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Chinatown: Above The Film Noir Genre

1600 words - 6 pages

The viewer sees a private eye and beautiful client. First thought, "It’s definitely another Hollywood crime drama." On the surface, Chinatown has all the elements of a film noir: the presence of a beautiful but dangerous woman, otherwise known as the femme fatale, a gritty urban setting, compositional tension (highly contrasting light and dark colors or oblique camera angles), and themes of moral ambiguity and alienation. Chinatown, however, is different. Polanski shot Chinatown with color film, and though his colors do appear especially vivid, color film precludes the contrast intensity that black and white film offers. In addition, Evelyn is not the classic femme fatale. Though Jake mistakes her for her husband’s killer at first, Mrs. Mulwray eventually emerges as the story’s most tragic victim. Yes, Chinatown for the most part conforms to the structure of film noir, but this film departs from the general genre, creating an entirely different element in which Roman Polanksi examines not only big-money corruption and its malignant obsession with money, but also larger, more human themes such as ignorance, authority, and the pervasiveness of evil.
Like the film noir detectives that came before him, Jake exhibits some of the common traits of the typical private dick. He is a crass joker, he sis willing to get violent with both men and women who cause him trouble, and never lets physical threats scare him off a case. The standard film noir private eye is a passive, cool, cynical, masochistic character who maintains a subjective view of the case and can sift through peoples’ stories to solve the mystery. The thing that is different about Jake Giddes is that he doesn’t always seem to make the obvious, or even correct choice. Unlike most Hollywood private eyes, Jake tends to be wrong more often than he is right. This propensity to make mistakes, however, is what allows the audience to quickly identify with him better than they might a traditional private eye. It shows how Jake is persistent and dedicated to his job, even if it always seems like he is in over his head. Jake, however, also departs from the film noir tradition when he lets his emotions get the best of him. The greatest example of this is seen during the exchange between him and Evelyn when he is trying to find out the truth about Katherine. Resorting for the first time to violence against a woman, the near desperation with which Jake pushes Evelyn to confess is an expression of his fears and anxieties about being completely lost amidst the lies that surround him. The result is the humanization of Jake Giddes’ character. He simply is not perfect, and ultimately fails to see the bigger picture of what he is involved with until .
While classic film noir is characterized by high compositional tension, or low lit black and white cinematography, Polanski managed to infuse Chinatown with that sense of corruption and nihilism so prevalent in noir in bright Southern California...

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