The Big Goodbye
From the New York Times bestselling author of Fifth Avenue, Five A.M. and Fosse comes the revelatory account of the making of a modern American masterpiece Chinatown is the Holy Grail of 1970s cinema. Its twist ending is the most notorious in American film and its closing line of dialogue the most haunting. Here for the first time is the incredible true story of its making.In Sam Wasson's telling, it becomes the defining story of the most colorful characters in the most colorful period of Hollywood history. Here is Jack Nicholson at the height of his powers, as compelling a movie star as there has ever been, embarking on his great, doomed love affair with Anjelica Huston. Here is director Roman Polanski, both predator and prey, haunted by the savage death of his wife, returning to Los Angeles, the scene of the crime, where the seeds of his own self-destruction are quickly planted. Here is the fevered dealmaking of "The Kid" Robert Evans, the most consummate of producers. Here too is Robert Towne's fabled script, widely considered the greatest original screenplay ever written. Wasson for the first time peels off layers of myth to provide the true account of its creation.Looming over the story of this classic movie is the imminent eclipse of the '70s filmmaker-friendly studios as they gave way to the corporate Hollywood we know today. In telling that larger story, The Big Goodbye will take its place alongside classics like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and The Devil's Candy as one of the great movie-world books ever written.Praise for Sam Wasson:"Wasson is a canny chronicler of old Hollywood and its outsize personalities...More than that, he understands that style matters, and, like his subjects, he has a flair for it." - The New Yorker "Sam Wasson is a fabulous social historian because he finds meaning in situations and stories that would otherwise be forgotten if he didn't sleuth them out, lovingly." - Hilton Als

The Big Goodbye Details

TitleThe Big Goodbye
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 4th, 2020
PublisherFlatiron Books
ISBN-139781250301826
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Culture, Film, History, Cultural

The Big Goodbye Review

  • Still
    January 1, 1970
    Best book about movies that I've ever read.Damned book about broke my heart a half dozen times.I mean ...I almost shed real tears in parts of this... Nicholson finds out who his real mother is early on during the filming of Chinatown. Shattering.There's a part where Jack's with his girlfriend (the stunning Anjelica Huston) during the filming of the movie and meets her legendary father. John Huston sucker punches Jack with a line Huston has as a character in the film.Unforgettable sequence. Best book about movies that I've ever read.Damned book about broke my heart a half dozen times.I mean ...I almost shed real tears in parts of this... Nicholson finds out who his real mother is early on during the filming of Chinatown. Shattering.There's a part where Jack's with his girlfriend (the stunning Anjelica Huston) during the filming of the movie and meets her legendary father. John Huston sucker punches Jack with a line Huston has as a character in the film.Unforgettable sequence.Nicholson's philandering will cost him the love of Anjelica... it's inexplicable the way Jack's behavior was towards the ones who loved him.But the grinning foppish bastard was always tops to his pals...he never let a half good pal go down without a lifeline thrown out to him.This is a chronicle that reads like a novel about the origins and realizations of and rationalizations for what follow in the aftermath of the filming of a movie titled Chinatown. Started by three Hollywood Bros: Robert Towne, Jack Nicholson, and Robert Evans and eventually realized in total by the widow of Sharon Tate -Roman Polanski.The aftermath of the film -which will go on to earn a dozen or more Oscar nominations yet be denied all but one Oscar win - is the ultimate shattering of every other relationship the trio plus one hold dear.Robert Towne did not write the screenplay on his own. Towne first conceived the convoluted narrative (missing a definitive ending) on his own, afterwards seeking counsel from a close friend, Edward Taylor -a consumer of pop-cult mysteries and paperback originals. Taylor was Towne's re-write man.Taylor loved Towne ...they were inseparable pals and Towne loved Taylor. But Towne graciously took from Taylor without credit.What I mean to say here is that Taylor got jack-shit.Zero.Later, Towne would earn more money for lesser films. After he'd earned millions for those lesser films he'd become more generous with his writing partner yet he'd never share screen credits with Taylor.The original screenplay turned out screwier than the Chandler/Brackett/Faulkner/Jules Furthman screenplay for The Big Sleep.Chinatown had no resolution.Enter Polanski... a driven artist haunted by the ghost of Sharon Tate.Look - I can go on and on about this epic but I'll only come up spoilers. This is as intense as any Hollywood based thriller. Everyone discussed in this account has goals in mind but when mixed with cocaine and gambling for positions of power within the studio orbit it becomes a pathological descent into total and complete personal disaster.This turns out to be part history, part accounting of betrayals that leaves the reader adrift in an ocean of inscrutability... why, when it's all going so well... why the betrayals?Is it the studio dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed ethos?Is it fear of the loss of one's talent?It’s Chinatown, Jake.February 14, 2020 – page 77"Amazing book. In a novel about the creation of the classic neo-noir CHINATOWN we get the background on historic Los Angeles and biographical information on Raymond Chandler and the creation of hardboiled fiction in general." February 14, 2020 "Next few pages, Robert Towne