Chinatown (1974)

After immediately watching Chinatown (Polanski, 1974),  I was wondering how was this film considered “New Hollywood” because it did not seem that way to me.  It looked like a normal studio noir.  But after comparing the characteristics of “American New Wave” and Chinatown, I can sort of see why it is considered a New Hollywood film.

Sex in American films before this movement was not really as expressive as it is in the 1970’s.  In Chinatown the first images that are shown after the opening credits are pictures of a man and woman having sex in the grass.  Then later on in the film, Evelyn Mulwray’s breast are shown as she gets out of bed after having sex with J.J. Gittes.  But what stands out most in this film about sex is the topic of incest.  Evelyn revealed to J.J. that she was raped by her father and had a child with him.  In today’s society, we hear more and more about incest victims in the media but it is still a topic that is unfavorable to talk about in the open so to have it in a film must have been a big deal in the early 1970’s.  I never saw any classic Hollywood films talk about this subject.

To make scenes seem more realistic, location shooting was common in this time which Chinatown had plenty of.  Aside from Gittes office, most scenes took place in the Mulwray mansion’s backyard, reservoirs, and other miscellaneous places.  The last scene was the only one that took place in Chinatown.  One reason I believed this to be a studio film at first was because of the indoor scenes.  The lighting was almost perfect which just didn’t look “realistic” to me.   I thought New Hollywood type films were suppose to have a natural feel but I guess not all have to . The last scene made it obvious it was on location because to fake Chinatown would have most likely been really expensive so it would be smart to just film in the area.

Lastly, New Hollywood films usually had an anti-authority theme.  Noah Cross is the rich bad guy of the film.  He has control of people in The Department of Water and Power and the police.  He raped his daughter in the past and now killed her husband.   The police are shown in a bad light too because they are suppose to be Gittes friends but later on turn against him and act like they don’t believe him when he tries to tell them about Cross.

All in all, I personally still don’t see Chinatown much as a New Hollywood film because of the strong classic Hollywood noir theme but  I guess once looking past that, it fits perfectly within that genre.

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3 Responses to Chinatown (1974)

  1. Juan Monroy says:

    Excellent analysis. You’re right that it doesn’t totally depart from the Hollywood convention, but the overtly sexualized content (even incest) certainly make it a different kind of film. Also, it was a film about a very Hollywood genre, but just not the way Hollywood was used to making it.

  2. Juan Monroy says:

    What sources did you use?

  3. cjenkins says:

    I didnt use any sources except watching the movie and our class notes. Did I have to site them? If so, sorry and I will do so next time.

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