Sunday, April 6, 2008


On April 24th, a 35mm print of Roman Polanski’s gorgeous neo-noir classic Chinatown will be projected at the historic Fox Theatre. What more could a Tucson film fan want?

Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a cop-turned-private eye who makes a living doing “matrimonial work,” trailing philandering husbands and catching them in the act. When Gittes is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to follow her husband, he uncovers more than just a routine case of infidelity. After producing a photograph of the cheating Mr. Mulwray, Gittes gets a visit from the real Evelyn, who claims an imposter hired him in the first place. Before Gittes has a chance to sort out who’s who, Mr. Mulwray is found dead, and Gittes is sucked into the web of deceit and double-crossers that you’ll only find in the best and grittiest noir stories.

Along with other classics like Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves, Chinatown helped to reinvent the film noir style in the New Hollywood era. But, unlike these other films, Chinatown is not just an homage (or even borderline-parody) of the dormant noir movement that had disappeared for nearly 20 years. Chinatown takes the conventions of great film noir – such as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon –and updates them for the contemporary political and social anxieties of the time. Not only did the New Hollywood directors revive the film noir, they improved upon it. No small task, for sure.

In a genre known for its bleak outlook on life, Chinatown colors the movement two shades darker with graphic violence and an even gloomier atmosphere. This is partly due to newly-relaxed rules governing film content. In the 30s, 40s and 50s, Hollywood films were required to adhere to a “code” that dictated what could and could not appear in a film. At that time, there had to be a moral end to the story. Heroism must overcome villainy, leaving the crooked punished or dead. This was no longer the case in 1974, leaving the doors wide open for Gittes to succeed or fail – or fail miserably.

Gittes isn’t your typical noir hero – he’s not the cocky, keen, hardboiled detective that you may see in a Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler novel. In fact, his investigation leads to more murders than it ever solves. Gittes may not be Sam Spade, but Chinatown is unmistakably noir. Dark, dirty, and more than just a little bit sleazy, this is a film that won’t send you home with a warm fuzzy feeling (so after Chinatown, head over to La Placita for the 7:30 screening of the wonderfully cheery Wiener Takes All: A Dogumentary).

Polanski’s classic is one of the American Film Institute’s favorite films. It was honored with the 19th spot on the “AFI 100 Films…100 Years” list, #9 on “25 Best Film Scores,” #74 on 100 Best Quotes (“Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown”), #16 on 50 Greatest Villains (Noah Cross), and #16 on 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies. Chinatown won 17 major awards, including an Oscar for Robert Towne’s screenplay, a BAFTA for Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski, and the Golden Globe for Best Motion picture. Ebert named Chinatown one of the “100 Great Movies,” and Entertainment Weekly called it the 4th best movie ever made. In short, Chinatown is pretty good.

Seeing this great movie on a 35mm print is a real treat, but seeing it downtown at The Fox makes this is an event that can’t be missed – especially for out-of-towners visiting Tucson for the festival. The Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930 to a very-sold-out crowd of 3000 people. The opening was such an event that Congress Street was closed to accommodate the throngs of filmgoers as well as four live bands, dancers, and a live radio broadcast. For the next 44 years, The Fox was the heart of Tucson’s film community until it closed in 1974 due to competition from other theatres, drive-ins, and a drought in downtown housing. But The Fox managed to escape demolition, and now, with a newly-renovated interior and exterior, it’s a growing member of the Tucson film community. Playing documentaries, independent movies, and film festivals in addition to orchestra concerts, operas, and stage plays, The Fox Tucson Theatre may well be on its way to being Tucson’s entertainment hub – and events like this one are sure to help.

Even if you’ve seen this great film before, you’ve never seen it like this. So if you’re thinking about passing on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…forget it. It’s Chinatown.

(And The Fox Tucson Theatre).

Chinatown is playing on Thursday, April 24th at 4:00 p.m. at the Fox Tucson Theatre.

Visit The Fox Tucson Theatre's official site --


Mia said...

You will have a FOXy time watching Chinatown on Fox's big screen!

Anonymous said...

Talk about art imitating life! If that's not indie film, I dunno what is!