Monday, June 29, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Chinatown

Why it might be hard to identify with Jake:
  • He cares more about his venetian blinds than his client’s feelings. He’s a money-grubbing bottom feeder, but he’s also a bit of a dandy, and neither of those are very appealing to us. These things help our ability to believe in his reality, but hurt our ability to care about him.
  • Right away, we’re saying, “Oh, this isn’t a phony Hollywood PI, this is the real deal, handling sordid divorce cases.” On a “Believe” level, we find his non-noble attitude to his clients to be refreshing: We’re finally getting to see what PIs are really like. Later, while he’s supposed to be investigating his clients at the Water Board hearing, he’s reading the Racing Form.
  • We don’t really care about Jake until 16:38, when another customer at his barbershop accosts him, saying, “You’ve got a hell of a way to make a living.” Jake, wounded, says, “Listen pal, I make an honest living, people only come to me in a desperate situation, I help ‘em out.” Now that we’ve seen him endure a public humiliation, we care a bit more about him.
  • He then has another embarrassment we identify with when he tells the dirty joke to his operatives and doesn’t realize Mrs. Mulwray is behind him.
  • From the opening photographs, we can see that he’s obviously good at his job, but we’re not sure how skilled he has to be to do it. It’s only when he pulls a very clever trick that we suddenly invest in him: He gets tired of waiting for Mulwray to leave the beach, so he reaches in his glove compartment where he’s got a stash of cheap fob watches. He puts one under Mulwray’s tire and goes home. The next day he checks the broken watch to see what time Mulwray left. Suddenly, we love this guy. We always love resourceful heroes.
Five Es
  • Eat:No
  • Exercise: He walks a lot, climbs building and cliffs, etc.
  • Economic Activity: His whole life is his job.
  • Enjoy: Not at first. At the water board meeting, he thinks it’s funny when a farmer brings his sheep in. Later, he loves telling his operatives the dirty joke. (Often, enjoyment opens a hero up to embarrassment)
  • Emulate: I guess you could say he dresses like a classier PI than he is.
Rise above
  • He tells fake Mrs. Mulwray she should let sleeping dogs lie. “You’re better off not knowing.”
High five a black guy
  • Nope.


Harvey Jerkwater said...

Not bringing in the "care" on Gittes until that far in speaks a lot about the movie's intentions. The setup we expect at first is the "PI as scruffy knight," because of the genre and period. Then, right away, we see we're playing in noir territory, where everyone's a bastard or a sucker. Then it swerves again and we see that we're in both territories at the same time.

Wouldn't the late addition of "care" make us a little wary? We thought we understood him, and then we see we were wrong.

Also, does it make us care a bit more? Maybe the audience feels a bit guilty over misjudging Gittes and we bond to him a bit harder as a result? (Haven't seen Chinatown in forever, so I don't remember.)

That lag in "care" is fascinating.

Matt Bird said...

There's a reason I have Believe Care Invest in that order. Chinatown gets us to believe in his reality first, although making him realistically seedy will make it harder to care for him, then it tries to get us to care just a little after all.