Sunday, December 23, 2012

Two L. A. films

Two iconic movies of L.A. One is Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. The other is Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988, Robert Zemeckis, of Back to the Future Fame). Both were rather iconic in their times, perhaps still so. Chinatown is widely seen as a Polanski masterpiece and perhaps his greatest film. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is unique because not only does it combine cartoons with regular actors and sets but its cast of cartoons - or “toons” – act as independent entities, another order of being that interact with humans....Both movies deal with classic noirish type PI’s (Nicholson as Jake Gittes and Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant). While Chinatown is set in the 1930s Who Framed is set in the late 1940s. But both rise above simple personal or crime mystery genre and centre on public corruption, pointing their fingers squarely at land developers for their nefarious ways. In Chinatown, it’s all about who want to divert precious water in bone dry southern California from the public to private use. In Roger Rabbit it’s about the conspiracy of a transportation conglomerate, known as Cloverleaf (get it?) to uproot the city’s once famous fleet of streetcars and replace them with freeways, on which cars and buses can move to their congested hearts’ content, though the plan is hardly sold that way. This parallels a true story where National City Lines – a corporate group including GM and Firestone Tires – conspired to get rid of LA’s Red Cars, considered the “best public transportation system in the world” as Valiant, a non-car owner, exclaims. Of course the freeway would be put right smack through the middle of Toontown, home of – who else? – the toons….For me, Chinatown works because it is superbly directed – the scenes easily flow, the young Nicholson is great (but when hasn’t he been?) and of course there is the romantic magic between his character and Dunaway’s (Evelyn Cross Mulwray). Legendary director and actor John Huston plays Dunaway’s father, the corrupt Noah Cross. Even Polanski has more than a cameo as a rather mean little man.

I can’t help but remark on the fact Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained – and its extreme violence – is opening on Christmas Day. Just seems a bit jarring, doesn’t it? Reminds you of sugar plum fairies, no? Not quite Bing Crosby’s White Christmas or Jimmy Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life, if you get my (lack of snow) drift. The other thing that bugs me about the media hype surrounding Django is that there has been no real linkage between this type of admittedly extremely violent film (a parody – with Tarantino everything’s a parody - of the Blaxploitation films of the early 1970s) and the culture of violence that allegedly may have had a hand in events like the recent massacre of the innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. In an earlier era a movie like this wouldn’t have even opened so soon after such an event, let alone on Christmas Day.

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