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Chinatown

Roman Polanski’s brilliant 1930s-set thriller is American cinema at its finest. Private detective Jake Gittes is hired to follow a local official who then turns up dead. Implicated in the murder and keen to clear his name, Gittes uncovers a wider conspiracy that reaches the very top of Los Angeles’ wealthy establishment. Near-perfect in execution, Polanski’s masterful direction and Robert Towne’s script are complemented by John Alonzo’s cinematography and riveting performances.

Chosen for My Noir by

Michael Symmons Roberts, poet:

“I chose Chinatown because it is one of the best screenplays ever written. There are many other reasons why it works so powerfully as a film – the seedy beauty of its portrayal of 1930’s Los Angeles, the quality of the performances (particularly Jack Nicholson as JJ Gittes), the cinematography, the use of music. But you can find these in plenty of other fine movies. What makes this one exceptional is (okay, as a poet, I may be biased…) the sheer poetic genius of Robert Towne’s screenwriting, the way it develops the central metaphor of water and thirst and drowning, and of course the metaphor of Chinatown itself, plus the pitch-perfect dialogue. It’s a film I always watch with the subtitles on, to see the writing as well as hear it.”

and

Mike Barnett,Communications and Media Manager at The Library Theatre Company:

“Jack Nicholson as a 1937 private detective, anyone? No, me neither, but as JJ Gittes in Roman Polanski’s peerless Chinatown, Nicholson was surely never better.

Assigned to keep an eye on the architect of Los Angeles’ water supply, who may – or may not – be playing away from home, Nicholson finds himself drawn into a world far murkier and much more dangerous than he is comfortable with. The key scene – everyone nose what it is – is still memorable, all these years on. But the real star of the film is John A Alonzo’s cinematography. Drought-plagued and sun-kissed LA was never so seductive.”