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Chinatown Reunion

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By Bill DesowitzIt was fitting that Jack Nicholson unexpectedly raced to the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on November 18 to participate in the 30th anniversary tribute to Chinatown, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As it turned out, the actor/director had much to contribute to the panel discussion about the below-the-line contributions of this legendary detective mystery. One piece of information that emerged during the discussion is that Nicholson may have saved the visual integrity of Chinatown when he noticed that the color timing was off. Since director Roman Polanski had already returned to Poland, and nobody else spoke up for fear of missing the release date, including the late cinematographer John Alonzo, Nicholson felt obliged to get it right.Fortunately, Nicholson’s neighbor was the then head of Technicolor, who owed him a favor, and the timing was corrected in a round-the-clock rush job. (As a footnote, Chinatown was the last movie printed in Technicolor’s venerable dye transfer process.)JJ Gittes would’ve been proud. The film was released on time in August of 1974. Nicholson was joined at the event by Oscar-winning scribe Robert Towne, who reiterated that Polanski’s sharper ending was the right choice in hindsight and that their on-set bickering never intruded on their friendly and wild nightlife; producer Robert Evans, who said Paramount was convinced they had a bomb on their hands because nobody understood what the movie was really about; and assistant director Hawk Koch, who proclaimed that they intentionally added several days to the shooting schedule to give Polanski some breathing room after he went over schedule and over budget on Rosemary’s Baby. It was also fitting that Koch recognized Alonzo and other crew that have passed on: production designer Richard Sylbert, film editor Sam O’Steen and composer Jerry Goldsmith, who miraculously came up with his haunting score in only eight days after the first one had to be scrapped. Historian Richard Schickel moderated the panel discussion, and a stunning new 35mm print from the original elements was premiered.

Written by Bill Desowitz

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