Yesterday I found out about an intriguing new movie, “Recipe For Murder,” and I look forward to speaking with writer/director Sonia Bible. It was news to me that in the early 1950’s, Sydney was a city in the grip of a deadly crime wave. In just over a year, more than 100 people were poisoned; most of the killers were women. “Recipe For Murder” tells the true story of three notorious perpetrators: Yvonne Fletcher, Caroline Grills and Veronica Monty.
The 52-minute film combines gritty archive footage, film-noir re-enactments, interviews with witnesses and a score from “Animal Kingdom” composer Antony Partos. Last month, “Recipe For Murder” won a Silver Hugo award (documentary category, history/biography) in the Chicago film fest’s 2011 Hugo Television Competition.
B&W Boudoir: In the June issue of Elle, Rachel McAdams and the magazine’s creative director Joe Zee reinterpret Catherine Deneuve’s look in “Repulsion,” from 1965, by Roman Polanski. “Noir, Now” also features boudoir dressing suggestions, edited by Kyle Anderson. McAdams nails the film-noir vibe and it’s an excellent issue overall, particularly Cintra Wilson’s piece on how learning flamenco changed her life.
In Cannesclusion: Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes film fest, which ended Sunday. Kirsten Dunst snared best female actor for her role in “Melancholia” by Lars Von Trier. Harvey Weinstein calls this the best Cannes in 25 years. Read Peter Bradshaw’s wrapup in The Guardian at https://bit.ly/iZXTeV.
There’s much for noir aficionados to see this month at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Highlights at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood include:
That Special Something: A Tribute to Great Screen Icons, spotlighting “film actors [who] transcend the realm of mere celebrity, reaching a more profound level of cultural significance.” The series honors Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, John Wayne, James Dean, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Elvis.
Film noir entries include: “In a Lonely Place,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Egyptian as well as Hitchcock gems “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder” starting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Egyptian. The Screen Icons series runs Jan. 5-29.
“Chinatown” and “The Tenant” will show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, at the Egyptian as part of Traumatic Rendition: A Roman Polanski Retrospective.
William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.,” will run at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Aero. This double-bill is part of Strangle-Hold: The Gripping Films of William Friedkin.
This is just scratching the surface, so be sure to check complete schedule. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.
Meanwhile, I just booked my ticket to attend the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City 9 in San Francisco, Jan. 21-30 at the Castro Theatre. Looking forward to the excellent lineup of films!
A nervous femme fatale with a slight stutter. A stocky PI with a hot temper and a bandage plastered on his face.
Perhaps not the most promising characters at first glance; in fact they are among noir’s finest. Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson deliver knockout performances in 1974’s “Chinatown,” a neo-noir that ranks as one of the greatest films ever made. Certainly, it’s among the top 10 movies of the 1970s.
With an Oscar-winning screenplay by Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, and produced by Robert Evans, “Chinatown” clearly has roots in classic noir, but also reinvents and subverts the tradition. The movie’s intelligence, artistry and uniquely dark vision elevate it beyond a simple homage.
Set in 1937 Los Angeles, “Chinatown” tells a story of corruption both personal and public. Nicholson stars as J.J. ‘Jake’ Gittes, a cynical ex-cop turned private investigator with a penchant for shiny, cream-colored suits, matching hats and spats, and a tendency to fly off the handle. One day, Gittes gets a visit from a black-clad blonde (Diane Ladd) who claims that her husband Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) of the water and power company is cheating. She wants Gittes to provide proof, despite his urging that she let sleeping dogs lie.
But it comes to light that the real Mrs. Evelyn Cross Mulwray (Dunaway) is the daughter of multimillionaire Noah Cross (John Huston). And she wants Gittes off the case – or she’ll sue. But when Mulwray’s body is found in an empty water reservoir, Evelyn wants Gittes back on her side. Once there, Gittes uncovers lots of facts that don’t add up – for instance, in the middle of a drought, water is being dumped. At the core of the mystery is a struggle for control of LA’s water supply.
There’s lots of money to be made and power to be gained if you can dry out vast patches of land, then buy them on the cheap. (The California water wars, a fight that started in 1898 over water rights between LA and other areas, including the Owens Valley, influenced Towne’s story.)
Gittes has his work cut out for him. The cops, led by Lieutenant Escobar (Perry Lopez), give him grief. Russ Yelburton (John Hillerman) and Claude Mulvihill (Roy Jenson) of the LA Water and Power Company don’t like him. A menacing man with knife (a cameo by Polanski) warns him not to be so nosy – and just to drive home the point, he slices off a bit of Gittes’ schnoz.
Once he’s cracked the case, though, Gittes can’t play the hero to the dishonesty, greed and perversion that surround him. The evil continues, unchecked. “As savior and restorer of a moral order, [Gittes is] a complete washout, a genre first,” writes Foster Hirsch in “Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir.”
So why is this a great work of art? First, it looks so striking—vintage LA, poised to become a big city—and Polanski’s voyeuristic camerawork (from the viewpoint of a standing onlooker) lends dark sophistication. The bleak themes of betrayal and corruption give the film enormous power.
Then there’s Jerry Goldsmith’s score and of course Towne’s smart, sexy and funny dialogue. In an interview for the 1999 DVD re-release, Towne explains that he wrote the part with Nicholson in mind and was inspired by the actor’s temperament, manner and the way he uses language.
And despite the fact that Gittes’ character has roots in earlier screen detectives, such as Philip Marlowe, Towne says, “I tried to draw characters from life, not from film.”
Some of my favorite Gittes’ lines:
“I goddamn near lost my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it.”
“He passed away two weeks ago and one week ago he bought the land. That’s unusual.”
“You’re dumber than you think I think you are.”
Huston, avuncular and charming, and Dunaway, delicate, otherworldly and aloof, turn in resonant, affecting performances. (Ali MacGraw and Jane Fonda were also considered for the part of Evelyn.) Polanski recalls on the DVD interview that between every take Dunaway touched up her makeup. Her thin eyebrows and Cupid’s bow mouth was a ’30s look he helped Dunaway create; it was inspired by memories of his mother.
Though alluring, glamorous and dressed to a T, Evelyn Cross Mulwray is not a femme fatale. As Towne says in the interview, Evelyn sets up the expectation of being a black widow, but she is the heroine of the movie, the one person in the film who is operating out of decent and selfless motives. More
Few films rank as one of the best of their decade but that’s the case with “Chinatown,” a neo noir, set in 1937 California. Of the many things there are to admire, No.1 on my list is Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of private eye Jack Gittes. Secrecy and sex, profit and power, specifically control of the LA area’s water supply, are pieces of a potentially deadly puzzle that lands in his lap.
Also on the admiration list: performances from Faye Dunaway and John Huston, razor-sharp writing from Robert Towne, the mood of cool menace, and Roman Polanski’s directorial flair.