Two years ago, the Pope wrote an extended piece about Chinatown for a previous column, “Drunk on Foolish Pleasures.” Not that the Pope would ever ask for forgiveness, but be aware that the Pope is now going to quote his favorite authority—himself:
“In Chinatown, Robert Towne spins a yarn so potent that one of my most vivid childhood memories involves (this) film I wasn’t allowed to see. One afternoon, my teenaged cousin Joanne stopped by my house and quickly started an animated conversation with my mom. Joanne had just seen Chinatown and loved it SO MUCH that, over the course of the next hour, she summarized the whole plot for my mother, spoilers and all. I was in another room, but heard their entire (one-sided) conversation. Even though I would not actually see Chinatown for another ten years or more, it had been effectively SPOILED for me when I was only 12.
“NOTE: Joanne’s plot summary turned out to be very, very accurate.”
For a briefer plot summary than Joanne’s, plus a bunch of other clearly stated arguments about why this is a terrific movie, go back and read that whole previous column. That should be enough to convince you Chinatown deserves a spot on the Pope’s Top 50 list.
The Pope will now busy himself with “Pope Stuff” while you are reading the original column…
(Somewhere far away, a dog barks.)
(The Pope busies himself washing sinners’ feet, adjusting miter, sipping sacramental wine.)
Some thought when Chinatown was originally released that Roman Polanski was setting himself an impossible task: remaking that most 1940s of genres for, if anything, an even more cynical 1970s audience. He succeeded twenty years after the original noir cycle had been played out, and his achievement still stands today.
In nomine Patrice, et Polanski, qui mecum est Jae Beaie, Amen.