the 2013 rubio begonias

what i watched last week

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974).  I am a big fan of Roman Polanski’s movies. Chinatown is my favorite of them all. I am a big fan of Jack Nicholson. Chinatown is my favorite of his movies. Faye Dunaway … well, she’s in Bonnie and Clyde, that’s not fair competition, but Chinatown is my second-favorite Faye Dunaway movie. Heck, I even met Catherine Mulholland once (Robin remembers her as being a very nice woman). Although stories abound about how Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne were at each other’s throats during the making of the film, I think they balance each other nicely. Towne’s screenplay has become legendary as one of the greatest ever written (he won the film’s only Oscar), so of course, Polanski changed the ending. Towne later admitted Polanski was right. John Huston is as unctuous a villain as you’ll ever see. And always, there’s Polanski, looking over Gittes’ shoulder alongside the camera (except when he turns up in front of the camera long enough to slice open Gittes’ nose). The first film he made after the Sharon Tate tragedy was the bloodiest Macbeth of its time. After a dud that I saw so long ago I can’t even remember what it was about, he gave us Chinatown and the exceedingly weird The Tenant. One can go too far in associating the personal lives of artists with their work, but the fatalistic ending of Chinatown will always be entwined with our thoughts about Polanski’s state of mind in the early 70s. When we did our Facebook Fave Fifty Films lists, Chinatown was just outside my Fifty (#56 to be exact). Jeff had it at #30, while Phil chose Rosemary’s Baby, but had it at #2. #50 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time, but then, it’s on many best-of lists. 10/10.

The Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964). Roger Corman takes on Ingmar Bergman via Edgar Allen Poe. Thanks to color photography, Death’s minions are red this time around, and they play with tarot cards rather than chess. Perhaps the classiest movie Corman ever directed, using sets left over from Becket, with widescreen cinematography from Nicolas Roeg. Vincent Price is a bit less hammy than usual, Jane Asher looks pretty as Innocence Personified, and if the philosophical discussions don’t quite match those of Death and Antonius in The Seventh Seal, it has better horror scenes than Bergman’s classic. 7/10.

On the Road (Walter Salles, 2012). 7/10.



I mentioned somewhere--in the Facebook comments, or on Jeff's site--that subbing Cuckoo's Nest for Chinatown (because Jeff had already picked it) was the one substitution I almost immediately regretted. As much as I do love Cuckoo's Nest, Chinatown's at a another level entirely. When I posted my list on the Letterboxd site, I put Chinatown back where it belonged, at #23.

Best 1-2-3 Best Picture Nominees ever: GF II, The Conversation, and Chinatown. (Competing against the somewhat tedious Lenny and...The Towering Inferno!)

Steven Rubio

My two Towering Inferno stories:

1) My cousin worked on that movie. I'd forgotten this, since it was a few years before he'd moved up enough to get his name in the credits, but we were talking a couple of weeks ago and he mentioned one of those numerous big stars was an asshole (he rarely says this, generally preferring to say so-and-so was nice). My cousin is one of the few people I've ever known who truly loved his job (grip), even when the movie he was working on was Leonard Part 6. (The year before that, he'd worked on Howard the Duck.)

2) We saw Towering Inferno when it came out, at a multiplex where one of the adjacent theaters was playing Earthquake. The latter movie featured "Sensurround", which amounted to a bunch of giant sub-woofers on the floor of the theater that were set off whenever an earthquake was happening on the screen. Of course, the theater walls were hardly thick enough to prevent the sound from bleeding into the other theaters, so in the Towering Inferno room, we'd get these occasional periods where this enormous rumbling shook our seats. It was much worse than for the Earthquake viewers, since at least they had visual accompaniment. We never knew when or why the Sensurround would go off ... it was kinda scary.


The star who gave your cousin grief was obviously Fred Astaire; there was always something really shady and vicious about that guy.

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