Well, dear readers, I do believe the days are starting to blur together, like spilling water on a watercolor. I no longer have a clew as to what day it is unless I go into the closet and put on my thinking cap. This thing we’re all being forced to do cannot be over soon enough. I do think that if everyone on Facebook simply shut up about it rather than posting thirty things a day, and the media didn’t tout anything but FACTS, that would go a long way to calming things the HELL down. Sadly, that is not going to happen. The media pumps this for all its worth for obvious reasons, and people on Facebook are simply needy for attention, which is evidenced by all the postings about this every day in every way, and also the plethora of Facebook Live things that people are doing relentlessly. I don’t watch any of it and I have never done a Facebook Live thing because I am not interested in that sort of thing, which I find to be self-aggrandizing in a self-aggrandizing way. Meanwhile, the days are a blur and I am a blur and these here notes are a blur.
Yesterday, which I think was Sunday, didn’t feel like a Sunday or any different to any of the other recent days. It felt like more of the same, which, of course, it was. I slept eight-and-a-half hours, got up, did a few things, then finished the Sam Wasson book, The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. While there are things that are certainly interesting about the making of Chinatown, Mr. Wasson is on about too many things. Interestingly, the major portion of the book involves the writing of Chinatown, and how Robert Towne struggled with it, creating too many subplots and characters that stopped momentum, detoured from the main story, and eventually were all removed by either him or the film’s director, Roman Polanski. Unfortunately, Mr. Wasson does the exact same thing – detours, side trips, subplots of no interest, at least to me, and things that detract from the story at hand. Add to that, Mr. Wasson is oh so arch, trying to write in the style of Raymond Chandler (and certainly not succeeding in anything other than being arch), and that becomes really tiresome. And for someone who is purportedly born and raised in Los Angeles, he writes as if he hasn’t a clew about this city. Then again, I doubt he was born when Chinatown was made, so there’s that.
But aside from all that, there are many details that are either plain wrong or just stupid errors that weren’t caught, and it makes you question everything he writes. In other words, if someone tells you something in an interview, you better check it for veracity, at least. He doesn’t. In one of the most laughable things in the book, he quotes the wonderful actor James Hong, at least I think he’s quoting him – it’s really hard to know – and Hong relates the story that in the script his character is only called Evelyn Mulwray’s butler. So, apparently Faye Dunaway asked him what he thought the butler’s name should be – and he responds, “Hahn” because it sounds close to his own name. Great story, except a simple viewing of the film reveals the name to be Kahn. One begins to wonder if he actually saw the movie. In an early section of the book he calls Jack Nicholson’s lawyer, Bressler. Bressler was not his lawyer he was his agent, Sandy Bressler. And a couple of hundred pages he gets that right – editor, you’re paid to do a job. Thom Mount, Universal executive, becomes Tom Mount – not hard to check. I stopped counting – but the book has many such errors. But when you come of age in the 1980s, which I suspect is when Mr. Wasson came of age, then you don’t really know Los Angeles at all, other than what you research and hear about.
He goes into exhaustive detail about the drafts and evolution of the screenplay, and how the character names evolved and yet never mentions the name change of Noah Cross, who had a different first name in all the early drafts. And then all those side trips into cocaine, and the careers and history of all the players, completely robbing the book of any forward momentum. Clearly, Mr. Wasson researches. But that’s what it all sounds like, frankly. He talked to a lot of people. Great. In the end, I found the book too long and wanted more about Chinatown, rather than the subtitle of the book: The Last Years of Hollywood. We’ve had plenty of books about filmmaking in the 1970s, so it’s all just rehash-land. And speaking or rehashing, did we really need all the Polanski history again? We know the story and he adds nothing to it that isn’t ancient history. People, however, seem to LOVE this book as they seem to love all his books. I couldn’t get through Fosse, but I had similar problems there with what I read. So, for me a disappointment.
After I finished, I watched the new 4K transfer of the film via iTunes. It looks pretty good, perhaps a bit too yellow, which lessens the vivid blues (and there’s a lot of stuff about the blues in this book – how vivid they’re supposed to be when they arrive), but that could just be my computer screen. I did compare it to the Blu-ray of many years ago and while the detail in the new transfer is hugely better, I think the color is a bit more accurate on the Blu, but again, that’s on my TV where I know the color is correct. I’m hoping we get a new Blu-ray of this transfer. The film remains a miracle, given all the problems it had coming to fruition. In the book, Towne comes off rather poorly and Polanski is given huge credit about his contributions to the screenplay, his shaping of it, contributing to it, and keeping it on the right road. I could watch this movie over and over, which I have, and never get bored, which I don’t. The cast is incredible straight down the line, to the smallest role. I loved seeing Charles Dierkop, who is a regular hanger-onner at the Group Rep, and who we almost asked to be in Doug’s play – glad we didn’t, actually. And Joe Mantell, an actor I’ve always loved, as one of Nicholson’s associates and who gets the film’s most iconic line, “Forget it, Jake – it’s Chinatown.”
When I began acting professionally on television, I remember after shooting the CBS pilot and it not selling, I was advised to fill out unemployment insurance stuff so I could get a check every however often it was. In those days, you had to go to the Unemployment Office – mine was on Sherman Way near Woodman, I think, and stand in line to get your dough. And Joe Mantell was always there at the same time I was.
After the movie, I made two eggs and two pieces of rye toast and ate them all up – only about 400 calories, if that. Then I decided to try the Katz’s Deli kishka. I sliced off two circular pieces and sprayed a bit of Pam in a frying pan and heated them on each side for one minute, per the instructions on the Katz’s site. Well, it was great kishka, maybe the best I’ve ever had. I didn’t even try the gravy, as it was too good plain. Then I listened to music. At around six-thirty, I got in the motor car (it rained all day), just to start it up since I hadn’t the day before, and then took a little drive around the neighborhood. I went over to the nearby Gelson’s and was surprised to see the parking lot fairly empty, no lines, and just a few shoppers coming out carrying small bags of stuff. I would have gone in, but I hadn’t brought my wallet with me – just to see if they had tuna and maybe some mushrooms. But it was heartening to see that it wasn’t a madhouse two hours before closing. Then I came home.
I just played on the computer and listened to the first two acts of an opera by French composer Jean Cras, really lovely writing and quite beguiling. Then I had two more circular pieces of the kishka, some peanuts and cashews, a few crackers, just snack stuff to fill out the calorie count but hopefully not overdo it.
Today, I’ll sleep in because why not, then I’ll get up and we’ll have another blurry day of blurry things. I may have some spaghetti with red or brown onion and red sauce with a bit of milk in it to make it a pink sauce, or I might have a frozen dinner – we’ll have to see how I feel and how I feel we’ll have to see, not necessarily in that order.
The rest of the week will be more of the same blur – I’ll go the mail place a couple of times, I’m really hoping the galley and proofs arrive early in the week so I can get those approved and see what the situation will be with getting the book actually to the printers, I’ll take some drives, but mostly I suppose I’m stuck here.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, sleep in because why not, I must do stuff, eat, hopefully get a galley and cover proofs, and then read, watch, and listen. Today’s topic of discussion: What are your favorite films of the 1970s, and what are your favorite books about the making of films? Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, hoping the blurring of the days will come to an end sooner than later.