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Film Books - The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood

The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood
By Sam Wasson
Flatiron Books
February 4, 2020
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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wasson's intricate, meticulous book focuses on one of the greatest movies ever made, the glittering piece of perfection that is Chinatown (1974). Yet the process of achieving it was anything but perfect. The book goes into great detail on four very different men, Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, Robert Towne, and Robert Evans, and everything that led up to that moment, including the death of Polanski's wife Sharon Tate. An early chapter on Polanski, which deals with the Holocaust and a murder, butts right up against a chapter on Towne, who had it comparatively easy growing up in Los Angeles and becoming a writer in his 20s. But the two chapters do equal justice to the men, and make their inner struggles equally compelling. The story behind the production is amazingly, vividly detailed, not just in the physical events, but also the players' emotional states, as if Wasson simply traveled back in time and witnessed everything firsthand. (His research must have been intensely painstaking.) Fights, drugs, and plenty of not-so-glamorous stuff rubs up against casual name dropping of so many legendary artists, who simply shared the same circles back then. And when success is achieved, from the completion of a difficult shot to the reception of the final film, it feels like a triumph.

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