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Director: Roman Polanski

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2 Director: Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski was born in Paris but his parents returned to their native Poland from France just two years before World War II began: both were taken later to concentration camps where his mother eventually died. Young Roman managed to escape the ghetto and learned to survive wandering through the Polish countryside and living with different Catholic families. His escape was watching films. He began as an actor and went on to make films in Poland. He gained world-wide critical acclaim with Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966), both made in England. He went to Hollywood and made the psychological thriller Rosemary's Baby (1968)—23-year-old Mia Farrow’s break-out role, though her husband Frank Sinatra personally served her with divorce papers in front of everyone on the set after he ordered her to quit Polanski’s film to work on his and she refused. After he finished the film, Polanski married 25-year-old actress Sharon Tate. They were due to have a baby when tragedy struck. Mia Farrow, Mrs. Frank Sinatra, 1967. Polanski and Tate.

3 Polanski and Manson Charles Manson—a hippie, would-be musician with a “family” of mostly young female followers—met Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys in LA. Dennis introduced Manson to his recording friends including Beach Boys’ writer/producer Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son). Manson—obsessed with the newly released Beatles’ “White Album”—expected Melcher to record his songs. When Melcher failed to show at Manson’s “ranch” in LA, Manson sought revenge by showing up at the house of Melcher and his then-girlfriend Candice Bergen. But Melcher and Bergen had moved out and the house was now being rented by Polanski and his pregnant wife Sharon. Manson and his followers were convicted of murdering Sharon and her 8-month-old unborn child as well as four others including coffee heiress Abigail Folger, hairdresser Jay Sebring, and Folger’s boyfriend, writer Voytek Frykowski. Polanski who was away on business, was an initial suspect in the killings. After Manson was arrested, Polanski fled Hollywood. But he returned five years later to make Chinatown (1974). Its critical and commercial success heralded a promising career. Yet it was his last film made on-location in the United States. Charles Manson’s mugshot. Dennis Wilson’s 1977 solo album. Terry Melcher’s 1974 solo album.

4 Polanski and Geimer In year-old Polanski was indicted for the drugging and statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl (later identified as Samantha Geimer) while at the home of Jack Nicholson, who was not there at the time. To this day Geimer maintains that he raped her. Polanski claims that the girl’s mother was attempting a casting-couch, blackmail scheme against him. Polanski plea-bargained but again fled to Europe, this time as a fugitive. He hoped a French judge would throw out his plea bargain but the judge did not. However, because France has no extradition agreement for their citizens with the U.S., Polanski cannot be reached by U.S. authorities. Therefore, as long as Polanski stays in France or travels only to other countries with no U.S. extradition policy, such as Poland where he also holds citizenship in addition to France, he will never have to spend time in jail. Samantha Geimer, age 13 (above), today (below).

5 Polanski in “Exile” Polanski’s post-Chinatown work has been erratic but peppered with gems. Auteurism: audience as voyeur for the protagonist’s journey through a harsh, brutal, and ugly world. He made Tess in 1979 and Frantic in 1988 with Harrison Ford and a young actress Emmanuelle Seigner, who had gained fame 8 years earlier as a top fashion model—at age 14. In 1998, he made The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp and Seigner—the latter seemingly reprising a version of her role from Frantic. Having been nominated a number of times before, Polanski finally won an academy award for The Pianist (2001) starring Adrian Brody—of course Polanski was not in Hollywood to accept his Oscar.

6 Polanski and Seigner In 1989, after Frantic’s release, 55-year-old Polanski and 23-year-old Seigner married. They have two children.

7 The Setting: Water, Power, and Angels
Los Angeles Population: 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 11,200 50,400 102,500 319,200 576,700 1,238,000 Chinatown is the story of the politics of Los Angeles—how does one create a great city of 4 million people out of a barren desert where “nobody” but a few thousand native people and the Spanish lived at the time of the Civil War? LA’s history is about water and the men who profited from and controlled it. First, if the city was to grow, water had to be diverted from far away mountains and waterways to the north and east: northern California, the Colorado River, and the Sierra Nevada mountains in Owens Valley near the Nevada border. Second, it had to be allocated among farmers and ranchers (many living in the San Fernando Valley just north of the city beyond the hills) and the growing urban population of voters and taxpayers. Problem was, Los Angelenos were still making due with the water from intermittent rains and the LA river. So how are powerful public and private entities going to increase their power when the people of LA prefer the status quo? Chinatown tells the true story of how powerful men in business, politics, and the press, conspired to grow the city and in turn their political and financial power not by expending their own financial and political capital, but instead by duping the people and of LA. The powerful first purchased cheap land outside the city. Then they conspired to divert and dump water to create artificial drought conditions. This in turn led voters to approve $22.5 million worth of bonds to build an aqueduct from the Owens River to pump water to the city and to the areas like the Valley where all the cheap land had been purchased. With excess water in a growing desert southland, LA could force the annexation of outlying areas such as the San Fernando Valley, which became America’s first classic “suburb.”


