The cinetrix spent the better part of the morning discussing the scene from which this still is taken.
You see, on Monday afternoon we screened our first film of the semester, Chinatown. A show of hands today revealed that only two people in a group of 64 had seen the movie before, so these were virgin eyes. [Oh, to be able to watch this film again for the first time.] And, boy, did some of them have a problem with the ending. One kid even came up afterward to ask if he'd missed something. I had to say no, the bad guys triumphed. Sorry. Today I tried to give them a little context--the Holocaust, and Manson, and Vietnam, and Watergate--but some still felt cheated of their happy ending. They have a lot more disappointment to look forward to....
Anyhow, the lesson, such as it was, was about cinematography. They'd done reading that introduced them to the relevant terms, so we talked a little about being tied to Gittes' subjective p.o.v. for most of the film--I can't think how many times we're treated to the curve of Nicholson's ear in the foreground--and what we see the few times we're not [remember the Chinaman joke that introduces Evelyn?]. We noted how shallow focus tells us where to look during the hearing about the proposed dam when Jake is tailing Hollis. We admired that last, mournful crane shot as the end credits roll. It all went surprisingly well.
And then there's the scene where Jake and Evelyn meet at the restaurant. Jake has just gotten a nose job courtesy of the Midget, so there's that excellent reveal of that enormous white bandage at the beginning. The background of the shot blurs ["shallow focus, kiddies!"] as the action restricts itself to the conversation in the banquette. Dunaway and Nicholson are framed in medium close up, from sternum to top of head, until Jake says he thinks Evelyn is hiding something. In the reaction shot, an anxious Evelyn is framed in a tight close up. In the reverse, Jake is, too. Suddenly, the conversation and the frame have become more intimate and more intense. Movie magic!
But was the cinetrix satisfied to stop there, pointing out the budding couple formation aided by cinematography? Uh-uh. I couldn't help myself. I had to talk about the sound. Who's surprised?
One of my favorite grace notes in that flick is the soundtrack selection--diegetic?--for this scene. Evelyn walks into the restaurant, spots Jake's bandaged schnozz, and takes a seat as Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" plinks away on a piano somewhere offscreen. Don't believe me? Listen for yourselves. It works on so many levels.
Of course, there's the humor of the chorus "Just the way you look tonight," given Jake's rearranged face. But it's also temporally appropriate--Chinatown is set in 1937; "The Way You Look Tonight" was introduced in the Fred and Ginger musical Swing Time in 1936. And it's thematically appropriate, in terms of what comes after the meet-cute: Fred serenades Ginger through the door as she washes her hair. Won over by his song, she slips out of the bathroom to stand behind him as he finishes his song. Sensing her presence, he looks up slowly, lovingly, only to spot her in her robe with suds still in her hair. So, naturally, I had to show that sequence.
But I also wanted to tie this film into the larger tradition of the private eye movie. What better way than to show Vivian Sternwood stalking into Philip Marlowe's office in the 1945 version of The Big Sleep, her beautiful face obscured by that knotted veil, which is so like Evelyn's? One kid even stepped up to suggest that the knots in Evelyn's veil were a visual rhyme with the flaw in her iris. Yay, a pedogogical victory.
I blame Hoberman for this multimedia mindset. He'd project up to three films at once, tweaking the sound and orchestrating our attention. I'm hoping this crazy-quilt approach made some sense today, but if this keeps up I will to need a modified dj rig to mix all of my images.