PERFORMING ARTS

The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood

Flatiron: Macmillan. Feb. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9781250301826. $28.99. FILM
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Inimitable Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.) examines the development of the iconic film Chinatown (1974), beginning with the months leading up to the murder of director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969. Robert Towne began writing a neo-noir screenplay about political corruption and a disturbing family dynamic that echoed the disarray in Washington, DC, and the pall cast over Hollywood after the Manson family killings. Robert Evans was already a successful producer, yet he was dedicated to his vision for Chinatown, his first independently produced film. Jack Nicholson, Towne’s longtime friend, was coming into his own; Towne crafted the main character around the actor’s talents. Each of these men brought distinct strengths to the project. Wasson nimbly guides us through their battles over the story and the score, and the infamous clashes between Polanski and the brilliant lead, Faye Dunaway. Wasson argues convincingly that Chinatown was one of the last great Hollywood films; in the years following its release, the industry shifted from a dream factory realizing ambitious visions to a corporate machine churning out blockbusters.
VERDICT On par with Wasson’s exceptional Fosse, this portrait of a neonoir classic will weave a spell over cinephiles.

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