9 The Setting: Water, Power, and Devils

10 Post-WWII Law Noir and the Morally Ambiguous Protagonist
Attractive, yet dangerous, protagonist challenges the law and the power structures but is ultimately contained by them. How so? How does this compare with classic pre-WWII war law noir of the 1930s and early 1940s? Pre-war, law-noir private detectives always best their formal law-enforcement counterparts. Here, it’s the formal power structures of wealth and title that win out.

11 J.J. “Jake” Gittes Post-WWII, law-noir morally ambiguous protagonist.
Jake was once part of the formal law enforcement hierarchy but his failure to save a woman when he was a cop in Chinatown, led to his disillusionment, his departure from the force, and his new career as a private detective specializing in the lucrative, yet seedy, growth-industry of extra-marital affairs and divorce cases. He justifies this choice as “helping people in trouble” while also allowing him a fine no-pressure life. His short-tempered, smart-ass personae allows him room to maneuver by being smart and witty when he can (such as with Hollis Mulwray’s secretary or the police officer guarding the crime scene) but tough when he has to be (as in the Barber shop with the “bum” banker or with Evelyn Mulwray’s Chinese butler). Jake tells Evelyn that he used to work in Chinatown. His experience there allows him to push past Evelyn’s butler Kahn by saying, “Chow hoy kye dye! (Fuck off, punk!)” Jake’s Los Angeleno-anglo racism against Asians is displayed by the off-color joke and repeated use of the derogatory term “Chinaman” He says to Lieutenant Lou Escobar: “You still puttin' Chinamen in jail for spittin' in the laundry?” Albacore, fishing, water… all surround Jake and can help him solve the case. Yet he doesn’t see the signs. Gittes’ repeated blind misinterpretions, misunderstandings, missteps in trying to solve the case are highlighted by the irony that it is a pair of glasses that hold the key to the mystery. He is like Hollis Mulwray, in this sense—ultimately a do-gooder, bleeding heat liberal whose intelligence, sincerity, and ultimate naivety undercuts his liberal project.

12 Evelyn Mulwray How would you describe Faye Dunaway’s character? What do we know about her? She is clam and cool early in the film when she shows up in Jake’s office with her attorney to sue him for spying on her husband after the photographs he took are published in the paper: “I don't get tough with anyone, Mr. Gittes. My lawyer does.” She is powerful and in control as a sweaty, bareback horsewoman with a riding crop – and she drops her defamation suit against him. Later, we find out she was having an affair and continually lies to the police and everyone else to cover up her secrets. When Jake confronts her with the truth that her father is Noah Cross, she is visibly nervous and lights two cigarettes at once. Soon she falls in love with Jake rescues him twice and has sex with him. She is on the floor, crying when she reveals the truth to Jake about her past. He repeatedly hits her in his attempt to get her to tell the truth. She brandishes a gun at the end of the film and is seemingly crazed in her desire to protect the girl. Is she a classic noir “femme fatale” tossed into chaos? While children and families are largely absent from film noir, Chinatown turns this absence on its head by making it the Maguffin. Polanski initially considered Anjelica Huston for the role of Evelyn, which would have added a real-life incestuous twist to the already on-screen incest practices by her father John Huston’s character Noah Cross. Like the police, attorneys are pawns of the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful do as they please as the rule of law does not apply to them.

