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Tragedy: A Series of Films: Chinatown (Roman Polanski, USA, 1974, 130 mins)

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Birkbeck Cinema

43 Gordon Square

London

WC1H 0PD

United Kingdom

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Tragedy: A Series of Films: Chinatown (Roman Polanski, USA, 1974, 130 mins)
Friday 19 January 6:00 – 9:00
In collaboration with the Guilt Group and Birkbeck Institute for Social Research

Set in 1938, Chinatown is Roman Polanski’s tribute to the private eye movies of Hollywood’s golden age. But Polanski was arguably less concerned to recreate the genre than to reinvent it. Though there is plenty of figurative darkness in Chinatown, the film lacks the interest in monochromatically rendered light and shadow that could lift earlier Hollywood movies into a kind of black and white poetry of contemporary America. Polanski’s Los Angeles is sun-drenched and rejoices in colour and period detail.

However, the sun can be oppressive. Polanski turns Los Angeles into a drought-cursed land. Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) tries to discover how Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), the water commissioner, could possibly have drowned where there was no water. He goes from Mulwray’s widow (Faye Dunaway) to her father, Noah Cross (John Huston), and makes a discovery that explains much but solves nothing. Robert Towne’s script was partly based on the California water wars at the beginning of the twentieth century. But the film is interested in more than political corruption. Gittes uncovers violations of ancient taboos. In Oedipus those violations bring a divine curse upon Thebes. The LA of Chinatown may not be divinely cursed, but it is not clear whether anything can lift the blight from which it suffers.

For information about the Guilt Group's work, see http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bisr/research/guilt-working-group.

BIMI is funded by four schools at Birkbeck: the School of Arts, the School of Law, the School of Social Sciences,
History and Philosophy, and the School of Science. The University of Pittsburgh is also a partner and co-funder.

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Birkbeck Cinema

43 Gordon Square

London

WC1H 0PD

United Kingdom

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