begins writing the dialogue for CHINATOWN .... did anyone know Towne's first big L. A. love was Barrie Chase?"Diane Taylor" in the Robert Mitchum version of CAPE FEAR?Mitchum's psychotic "Max Cady" beats the sultry out of her then leaves her terrified and scarred?" February 15, 2020 – page 145 "My favorite character in this historical piece?Robert Towne, easily.Polanski is easily and at best an evil, Polish dwarf with a tragic back-story.I've been reading this since 3:00pm stopping only to watch a couple of reruns of WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE (1st episode, 1st season with Nick Adams & Michael Landon) while my wife made dinner.There's real drama in this epic of Hollywood." February 16, 2020 – page 170 "Well, that "nasty little dwarf" winds up saving Robert Towne's screenplay by streamlining it, taking Towne's penchant for complicating the plot with unnecessary plot additives and eventually finding an ending for the film.Not only does Polanski pull the plot strands together but winds up giving Robert Towne sole credit for all writing.February 20, 2020 – page 287"Now the tragedies that follow the success of CHINATOWN.The invasion of Barry Diller and his troglodytes “the television people” like Michael Ovitz & his ilk.Robert Evans - cast off on an ice floe of perfect taste & cocaine."February 21, 2020 – "Goddamn. This book has made me weep too many times. This is the most beautiful Hollywood history ever written. More later... hell, it’s finished."Highest Possible Recommendation.
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  • Gary
    January 1, 1970
    This book won't be published until February, but I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an ARC. The first half was all about the writing of "Chinatown". Anyone who aspires to write screenplays or novels will benefit from discovering the narrative challenges that a successful script doctor struggled with when writing his first original screenplay. Although Robert Towne receives sole writing credit, I was surprised to learn how much Roman Polanski contributed to the finished script, including This book won't be published until February, but I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an ARC. The first half was all about the writing of "Chinatown". Anyone who aspires to write screenplays or novels will benefit from discovering the narrative challenges that a successful script doctor struggled with when writing his first original screenplay. Although Robert Towne receives sole writing credit, I was surprised to learn how much Roman Polanski contributed to the finished script, including that memorable resolution. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” The main players here are Towne, who comes off as difficult and slow to complete obligations; director Polanski, a master storyteller and a brilliant problem solver; studio head/producer Robert Evans, a movie lover and one of the last executives to place a commitment to quality filmmaking above the bottom line, and Jack Nicholson, a loyal friend to the men in his life and a betrayer of the women. I could have done with less detail about their personal lives, their troubles and their shortcomings, but the sections that dealt with the technical aspects of getting this masterpiece to the screen were informative and entertaining. Overall, I loved this book and will probably purchase the hardcover just to read the final corrected and edited version.
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  • Kevin
    January 1, 1970
    Fans of Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" and Mark Harris's "Pictures at the Revolution" will adore Sam Wasson's ("Improv Nation") superbly written history of the making of the 1974 noir classic "Chinatown". This Oscar-winning masterpiece was created by combining the talents of Jack Nicholson (in his first romantic leading man role), screenwriter Robert Towne (suffering from writers' block after spending two years writing Warren Beatty's "Shampoo"), producer Robert Evans (the new head Fans of Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" and Mark Harris's "Pictures at the Revolution" will adore Sam Wasson's ("Improv Nation") superbly written history of the making of the 1974 noir classic "Chinatown". This Oscar-winning masterpiece was created by combining the talents of Jack Nicholson (in his first romantic leading man role), screenwriter Robert Towne (suffering from writers' block after spending two years writing Warren Beatty's "Shampoo"), producer Robert Evans (the new head of a floundering Paramount Pictures who brought profits back by producing "Love Story" and "The Godfather") and director Roman Polanski (whose two films post-"Rosemary's Baby" had tanked).More than half of Wasson's brilliant book is just a lead-up to filming "Chinatown"--but what a thrilling first half it is. Wasson backtracks to create full and psychologically insightful biographies of all four men, leading up to their friendships and working partnerships. The murder of Polanski's eight-months pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969 devastated him and changed Hollywood. "That was the end of the Sixties," said Towne. "The door closed, the curtain dropped, and nothing and no one was ever the same." Wasson's detective work goes beyond juicy tales of Faye Dunaway's alienating behavior. He uncovers several surprises, including Towne's longtime (but secret) writing partnership with Edward Taylor; the disastrous first previews of the film; and the last-minute jettison of the film's musical score to one composed and recorded in 10 days by Jerry Goldsmith.THE BIG GOODBYE reaches beyond the filming of "Chinatown" to create a fascinating and superbly reported look at Hollywood in the 1970s and beyond. THE BIG GOODBYE is a richly detailed and superbly written biography of the four men who forged a strong friendship and created the film classic "Chinatown".
