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44. Chinatown (#127)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Phil Bagnell, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.

When a seemingly routine investigation into spousal infidelity evolves into a political scandal, private investigator J.J. Gittes finds himself navigating the dark underworld of thirties Los Angeles. Sinister conspiracies, local politics, private ownership of public utilities. As Gittes digs deeper and deeper, he uncovers the rotten foundations upon which the city was built.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 127th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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The Death of the Author: The Impact of Off-Screen Behaviour on On-Screen Antics…

The rather convolutedly-titled Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho will be arriving soon, the director’s Vertigo was recently named by Sight & Sound as the best film of all time and the British Film Institute is running a season of the director’s films. (There’s even a nice blu ray box set being released in October.) However, this focus on Alfred Hitchcock has, naturally, brought some focus on to the less pleasant aspects of his character. October, for example, will also see HBO airing The Girl, a documentary exploring his relationship with Tippi Hedren. She has some choice words on his character.

“I think he was an extremely sad character,” she said during a panel discussion of HBO’s upcoming The Girl, which recounts her troubled relationship with the director. “We are dealing with a brain here that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting.”

Of course, such accusations and allegations are by no means new, but it does raise an interesting question about those masters of cinema. Even for those of us who resist the supermarket tabloid gossip about engagements and break-ups and cute-sounding-couple-nicknames, is it ever possible to divorce filmmaking from the person either in front or behind the camera?

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Non-Review Review: Act of Valour

Act of Valour is an interesting little experiment that almost undermines its own central premise. Using real-life Navy SEALs to portray fictional Navy SEALs, one might imagine that the directors were opting for a naturalistic approach to the somewhat conventional action film. On paper, it seems like an attempt to construct a film drawing on the raw experiences of people who have lived through events similar to those depicted on screen, and to harness that personality in a way that connects with the audience more faithfully than an actor giving a performance could. Unfortunately, the movie winds up feeling horribly staged, with the cast given naturalistic dialogue that sound painfully rehearsed, a blaring soundtrack and an impersonal approach to the action sequences. While it might have the right stuff at its core, the surface of the movie is almost impenetrable.

Not quite a blast...

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Non-Review Review: Carnage

Carnage is pretty much an excuse to watch four very skilled actors ripping chunks out of one another. What’s not to like?

This means Warhol!

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Thinking Outside the Box: When Does Reality Subtext Overwrite Fiction?

It happens every so often, to the extent that I’m actually quite used to it. I’ll be either listening to Michael Jackson on my headphones, or mention in passing a bit of trivia, or name the musician as one of the most impressive of all time. And, undoubtedly, there will always be someone who will retort with, “Yeah, but he was a pedophile.” And that will be that – pretty much everything that Jackson has accomplished will be a moot point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing one way or a nother, I just feel a little bit curious as to where the line between what happened in real life can prevent or undermine an artist’s work.

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Non-Review Review: The Two Jakes

I’m going to be completely honest here, and possibly ruin my reputation as a film boffin. Until I held the DVD of The Two Jakes in my hands about ten years ago, I didn’t even know there was a sequel to Chinatown. The belated sequel languished in development hell after real life intervened – there was no way that Polanski could direct a sequel to perhaps his most famous film (at least not in Los Angeles, where it was set) and the movie that followed became caught in a tug of war between actor Jack Nicholson and writer Robert Towne, both of whom wanted a shot at directing. Nicholson won, but one can’t help but get the feeling in watching the film that the movie might have been better served with a stronger and more impartial director.

Will the bad guy get his just deserts this time around?

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Non-Review Review: Chinatown

“You may think you know what’s you’re dealing with,” a character warns private detective Jack Gittes at one point during Chinatown“but, believe me, you don’t.” Later on, Gittes confesses to his lover that, when he was a police officer working in Chinatown, his beat consisted of doing “as little as possible”, an anecdote that screenwriter Robert Towne reportedly heard from an officer who had actually served in Chinatown – rather than an officer involving himself in some sort of event that he couldn’t possibly comprehend, the police would actively disengage themselves from the community. That’s the core of the corruption at the heart of Polanski’s film – how little anyone actually knows about what is really happening, and how it’s easy to ignore these things rather than attempting to deal with them.

A nosey detective...

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