invasion of the paramount: day one

we kick off this special expanded edition of queue de grâce, appropriately enough, with a double feature of iconic films. jim ritts, executive director at the paramount theatre, starts us off in fine fashion with roman polanski's chinatown (1974).

polanski's nod to noir just gets better every time i see it. jack nicholson is jake gittes, a gumshoe who has built a tawdry, tiny empire on the backs of untold cases of infidelity. into his office strolls one more wealthy dame whose husband has gone astray. this time, though, that husband is the chief engineer of los angeles water and power. he conducts surveillance, snaps a few pictures of his quarry meeting with a young lady and before you can say "hooray for hollywood" the news hits the papers. enter faye dunaway, the actual wife of the philanderer in question. turns out, jack and the husband were set up. in short order, the husband turns up drowned and jack finds himself trying to tread water, racing to untangle a labyrinthine, multi-million dollar scheme to control los angeles' water supply that could prove fatal for him as well. complicating matters, he finds himself involved with dunaway, who knows more than she lets on and who practically has to shout for the bones rattling in her closet. ultimately, all paths lead to john huston, dunaway's father and water kingpin from way back, and jake learns that there are some fights you cannot win, a lesson you get the feeling he is not unfamiliar with. it's one of the best screenplays ever committed to film - lean, efficient, teasing out just enough information to keep pulling you forward. textbook stuff and yet no one has been able to replicate its blunt grace since. i think the reason for that is that polanski plays it absolutely straight. there are no winks, no gimmicks to make what is basically a forties-era movie more palatable for a contemporary audience. nicholson is great as a detective whose primary motivation, regardless of what he might say, is his wounded pride. no private eye worth his salt could sit idly by after being played for such a sap and he and his bruised ego are determined to keep running until he finally catches up with the forces that have been two steps ahead of him from the beginning. there's always going to be a part of a private eye (especially one who's an ex-cop) that questions whether or not he's nothing but a two-bit transom peeper. that bitter sting and sour dissatisfaction might as well be a fedora, nicholson wears it so well. dunaway is perfectly lost, broken by a horrible secret that has been her burden for perhaps as long as she can remember and only seems to be getting heavier geometrically. she's like a ghost haunting her own life. huston is the towering performance here, though. one of cinema's greatest villains. i am lucky my skin is so well attached or he would make it crawl right off. you can practically smell the sickly mixture of witch hazel and baby powder that i just know he smells like coming right off of the screen. he is truly lawless, accepting no blame nor expressing any true regret for what must be a lifetime of violating everything and everyone in his path to satisfy his desires. he is an abomination. all these disparate threads are pulled taut by such a nerve jangling conclusion that you're just left feeling sick and powerless in the face of its inevitability. all that running, all that work, any good intentions, all made completely void in the space it takes for a scream to pierce the los angeles night. "forget it, jake. it's chinatown" - perhaps the best and most impossible to follow advice ever given in the movies. some things you can never forget.

from the seamy, sepia-toned past we leap into an equally unsetlling future with stanley kubrick's a clockwork orange (1971).

kubrick's adaptation of anthony burgess' novel is a picture of a grim dystopia. malcolm mcdowell plays alex, the beethoven-loving leader of a group of delinquents delighting in ultra-violence, rape and a tall glass of milk. tensions within his gang erupt in the wake of a crime spree gone too far and he finds himself incarcerated. seizing upon what he thinks is an easy way out, he volunteers for a rehabilitation program which could be construed as destructive and dehumanizing as the vicious crimes he once perpetrated upon others when he was on the outside. this is a hard film to get a foothold in. i first saw this when i was eleven years old, staying up late watching cable when everyone else was asleep. i didn't know what hit me. it has only since become more perplexing as i have grown. there is no single character that can be described as sympathetic. the ideological forces on the left and right ends of this argument are both equally repugnant. the totalitarian administration that favors this method of rehabilitation are essentially sanctioning a form of chemical castration that not only demolishes your libido, but your very soul. the liberals who are advocating for alex turn out to be nothing more than vile, self-serving grotesques, content to manipulate alex when he serves their needs and torture him when he doesn't. before we get all weepy for alex, though, we mustn't forget that he is a complete sociopath, a vicious rapist and callous murderer. true, he is terribly charismatic - a huge triumph for mcdowell - but a stain of a human being. he turns the tables, the snake that charms you, and as a result you are left with a perilous internal struggle. you cast about, looking for something you can recognize as human to relate to, but kubrick is not about to let you off the hook that easy. the exaggerated wide angle compositions lend a slightly freakish air to the proceedings, wendy/walter carlos' score punctures the film like kubrick is milking venom from it and the trademark kubrick alienating sterility is in full effect. i get a certain, very specific feeling when i watch his films, but never more so than when i watch this one. it's like watching kubrick reacting against something the rest of us cannot see, something he has to defeat, and the process is a clinical, deadly serious one. it leaves me feeling numb and agitated simultaneously. it's fascinating, real horrorshow.

you will have the opportunity to find out just how it affects you and see it the way it was meant to be seen, on the big screen, later this summer. a clockwork orange is scheduled to be part of the paramount's summer film series during the weekend of 8.18.12 and 8.19.12. look for me in row q, we can compare notes. the milk is on me.

well, that was great! day one gets us off to a rousing, morally complicated start. thanks, jim! excellent choices! tune in tomorrow. i have it on good authority that we will be swinging from the chandeliers.


No comments:

Post a Comment