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  • John
    January 1, 1970
    This is a brilliant book. It captures perfectly the era that created the movie Chinatown and brings together — with a real time feel — the work done by the writer, director, actor, and movie executive to create art. The book also takes you through the creative process and the actual nuts and bolts of making a movie — right down to the jewelry and the color of the nail polish chosen for Faye Dunaway to wear in her scenes. I was simply amazed by Wasson’s efforts in this book to leave no stone This is a brilliant book. It captures perfectly the era that created the movie Chinatown and brings together — with a real time feel — the work done by the writer, director, actor, and movie executive to create art. The book also takes you through the creative process and the actual nuts and bolts of making a movie — right down to the jewelry and the color of the nail polish chosen for Faye Dunaway to wear in her scenes. I was simply amazed by Wasson’s efforts in this book to leave no stone unturned. He catalogues a process superbly. The characters who created Chinatown become as memorable as the characters in the movie.Highly recommended for movie buffs.
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  • Larry Aydlette
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed the book -- and if you love Chinatown and the golden era of '70s movies, you will too, But it has the feel of a magazine article padded out to book length. Author Sam Wasson raises, in what I think is some original reporting, the idea that screenwriter Robert Towne may have had an uncredited friend helping him craft his scripts. But where Wasson really drops the ball is figuring out what Towne wrote and what Polanski re-wrote. Maybe it's too difficult to parse at this stage, beyond I enjoyed the book -- and if you love Chinatown and the golden era of '70s movies, you will too, But it has the feel of a magazine article padded out to book length. Author Sam Wasson raises, in what I think is some original reporting, the idea that screenwriter Robert Towne may have had an uncredited friend helping him craft his scripts. But where Wasson really drops the ball is figuring out what Towne wrote and what Polanski re-wrote. Maybe it's too difficult to parse at this stage, beyond that Polanski came up with the darker ending. But Polanski hints that he could have been credited for co-writing it. Is it all Towne's, and Polanski just edited it down to a manageable story? Does that mean it's Polanski who wrote the classic closing line, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." We don't find out. And, oddly enough, for a book that celebrates this film, Wasson skims over a lot of Towne's rich dialogue and quotable passages, never celebrating what is most often celebrated about the film. While he talked to Polanski and Robert Evans (and their side stories are very interesting), the book suffers from a lack of direct sourcing from Nicholson, Dunaway and especially Towne. Towne's ex-wife Julie Payne talks, and she is a rich source of material. But there comes a point where Towne gets fairly trashed as a coke fiend and ugly to her in a protracted divorce over their child, perhaps fairly. Maybe he's a total asshole, wouldn't be the first time. But there is a lack of balance that feels off. In the end, it's a worthwhile book for the way Wasson weaves together the on and off-screen struggles to get the movie made, and especially the way he shows how Polanski's darkness from his Holocaust childhood and the murder of Sharon Tate brought the right tone to the movie. But in some way that I can't quite place it feels like Wasson really doesn't appreciate Chinatown. Like, maybe, it was just a book gig? There's a tremendous amount of research, not a lot of passion. Like the essential mystery at the heart of Chinatown itself, the book raises more questions than it answers.
