Chinatown ★★★★★

Film noir knows the world is messed up, and it revels in proving to us that, no matter how pessimistic we might think we are, it is truly more messed up than we can imagine. This dark cinema ensnares the audience and subjects us to an elaborate explanation of the folly of our naive ways. It not only pulverizes the bubbly facade of the world that we trust, but makes the destruction sensual, a striptease during which we can't even fathom what we're waiting for, except that it won't be good. When the final layer is finally torn away, we are left raw, shaken to the core, yet entranced by the seductively heinous vision before us.

Chinatown is film noir colored in. Besides adding the obvious Technicolor where there had once been only white and black, the 1970s zeitgeist does not resuscitate the genre so much as it possesses it. Roman Polanski and Robert Towne's 1974 piece absorbs all the grimy crime, paranoia, and disillusionment of the time and uses film noir as an elegant vehicle with which to harness and convey the resulting sentiments. Noir might have been sadistic before, but it had never been allowed to stretch out and disturb this explicitly and meaningfully.


In Chinatown, Jerry Goldsmith's score puts the disposition of the genre into pristine, shimmering focus:

A stringed fog descends, a dark aroma is drawn into our unwitting nostrils. Something is wrong. Where are we? Again the gaseous intrigue is released. Surely this isn't home?

From the recess, a lone, arid trumpet cry. The world, the one we thought we knew, erupts into molten ribbons. Piano cascades, gorgeous cinders waft from the body of the explosion, through the wind, to the surface.

We, stationary, observe this slow motion obliteration crackle brilliantly, madly, until black. Maybe now we understand. Nope.

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