13 The Women of Chinatown Other than Evelyn Mulwray, how are other women portrayed in the picture? In the film’s opening we learn that Curly’s wife is having an affair and is no good. Jake offers him a drink. Later we see that Curly has beat her as she has a black eye. Ida Sessions (played by Dianne Ladd) poses as Evelyn Mulwray at the film’s opening. She has been hired to discredit Hollis Mulwray by enlisting Jake to get incriminating evidence of Hollis’ apparent affair with a young girl. When Jake suggests that his services are expensive, she gives a proxy reply for her rich and powerful employer: "Money doesn't matter to me, Mr. Gittes.“ Sophie, Jake’s secretary is ordered out of the room when Jake is going to tell his racist joke: “Go to the little girl's room for a minute.” Katherine, the girl, is apparently having an affair with Hollis Mulwray, her picture is splashed on the front page of the paper. Jake describes her to Evelyn: “that little girlfriend—she was pretty in a cheap sort of a way, of course.” Ultimately we find out much more. Elizabeth Harding as Curly’s Wife Diane Ladd as Ida Sessions Nandu Hinds as Sophie

14 Hollis Mulwray - loosely derived from LA's water engineer William Mulholland, who orchestrated the purchase of water rights and the piping of water from the High Sierras into Los Angeles by an aqueduct that flowed through the now-valuable San Fernando Valley north of LA. In the picture he is wary of building a second project because his first dam burst a caused massive loss of life and property. He represents the New Deal reformist agenda of former laissez-faire capitalists who have newly decided to use government to benefit the people. But because he has apparently turned on his former partners in business and politics he ultimately pays the price with his life. Noah Cross – a composite of wealthy Los Angelenos who is both at once seemingly messianic in his martyrdom to help the people of the southland (by seemingly solving their trumped-up drought “problem”) yet at the same time is above the law and operates outside formal structures in order to benefit himself. When Hollis breaks with Cross over both the women and the water/real estate scam, Cross seeks revenge and consolidation of both his familial/sexual and business/political power. He deliberately puts down Jake by repeatedly mispronouncing his name and tells Jake: “You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don’t.” Jake brushes aside Cross’s warnings by responding: “It's what the district attorney used to tell me in Chinatown.” Gittes: How much are you worth? Cross: I've no idea. How much do you want? Gittes: I just want to know what you're worth. Over ten million? Cross: Oh my, yes! Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can't already afford? Cross: The future, Mr. Gits - the future! The Powerful

15 Law and Economic Status
How does the film portray differences in class/economic status and its effects on/in the legal world? Evelyn on her father: “He owns the police.” How does John Huston’s character compare with General Sternwood and the Big Lebowski? On the set, (L-R) Jack Nicholson, John Huston, and Roman Polanski.

16 The Weak: Los Angelenos
What does Burt Young’s character “Curly” represent? His blind allegiance to private eye Jake Gittes—who himself cannot thwart the powerful—demonstrates the sheep-like mentality and easily-manipulated behavior of the working-class masses of the southland, who ultimately hand the rich and powerful exactly what they want in terms of water, real estate, oil, transportation, and entertainment riches. Even Jake Gittes pays more attention to the Daily Racing Form than the mayor’s speech about public bonds for a water project.

17 Law Noir’s Vice: Realism
How are substance abuse, violence, sex, lust, greed, dishonesty, etc. portrayed in Chinatown? The repeal of the Production Code six years prior allowed new filmmakers, such as Polanski, to explore taboo themes in a more explicit way than was previously possible. Once again we see a variation on the classic theme of an incestuous father-daughter relationship between Noah Cross and Evelyn Mulwray—which Polanski not only makes explicit, but bases his entire film around. Polanski made the choice of shooting a film set in the 1930s with a 1970s camera, so that the audience could see 1930s-era noir through a modern, realistic eye.

18 The Villains Who are the villains of Chinatown?
Roy Jenson as thug Claude Mulvihill. Director Roman Polanski as the thug who calls Jake a “kitty cat” and punishes him for being nosey. Who are the villains of Chinatown? Claude Mulvihill (Roy Jenson) – a corrupt former law enforcement official during Prohibition, Mulvihill now works as the chief enforcer for the water and power company. Jake taunts him in front of Deputy Water Chief Russ Yelburton: “When Mulvihill here was Sheriff of Ventura County, the rum-runners landed hundreds of tons of booze on the beach and never lost a drop. He ought to be able to hold onto your water for ya.” Jake gets punched by Mulvihill and his nosey nose cut by Polanski for prowling around the Oak Park Reservoir: “You're a very nosy fellow, kitty-cat, huh? You know what happens to nosy fellows? Huh, no? Want to guess? Huh, no? OK. They lose their noses. Next time you lose the whole thing. I cut if off and feed it to my goldfish. Understand? Understand!?”