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  • Michael Ritchie
    January 1, 1970
    (3-1/2 stars) This is a big, messy book. Wasson presents lots of interesting facts and anecdotes about Chinatown, and Hollywood in the first half of the 70s. But it's also wildly disjointed at times. Though mostly told chronologically, there are odd jumps in the story; after pages and pages about the writing of Chinatown, suddenly we're told that it's being shot. Same thing when the shooting is over. Of the four main "characters" here (Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski and Jack (3-1/2 stars) This is a big, messy book. Wasson presents lots of interesting facts and anecdotes about Chinatown, and Hollywood in the first half of the 70s. But it's also wildly disjointed at times. Though mostly told chronologically, there are odd jumps in the story; after pages and pages about the writing of Chinatown, suddenly we're told that it's being shot. Same thing when the shooting is over. Of the four main "characters" here (Robert Towne, Robert Evans, Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson), only Polanski and Towne really come to life. Wasson has done lots of research, but he includes one gigantic error, in saying that Cabaret got the Best Picture Oscar over The Godfather--of course, Godfather actually did win the Oscar, though Fosse got the Directing award over Coppola. This makes me wonder if there are other facts that Wasson didn't quite get right. He mentions that John Cheever's Falconer was going to be made into a movie, and notes how difficult that would be, but doesn't say why (I read Falconer many years ago but don't know why it would be so difficult). Wasson spends some time on the making of the Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes, but doesn't say a word about the plotting. I'm glad I read this, but like the original Chinatown script, this book could have used an editorial overhaul.
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  • Jason Allison
    January 1, 1970
    Astonishing and unexpected. About so much more than a single, all-time great movie, Wasson brings the reader into the homes and minds of Hollywood legends. He explores Nicholson, Towne (who takes a bit of a beating), Bob Evans, Dunaway, Huston and Polanski, bookending the story with Sharon Tate’s murder and Roman’s conviction for statutory rape. He explains how The Exorcist and Jaws ruined Hollywood’s appetite to make art and how the arrival of soulless executives like Don Simpson and Michael Astonishing and unexpected. About so much more than a single, all-time great movie, Wasson brings the reader into the homes and minds of Hollywood legends. He explores Nicholson, Towne (who takes a bit of a beating), Bob Evans, Dunaway, Huston and Polanski, bookending the story with Sharon Tate’s murder and Roman’s conviction for statutory rape. He explains how The Exorcist and Jaws ruined Hollywood’s appetite to make art and how the arrival of soulless executives like Don Simpson and Michael Eisner transformed Hollywood into the bottom line machine it is today. Wonderfully written and supremely readable, this is an early contender for best non-fiction read of 2020.
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  • Ed
    January 1, 1970
    Any deep dive into a movie I love is welcomed but this doubles as a piece of Hollywood history through the eyes of Roman Polanski, Robert Evans, Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson. There are some disturbing revelations as well as a sadness I felt when the book makes clear Chinatown was the end of an era. So the 70’s didn’t really last to 1975. Great. Wasson pulls no punches about these men’s genius nor their horrific faults (some worse than others), which makes for the best historical records. He Any deep dive into a movie I love is welcomed but this doubles as a piece of Hollywood history through the eyes of Roman Polanski, Robert Evans, Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson. There are some disturbing revelations as well as a sadness I felt when the book makes clear Chinatown was the end of an era. So the 70’s didn’t really last to 1975. Great. Wasson pulls no punches about these men’s genius nor their horrific faults (some worse than others), which makes for the best historical records. He also dives into The Two Jakes and the part 3 we’ll never see. I had just about every emotion reading this and if I read better nonfiction then it’s gonna be a hell of a year.
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  • Kevin
    January 1, 1970
    Very informative though I felt the author's style was unnecessarily distracting at times. His repetitive use of key phrases, like some kind of Greek chorus, felt a bit corny and didn't make a ton of sense. But overall an excellent look into the nightmarish world of Hollywood filmmaking.
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  • Randy
    January 1, 1970
    Hold on! The book’s meticulousness really takes a hit on p. 274 of the hardcover. It erroneously states that Cabaret won best picture over The Godfather. What! No! If the author or his fact checkers missed this obvious error... Otherwise, a very entertaining book but now qualified by a dose of skepticism as to its factual accuracy.
