“The Big Goodbye!” My “Wednesday Bookmobile” Has The Story Of “Chinatown” and the Last Years of Hollywood!

“Forget It Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

One of cinema’s greatest lines, but what does it mean?

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown” means “you can’t change things, it’s the way things are and the way they will be, regardless of how much you tilt at windmills.”

The line is about the futility of fighting injustices and darkness in the world, as Jack Nicholson’s weary, bandaged face here shows…just one of the many classic moments from the film.

This “Wednesday Bookmobile” has the story of how “Chinatown” came to be, as a fascinating new book has the entire, compelling story!

“The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood”

This compelling true story of the creation of the 1974 film “Chinatown” is a fascinating look at the film, the people involved in it, and Hollywood’s transition from the peaceful 60’s to the dark, cynical 70’s…

Author Sam Wesson has a thorough, insightful look at how Screenwriter Robert Towne came up with the idea to tell the story of Southern California’s great water scandal – a real scandal that he turns into the fictional story of a Private Detective who once worked in LA’s Chinatown – and is now reduced to catching cheating husbands and wives in the act of infidelity!

Jack Nicholson starred as J.J. Gittes, a “down on his luck” Private Eye who gets involved in a water scandal – and also gets involved with Evelyn Murray, the Daughter of a very wealthy man – and the wife of LA’s Chief Of Water And Power.

Nicholson unravels a mystery, and in the process discovers what those words “forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown” really mean…and the book is packed with great stories about the creation of this masterpiece.

The Author begins with a fascinating look at the principals involved in the project, and how their personal stories showed a Hollywood that was making an uneasy transition from art to business:

While Director Roman Polanski is shown goofing off with Jack Nicholson here on set, his dark past with the Manson murders are put into perspective here, as those gruesome murders shocked Hollywood out of its 60’s “free love” phase and into the dark heart of the 70’s…

Jack Nicholson comes off as an Actor who loves acting, and love movies as well. The book is stuffed with great anecdotes, such as how Nicholson loved to hang out on the set even when he wasn’t filming, because he loved the atmosphere and camaraderie among the team.

His co-star, Faye Dunaway, is treated much worse in the book:

Dunaway is revealed to have been extremely difficult on set, earning nicknames from a disdainful crew.

There are riveting stories about the huge fights that erupted during filming between Director Polanski and Dunaway, who would storm off the set and demand he get fired…again, she does NOT come across well in the book – but it also is framed as perhaps the motivation to allowed her give one of her greatest performances ever…

The film is considered a masterpiece, earning 11 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director, actor and Actress…it won only for its Screenplay by Robert Towne, who also comes off very poorly in the book.

That’s legendary Hollywood Executive and the film’s Producer Robert Evans on the right – he’s treated well in the book, with wild stories of his famous parties and extravagant lifestyle.

On the other hand, while Robert Towne won the only Oscar for the film that year, the book is filled with unsettling stories about Screenwriter Towne, including many about his longtime friend who helped him write. Yes, this “friend” is given much credit in the book for contributing to the script for the movie, but never got any screen credit at all – in fact his working relationship with Towne was hidden away for much of his life…also the book suggests strongly that the final screenplay for “Chinatown” is also due to Director Polanski’s re-writing of the script as well.

As I said, Towne comes off very poorly in the book, especially as the Author goes on to show what happened to all of the principals after the film’s release – which is a harsh look at where Hollywood was headed.

It’s a fascinating read – a “page turner” in every way.

“Chinatown” is a masterpiece, and the book is a fascinating look at the film, the filmmaking process, the stars in front of and behind the camera, and Hollywood in the early 70’s…

Reviews for the book have been stellar – and rightly so:

“A fascinating dive into Hollywood”
―Maureen Dowd, New York Times

“Chinatown (1974) was a watershed moment in a colorful era of American filmmaking. Wasson looks past the myth to tell the true story of its making.”
―USA Today, “Winter Reading Guide: This Season’s Must-Read Books”

One of the surprising aspects of the book is the role of Susanna Moore. You may know here as the Author of the novel “In The Cut”, but she worked in Hollywood in the 70’s and was part of this scene, and featured in the book!

Susanna wrote her autobiography of life in Hollywood in the 70’s.

Her memoir is a terrific look at that time as well, and you can see more about it by clicking on my story here:

https://johnrieber.com/2020/04/22/susanna-moore-is-miss-aluminum-my-wednesday-bookmobile-has-terrific-candid-memoirs-of-70s-hollywood/

As for “Chinatown”, it is a masterpiece, and a perfect example of Hollywood “Film Noir” – although, because of it’s unique “dry” look, I called it “Dusty Noir!”

See more about the film – and the classic “film noir” genre – by clicking on my story here:


https://johnrieber.com/2013/02/19/forget-it-jake-its-chinatown-cynical-attitudes-and-sexual-motivations/

If you enjoy these posts, why not subscribe and never miss out? It’s easy, and there are NO ads of any kind, just stuff I like…click on the main page and “follow” me on the upper right…

https://johnrieber.com

Thanks so much for reading and if you like this story, share on social media!



Categories: 70's Cinema, Academy Awards, Art, Awards, Books / Media, Cult Movies, Great Films, Los Angeles, Movies, Politics, Pop Culture, Talent/Celebrities

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7 replies

  1. I really enjoyed reading this book and the account of one the best neo-noirs, and most “L.A.” of tales. Laid the ground for the time so well and placed the subsequent changes in a remarkable context. Especially, for what came afterward (the proposed Chinatown sequels and the only one that reached the screen, etc.). The revelations of Robert Towne, both good and bad, were quite an eye-opener. A fine look at this, John. Well done.

    Like

  2. Jack Nicholson is an excellent actor. I did not know there was a book with the backstory.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Can’t wait to read it.
    I turned down the chance to work Faye Dunaway when she came to town in The Master Class. The hands that worked it said it was a week of hell. Dunaway was impossible.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The book offers many similar anecdotes about the film…she always had that reputation and apparently it continued throughout her career! I think you will really enjoy the book, although it is pretty devastating against Robert Towne!

      Like

  4. Ooh,
    I loved Chinatown and would to read this backstory

    Like

  5. Very nice, John. Jack Nicholson is a brilliant actor. It’s nice to think he was also a decent chap and the film set liked him.

    Like

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