, and the main man – Jack.

YA: Nicholson is the man. Hands down. He plays the sincere but sinister character to a T.

FS: This is his peak, for me.

YA: For me, it’s gotta be ‘The Shining‘.

FS: No – early ’70s Jack is the best, before the self-parody crept in. He made a series of really top-drawer movies around that time, and he wasn’t just playing himself.

YA: He plays himself SO well though.

FS: (laughs) Yep. Is there anything about his performance that you thought was particularly good?

YA: The way he conducted himself professionally when he was with clients, and when they disappeared he turned into a chauvanistic pig.

FS: The whole film is very well put together. I like films where not a scene is wasted. Everything goes towards the advancement of the plot, or tells you something about the protagoinists.

YA: It’s a shame Dunaway’s role wasn’t played by someone like Meryl Streep.

FS: The thing I like about Nicholson is he’s a wise-ass and streetwise, but he’s not a tough guy. He knows to avoid fights when possible.

YA: I don’t think he’ll be running into any orange groves any time soon.

FS: No, I don’t think so. He gets leathered, doesn’t he?

YA: Proper!

FS: A lot of his characters around this point in his career are no use in fights.

YA: He’s awesome. It’s the way you can see the devil in him. I don’t know how else to describe it.

FS: I like that. Was there anything else good about the movie?

YA: Oooh yes. The realism, the noir feeling to it

FS: You could imagine it in black and white with Bogart as Gittes.

YA: (laughs) No, YOU could.

FS: (laughs)

YA: Not me. Nicholson is one of the kings. To take something away from him, even to give it to another legend, would be insulting, especially as his performance is almost flawless.

FS: That’s correct, actually. Do you know who beat him to Best Actor that year at the Oscars?

YA: I’m not looking forward to this…

FS: Art Carney, a TV sitcom actor, for a movie about and old man and his cat. He beat Nicholson, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Albert Finney, four of the most highly regarded film actors of the 60s and 70s.

YA: So why do you like ‘Chinatown’? Does it leave a bad taste in your mouth?

FS: No, I think I expected it to have a downbeat ending so it didn’t leave me with that feeling. I was pretty blown away by it, and the ending in particular. I’d have felt cheated if it had ended any other way.

YA: I liked the intracicy of the story, and how it all slowly pieced together.

FS: Yes. The script is pretty intricate but there are no loose ends. It’s a very skillfully realised film.

FS: I suppose after all this praise I should ask you if there is anything, Faye Dunaway aside, that you didn’t like.

YA: It’s difficult. A lot of the characters are forgetful.

FS: You mean there was three major players, so everyone else kind of fades next to them?

YA: Two. I don’t think Noah Cross (Huston) is as much a major player as the Dunaway and Nicholson until the end.

FS: You do remember him, though.

YA: True say.

FS: It’s time for you to sum it all up and rate it, please.

YA: The picture was well put together. It was gritty and had a good setting which felt real. It had a noir-ish ambience to it. Dunaway’s wooden exterior was too rigid. I know that she was putting up a barrier but it wasn’t realistic. When she had a meltdown she frustrated me even more.

FS: Thank God for Jack!

YA: Jack. He’s simply sublime, isn’t he? I liked how you could see him piecing shit together like you were experiencing his realisations when he started figuring out the puzzle. That’s what makes it a great movie.

FS: “Great”. I like that word.

YA: It gets 8/10. A very high eight.

FS: That’s good. It’s going in the right direction. Damn you Faye Dunaway!

Next Week: Film Club goes beyond the grave to review ‘Meet Joe Black’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’.


8 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Six, Part Two – ‘Chinatown’ (1974)

    manonmona said:
    March 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Espacio de MANON.

    […] Chinatown […]

    […] Well, you know last week when we were discussing Faye Dunaway in ‘Chinatown‘? I said I hate over-the-top melodrama. Swanson plays it really […]

    […] It was dark and gritty, more like ‘Chinatown‘ than ‘Sunset Boulevard‘. Some of it was slightly exaggerated but it […]

    […] In the last few weeks, Yasser, you have watched movies directed by some of the greats such as Polanski, Welles and Wilder. This week it’s Ingmar Bergman and the film that brought him to […]

    […] I get the feeling I’m going to come out of this looking like a massive pervert. ‘Chinatown‘ – incest and rape; ‘Touch of Evil‘ – rape; ‘Back to the […]

    […] Like ‘Chinatown‘, the period setting and detail is great. Ironically the music is the one period thing they […]

    […] era, it’s political. The only other choices this would sit well with would be ‘Chinatown‘ and ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors‘. The feel of the film is somewhat like […]

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