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  • Niklas Pivic
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book about a state of mind: Chinatown, not to be confused with a physical locale. It is also a book about the persons who made Chinatown, the film, and how they affected others. Additionally, the book is one big sign-o’-the-times of the 1970s.The main players are Robert Towne, scriptwriter extraordinaire, Roman Polanski, prodigal director and mess, Robert Evans, film-studio exec-cum-playboy, and Jack Nicholson, Hollywood noveau-golden-age Goose.The book reminds me of Peter Biskind’s This is a book about a state of mind: Chinatown, not to be confused with a physical locale. It is also a book about the persons who made Chinatown, the film, and how they affected others. Additionally, the book is one big sign-o’-the-times of the 1970s.The main players are Robert Towne, scriptwriter extraordinaire, Roman Polanski, prodigal director and mess, Robert Evans, film-studio exec-cum-playboy, and Jack Nicholson, Hollywood noveau-golden-age Goose.The book reminds me of Peter Biskind’s runaway Easy Riders, Raging Bulls which is often described as entertaining, apocryphal, and filled with smear. I cannot say how true this book is, especially as some of its participants are dead and others have not been involved in the making of this book, and as such, I choose to handle it a bit like a fable, something that Werner Herzog refers to as ecstatic truth.The book starts off with Sharon Tate.He would stare at Sharon, unbelieving. It was impossible, someone so perfect, and yet, there she was. Wasn’t she? “She was just fantastic,” Polanski would say. “She was a fucking angel.” Her hair of yellow chaparral, the changing color of her eyes, the unqualified kindness of her face. Did people like this exist? In a world of chaos, was it naive to trust, as a child would, the apparent goodness of things, the feeling of safety he had known and lost before?This book wins, over and over again, by invoking a film-noir atmosphere. Wasson paints such a romantic and straightforward picture of Hollywood at the time, its inhabitants, and the main players who made Chinatown, that I felt the allure of the book and kept coming back to it. It reads like an old-school detective novel.Robert Towne is a screenwriter with a slew of legendary films under his belt. Before making Chinatown, he was revered and simultaneously forgettable. He needed something to make his mark and keep going.Towne was in agony. Writing Chinatown was like being in Chinatown. A novelist could write and write—and, indeed, Towne wrote like a novelist, turning out hundreds upon hundreds of pages of notes and outlines and dialogue snippets—but a movie is two hours; in script form, approximately a minute a page. What could he afford to lose? He needed to be uncompromisingly objective, but not so hard on his ideas that he ended up losing what may have been good in them—that is, if there was ever anything good about them to begin with. Was there? The question had to be asked. Was any of this good, and if so, would anyone care? A civics lesson on water rights and the incestuous rape of a child? From one vantage point, it was dull; from another, obscene. Who would even make such a movie? Columbia wouldn’t even let him write forty fucks.By 1972 Towne and Payne were nearly broke. “In those days,” Payne said, “you could not pay Robert to write if he didn’t want to write. He just wouldn’t do it. He wrote only for love.”Warren Beatty would call Payne: “How’s it going?”“Slow. Robert won’t put a word on the page until he thinks it’s perfect.”“If he ever asks you what you think, don’t say anything, because he’ll stop.” And then, as it always had, the moment came. He handed her pages.“What do you think?” Julie glanced, but her answer was ready-made.“Shorter.”She hocked her diamond earrings.This book contains many glimmers of the work magic that somehow came over everybody involved, which, in the end, managed to become Chinatown. It wasn’t from lack of trying. It’s obvious that the main persons fought hard to have their way with the film, including hands-on approaches from the likes of Evans.One crisis immediately gave way to another. “What is this?” Polanski asked of the dailies. He was in the screening room of the Canon Drive office, surrounded by his team, the Sylberts, Koch, Cortez.“This reddish tint. We didn’t shoot this.” Polanski went down to the lab to see how they were printing the film. “Why is everything tinted?”“Robert Evans requested it.”“He did?” Polanski raged into Evans’s office. “Why did you do this? Everything looks like ketchup.”“I wanted to try. Just to see—”“Well, now we know and now we go back.” Later, Polanski and Sylbert would laugh about this interference. Evans’s artistic convictions “were sometimes quite naive,” Polanski reflected.Knowing he had transgressed on the tinting, Evans retreated, and the intended naturalism of the Chinatown dailies was restored.What a writing process, right in the midst of cocaine madness!So goodbye to his endless supporting characters, goodbye to the love story of Byron Samples and Ida Samples; goodbye to Evelyn’s affair with a mystery man and Gittes’s looming jealousy, “which I felt would have been more interesting,” Towne said; goodbye to Gittes’s and Evelyn’s protracted and suspicious courtship, her violent outbursts, his many faraway mentions of Chinatown; goodbye to Julian Cross’s drug addiction; Julie’s favorite