Chinatown was made, says Roman Polanski onone of the extras here, in an “atmosphere of joy”.Producer Bob Evans “was terrific”. Come again? Jack Nicholson claims he learned a lot from Polanski... Say what? Faye Dunaway had issues with the diminutive director but, Jack shrugs, “It just seemed like regular stuff”. Eh? Don’t expect dirt-dishing from the short but beautifully formed extras on this solid-but-unspectacular disc. The three 10 to 20-minute docs glow with nostalgia. A grinning Nicholson, a sanguine Polanski, a smooth Evans and a softly spoken Robert Towne, genius writer, all speak well of each other. Dunaway is absent but praised to the hilt.
Good vibes? Perhaps they’d all re-watched Chinatown. Structural perfection, A-team alchemy: any on-set fall-outs clearly contributed to a greater good. Between the tight-toned vernacular and plotting of Towne’s deceptively layered script, Polanski’s economic direction and his last-minute rewrite of the conclusion, everything clicks into place with the bleak certainty of grand tragedy.
Employed by Mrs Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to watch her philandering husband, Hollis, chief engineer of water and power, gumshoe JJ ‘Jake’ Gittes (Nicholson) dishes the dirt. Then the real Mrs Mulwray (Dunaway) arrives… Jake’s snooping leads him to Mulwray’s corpse, drowned in a storm drain. Nose torn by a small man (Polanski) with a nasty knife, Gittes still sniffs out a conspiratorial drip-feed of stolen water, murder, adultery and a man with nothing left to buy because he has it all – except “the future”.
Gittes is a tragic hero: tormented, alone and fated to repeat the left-ambiguous mistake he made in Chinatown when he was a cop. “You never learn, do you, Jake?” he’s told early on. Alarm bells, anyone? You can see why Polanski changed Towne’s happier ending: grim as it is, the fit is perfect. You can see, too, why Towne now declares himself “very glad” that Polanski prevailed. Their initial fall-out over it was one of many reported off-screen kerfuffles. But the result is magnificent: no matter what took place behind the scenes, it’s forgotten in the dazzling darkness of Polanski’s masterpiece.