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Writer recalls fiery days filming classic 'Chinatown'


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*Writer recalls fiery days filming classic 'Chinatown'*












Published: October 14, 2009




*To hear screenwriter Robert Towne tell it, there was almost as much contentious heat flaring off-camera as on-camera during the filming of the neo-noir classic "Chinatown.?*



*No one was murdered or had his nose slit open, but volatile director Roman Polanski managed to ignite a few behind-the-scenes explosions of temper that matched the movie?s onscreen moments of emotional combustion.*



"It was known at the time that it was contentious,? Towne said in a recent phone interview of his working relationship with the Polish-French filmmaker. "But you know, my memories of it are basically positive. It?s true, we would fight during the day, but then we would go out and have a hell of a good time at night. So then we?d be back in the trenches the next day, fighting over it.?


Polanski even fought with his star and good friend Jack Nicholson.


On the special features disc of the just-released DVD set commemorating the 35th anniversary of "Chinatown,? Nicholson flashes a wide grin as he describes a doozy of a dust-up that erupted when he was eager to retire to his on-set dressing room, thinking filming had wrapped for the day, to watch a basketball game involving his beloved Los Angeles Lakers.


Polanski, who had wanted to film another scene, became furious that his star wanted to interrupt shooting to watch a ballgame. He burst into Nicholson?s trailer with a blunt instrument, attempting to destroy the actor?s TV set.


"And I don?t know why, but I started tearing my wardrobe off, and was left at the end of the argument in my underwear, alone, and left the set,? Nicholson recalls, "not knowing, of course, that I had to come back in because my dressing room was on the set. I had to come back in, kind of silly, feeling a little bit nutty. ... Of course, the poor people who?d witnessed this thought, ?Oh my God, is this the end? Will we ever get these two people back together again?? ... So that was one argument we had.?


But as in Towne?s case, friendships were mended by evening, and Nicholson and Polanski were laughing about it.


And somehow, out of a stormy collaboration, this Raymond Chandler-style mystery about city government corruption, unspeakable family secrets, betrayal and murder in 1930s Los Angeles still stands as one of the finest films ever made, ranking in the American Film Institute?s Top 25. The screenplay, which won Towne an Oscar, is based on the true story of the criminal shenanigans surrounding the water rights that were crucial to developing L.A.


"I think the story itself is kind of timeless, whether it?s a conspiracy on the part of an entire city led by a few city fathers and corrupt individuals, or a savings and loan scandal or Watergate,? Towne said. "Through the years, we have seen public corruption led by private individuals in the public sector. And so, there?s, I suppose, an uncomfortable familiarity with it that does make it seem contemporary.


"And then there?s the quality of the film itself. The restoration has kept the picture looking pretty pristine, like it was just made.?


The film, which also stars Faye Dunaway and John Huston, is presented in a two-disc set with an eight-page booklet and new special features, including commentary from Towne and director David Fincher ("Zodiak?) and a three-part documentary on the history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, plus previously released interviews with Polanski and producer Robert Evans, among others.


"Chinatown? was to have been the first installment in an L.A. trilogy, but creative differences reared an ugly head again during the making of the sequel, "The Two Jakes,? which Nicholson directed. Towne took his leave from the project, a situation he won?t discuss nearly 20 years later.


But he?s still friends with Nicholson, having known him since they roomed together as struggling young actors years ago, and having written another of the actor?s best vehicles, "The Last Detail? (1973). They have even discussed working together again.


"But so far nothing has materialized,? Towne said. "It?s difficult when you go over a period of time, unless you?re working together constantly. We certainly talked about it, but nothing has happened yet.?



*But, if anyone?s expecting that long overdue third chapter, forget it, Jake. No "Chinatown III.?*








*The package?s second DVD includes a History Channel-worthy documentary on the early-20th-century LA water-acquisition wars that supplied the background for Towne?s script.*


*The disc is filled out by production retrospectives previously included on a 2007 reissue. (Paramount, $16.99; available now)*













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