19 The LAPD How is official law enforcement portrayed?
Jake easily dupes the uniformed cop guarding the Oak Pass Reservoir by passing a stolen business card. What is Jake’s relationship to law enforcement? He is competing with police lieutenant Lou Escobar to find out who murdered water mogul Hollis Mulwray. This is a continuation of their rivalry dating back to their days as partners in Chinatown. Both have made it out of Chinatown with Jake’s fine suits suggesting material success while Lou’s title suggests political success. Though Jake is not supposed to be there and not supposed to be smoking, Lou makes an exception for his old partner: “I'll see that he's careful with the matches and doesn't burn himself.”

20 Law Enforcement Lieutenant Escobar deems Hollis Mulwray’s death an accidental drowning. We wonder whether he is incompetent or whether his is extremely smart and knows better than to look into this. Later, we learn it is the latter when Jake says that Escobar “wants to hang onto his little gold bar.” Later, Jake appears to be in control of the investigation by inquiring with the coroner about the drunk who drowned and questioning acting head of the water department Russ Yelburton: “I don't want to nail you. I want to find out who put you up to it. I'll give you a few days to think about it. Call me - I can help. Who knows? Maybe we can put the whole thing off on a few big-shots and, uh, you can stay the head of the department for the next twenty years.” Jake tries to convince the police that Hollis Mulwray was murdered, but not by his wife Evelyn. They are reluctant to believe him and he cannot push too hard because he doesn’t want to lose his private detective license. Escobar’s new partner Loach and his ex-partner Jake have a jealous, almost gay, relationship—each trying to impress Escobar. Loach taunts Jake: “What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slam a bedroom window on it?” Gittes: “Nope, your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?” Loach ends up handcuffed to Jake in the end and fires the fatal shots. Yet it is Jake who is responsible for a woman being killed (again) and a murderer going free. Jake replicates his earlier mistake as a cop by getting emotionally involved in people’s lives. It is the behavior of Loach and Escobar that teach us about the role of law enforcement in Chinatown, LA, America. Escobar: “Go home, Jake. I’m doing you a favor. All right. Come on, clear the area. On the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, get off the street.” Message: The best the police can do is try to stay uninvolved and out of the way (and keep ordinary citizens uninvolved and out of the way) of the powerful interests that really run things.

21 The Victims Who are the victims of Chinatown? Who gets killed? Why?
Water mogul Hollis Mulwray gets up close and personal with the stuff that made him rich. Who are the victims of Chinatown? Who gets killed? Why? Is the girl a victim? How does this compare with The Big Sleep?

22 Conclusion Post-WWII law noir is at once both similar and different from the classic pre-war law noir. The murder of his wife and unborn child and his subsequent status as a suspect in their deaths may have played a role in Polanski’s choice to change the ending of Chinatown from screenwriter Robert Towne’s original up-beat “happy ending” to the realism of death, loss, and disillusionment. What does the film’s final line—spoken by a detective—mean? “Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Chinatown is a metaphor—more state of mind than place—for the complexity, randomness, and darkness of LA, America, and life in general. Indeed, though reluctant to discuss his past, Jake admits that “you can't always tell what's goin' on” in Chinatown. In the end Cross’s conservative victory shows that “justice” and the “rule of law” is a cruel hoax that only sheep-like masses and naïve, bleeding-hear liberals like Jake Gittes subscribe to. Indeed, in the end even Burt Young’s character “Curly” realizes that if he takes the rule of law into his own hands by beating his wife for cheating will justice be served. What is the lesson of the cynical post-Watergate Chinatown for 21st century liberals bent on social change? That conservative capitalism is a cut-through landscape of realpolitik—antithetical to democracy and justice—and that only a hard-nosed, realist, yet collective liberalism can achieve results. Years later, Nicholson starred in and directed a complex sequel—The Two Jakes (1990). However, the film stumped most audiences as it required considerable knowledge of the first picture and/or historical LA politics. A third installment to complete a trilogy, named Cloverleaf (a reference to LA's freeway system and its massive interchanges - with its notorious air pollution), was shelved when The Two Jakes failed at the box-office.

23 Credits Denvir, John, “Chinatown,” Picturing Justice: The On-Line Journal of Law & Popular Culture, March, 1998. Dirk, Tim, “Chinatown (1974),”, undated. Schwab, Jason, “Water and Power: A Look at Roman Polanski’s Chinatown,” Latent Image: A Student Journal of Film Criticism, Winter 2003.

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