Thursday, July 03, 2008


i suspect this is one of the finest films ever made. in a way it works like a well-constructed sonnet; the body of the film like a series of coolly uncovered revelations; the ending punchline - 'it's chinatown' - like a severed rhyming couplet that functions to wearily justify what has gone before. nicholson's final loaded facial expression, staring into the car where dunaway has just been shot, mixes acceptance, fatigue, anger. anger because he's lost another potential kindred spirit to the perils of the chinatown miasma, acceptance because he's also looking at what cross (john huston) has claimed as his own - the future. huston gropes the writhing daughter away from the car; his enormous hands smother discordant and horrible screams; he is back in control of secrets. it struck me watching the film again recently that the last words heard here are actually not 'it's chinatown', but the bellowed orders of a cop ordering bystanders to 'stand back' and to 'get off the street' as the police sirens arrive. it's the staple of so many action films to end in the glow of sirens & blue/red police lights; they signify that atypical narrative chaos is over & that the authorities are here both to recognise the discord in their own terms & to reclaim control. as he does throughout the film, polanksi toys with genre by introducing the screaming police sirens here. in this context the cops do the inverse of comforting the spectator - rather they ensure that the site of cross's reclamation is undisturbed by onlookers or people who might obstruct the inevitable advancement of rich men - "get off the street!". as dunaway wails moments before she is killed: "he (cross) owns the police!".
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