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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 10. 22nd May 1975

Chinatown Film Review

Chinatown Film Review

With the box office receipts still flowing in, the nostalgia wave shows no signs of ebbing.

The latest of this type to come to Wellington is Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Set in Los Angeles in the later 1930s, it traces the story of JJ. Gittes, a former cop from Chinatown, now engaged in matrimonial private eye work.

Gittes is hired to tail the Los Angeles water commissioner, who is suspected by his wife of being unfaithful. But the commissioner is soon victim of a highly unlikely accident — dead of a fall into a water reservoir drain, his lungs full of salt water.

The story, in the best tradition of the detective yarns of the time, goes round in circles — every lime the mystery seems to be solved, a new complication arises to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

And yet, what is Polanski trying to say? His detective story hinges on the illegal use of the city's water supply by the local big-shots during a drought. It touches on the influence that wealth can exert over local government decisions and ordinary peoples' lives, and the powerlessness of the individual against the combined forces of wealthy individuals and their ally — the state.

Chinatown becomes a metaphor for the impenetrable nature of that morass into which its private detective hero finds himself sinking. Chinatown, where the hero once found himself stationed while on the police force, and where he became involved in some obscure disaster, is, as he says, a place where you can't understand what's happening.

Nicholson's J.J. Gittes, for all his cleverness and professional skill, gen in over his head and finds that in seeking answers to a simple detective problem he is plumbing the basic make-up of American society, with its classes of powerful and powerless.

But Gittes is prevented by Polanski from finding our any more about the functioning of American society. The attempts by millionaire rancher Noah Cross (John Huston) to defraud people of their land through his control of essential water supplies are not expanded on, and instead the film lurches into a sub-plot around the incestuous relationship between Cross and his daughter (Faye Dunnaway).

Perhaps Polanski is too scared of shaking his audience out of their nostalgic world of unreality ('The Golden Years of Yesterday') and confronting them with the harsh reality of the United States in the '30s. After all, a good director must think of his box office.

Drawing of Batman flying

Blues for Mr. Charlie

You have read of the revamped Drama Society in Salient a few weeks back. Well folks, here is out first production for 1975. This is, by was of introduction, a brilliant three-act play by negro novelist and playwright, James Baldwin.

If you want entertainment, if you are concerned about the struggle of minorities, if you want to sit on the edge of your seat biting your fingernails, fingers, hand and arms, come to this play.

You shall laugh, you shall cry, you — the audience — will be satisfied, totally.

A play about the negroe's struggle in 'Plaguetown' which is way down upon the Swanee River; it is concerned with the murder of a young negro singer (yeah! there's music too). You shall get to know the singer and his murderer — the people around them, their loves, their beliefs, their griefs. I can tell you no more; so come and see it and you shall discover a new land, a new experiemce.

It is a theatrical experience of the rarest value and deserves to be seen.

It opens in the Union Hall on the 26 May and runs to the 30 May, excluding Wednesday 28. The show begins at 8.00pm.

Port Nicholson Folk Festival May 30th - June 2nd at Victoria University

Registration $5

Friday Night: registration, drinking and dancing to the music of the Port Nicholson Bluegrass Band and friends.

Saturday: workshops include 'Underground Music' featuring British mining songs, 'Instrument Building', 'The Lawbreakers', 'Blacks, Whites and Blues', 'Contemporary Music' and 'Ceilidh'. There will be a 'Come-all-ye' concert and resident musicians will be available for lessons.

On Saturday night there will be 2 formal concerts covering a wide range of traditional and contemporary music.

Sunday: workshops 11am- 5pm, winding up with the final concert on Sunday night.

Most of New Zealand's best folk, blues, country and bluegrass musicians will be at the Festival playing and teaching. Half day tickets are available but tickets for the final concert are only guaranteed to those who register for the whole festival.

Apply at Studass for more information or send $5 to P.O. Box 12-145, enclosing your name and address also.