Chinatown is one of the golden apples of 70s cinema. Sam Wasson has written an interesting, if sometimes overly detailed history on the making of the movie. Wasson brings you into the minds of the creators and participants: Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski, John Alonzo, Jack Nicholson, and Faye Dunaway. It’s also an intimate portrayal of Los Angeles and the Hollywood of the 1970s. Like the movie, it’s convoluted at times. But the story is fascinating. It took Towne years to write the screenplay and he didn’t want to give up control. But filmmaking is a collaborative art, and the director, especially a director of Polanski’s caliber, has the final say. Wasson writes that the film’s ending is more Polanski’s doing than Towne.
The Big Goodbye is more than about Chinatown. It’s about the end of a golden era in films. Soon movies like Chinatown, The Conversation, Marathon Man, The Godfather, and Network would give way to mindless blockbusters. There was more money to be made with trashy, splashy lightweight entertainment, lots more money, and after all, that’s what the business is about. Making money and box office trends, not art.