AFInity: Chinatown

By Kim Hollis

November 13, 2009

Really, though. What is the big deal about wire hangers?

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We're a list society. From Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die to BOP's very own Best Horror Films (one of our most popular features ever), people love to talk about lists. They love to debate the merits of the "winners" and bemoan the exclusions, and start the whole process again when a new list captures pop culture fancy.

Perhaps one of the best-known, most widely discussed lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies. A non-profit organization known for its efforts at film restoration and screen education, the AFI list of the 100 best American movies was chosen by 1,500 leaders in the movie industry and announced in its first version in 1998. Since then, the 100 Years... 100 Movies list has proven to be so popular that the AFI came forth with a 10th anniversary edition in 2007, along with other series such as 100 Heroes and Villains, 100 Musicals, 100 Laughs and 100 Thrills.


In addition to talking about which films are deserving of being on the list and bitterly shaking our fists because a beloved film was left out, we also love to brag about the number of movies we've seen. As I was looking over the 100 Years... 100 Movies list recently, I realized that I've seen 47 - less than half. As a lover of film and writer/editor for a movie site, this seemed like a wrong that needed to remedied. And so an idea was born. I would watch all 100 movies on the 2007 10th Anniversary list - some of them for the first time in as much as 20 or more years - and ponder their relevance, worthiness and influence on today's film industry. With luck, I'll even discover a few new favorites along the way.

#21: Chinatown

It seems all but impossible to discuss Chinatown without at least giving a cursory comment on director Roman Polanski's legal issues, which have come into focus again recently with his arrest in Switzerland and potential extradition to the United States. The simple response is that he needs to serve his time, which at this point would mostly be for fleeing before sentencing rather than for the actual crime. I know there's a lot of hand-wringing about the whole situation, but we'd expect any regular Joe to have to pay the price in a similar case and the fact that Polanski is an artist (who had a number of terrible life events that may have contributed to his state of mind and his actions) doesn't place him above the law. I won't even get into the argument about the nature of the crime itself until I get to the conclusion of this piece, as I have some pretty strong feelings that I think are better discussed at another time. For the sake of AFInity, I'm looking at Chinatown from a purely aesthetic standpoint, which is surprisingly easy to do, perhaps because it's such a masterpiece.

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