February 25, 2008
Above Film Noir
The viewer sees a private eye and beautiful client.
First thought, “It’s definitely
another Hollywood crime drama.”
On the surface,
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.
, 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.
mistakes her for her husband’s killer at first, Mrs. Mulwray eventually emerges as the
story’s most tragic victim.
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.