scene, containing Cross’s eerie aria to the sweet smell of horseshit; goodbye to the betrayal of Gittes by his partners, Duffy and Walsh, and his extended consultation with his lawyer, Bressler; goodbye to Escobar’s jagged history with the Cross family; goodbye to Gittes’s passion, Towne’s passion really, for Seabiscuit, intended to contain Gittes’s uptown ambitions; goodbye to Chinatown’s multiple points of view: “You [should] never show things that happen in [Gittes’s] absence,” Polanski said; goodbye to the slowly encroaching paranoia, the hurricane of subplots that swirled around Gittes; goodbye to everything that wasn’t water. Everything, Polanski decreed, had to move the water mystery forward; if they could cut it, they should cut it. But when it came to certain elements—namely, the love story (Towne wanted more scenes; Polanski, certain a good sex scene would suffice, fewer) and of course the ending—Towne and Polanski had two opposing definitions of “could.” They fought. Their arguments were painful. Each was smart enough to see the virtues in the other’s strategy; both were correct.On the coffee table there was a bowl of cash to take from—to remind his many friends and lovers that he was still, despite his earnings, very much the Weaver of Pupi’s. There was also an opulent cocaine pyramid, pointing skyward in a help-yourself bowl in the foyer. For Polanski, this was a welcome change from the Lotus Apartments. At Nicholson’s, the ghosts were slower to find him. But when night came and the living room dimmed, city lights stalked the windows, and the mood moved down and away, to Sharon and to Chinatown. Polanski saw why he had come back: It was because he had never left.There are many great things about this book. The main gripe that I have with it, is that the rhythm of the book is unwavering in its hard-boiled film-noirish sensibility; it becomes a kind of parody of the times that it wants to display.Yet, there is more behind the surface than the above. Wasson does go into Polanski’s rape of a child, Sharon Tate’s murder, the follow-up film—The Two Jakes—but leaves very little to chance. Reading this book is akin to a whodunnit by Christopher Brookmyre: a well-written tale that twists and hints throughout, and delivers well. I recommend this to all who are interested in the second golden age of Hollywood and who want to see a true work of art come into existence.
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  • Jeff Francis
    January 1, 1970
    Transcending what could have been a mere trivia deep-dive, Sam Wasson’s “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood” tells not only the story of 1974’s “Chinatown” but also a more expansive, character-driven story of a specific time and place. The place is obviously Hollywood, but the time is more ambiguous, and not about dates at all. The Big Goodbye’s power lies in a paradox: it’s about a kind-of countercultural Golden Age in movies, but the very point of said Golden Age is how Transcending what could have been a mere trivia deep-dive, Sam Wasson’s “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood” tells not only the story of 1974’s “Chinatown” but also a more expansive, character-driven story of a specific time and place. The place is obviously Hollywood, but the time is more ambiguous, and not about dates at all. The Big Goodbye’s power lies in a paradox: it’s about a kind-of countercultural Golden Age in movies, but the very point of said Golden Age is how much it captured the collapse of such optimism in American society overall. Point is, this book is about a time when movie studios celebrated intellectualism, before surrendering to the every-movie-a-blockbuster model we live under now. Yet, the very reason that time is noteworthy is how well it captured the rise of high-level corruption (Watergate) and the loss of faith in American institutions (Vietnam). Robert Towne, “Chinatown”’s celebrated screenwriter, put it thusly: As Towne had once observed, the American films of World War II benefited from shared beliefs; now, “there was a common assumption that something was wrong,” he said, “in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate and assassinations and riots” that gave rise to “a hunger on both sides for something new” and produced a Hollywood year as powerful as 1974. But the poison was in the perfume: These films, Towne said, “did their jobs too well. There was”—presently—“nothing left to expose.” [p. 271]I most enjoyed “The Big Goodbye” during its tangents. The history of Los Angeles is actually quite interesting, and the whole water thing is a story of corruption worthy to stand alongside the countless others in American history. Also, although it’s only a small part of the book, the murder of Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife and associates by the Charles Manson cult was riveting. The bookmakers’ decision to lead with it capitalizes on renewed interest in the case from the successful “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.” Ample time is also given to the sordid lives of Hollywood elites (and Polanski’s life gets pretty damned sordid before he flees the U.S.). On a practical level, “The Big Goodbye” will be manna for cinephiles and enthusiasts of Hollywood’s bygone eras. For the rest of us, it’s a good, almost historic story whose minutiae sometimes undermines its momentum. It’s hard to overstate how well-written it is, but the bigger question is to what extent you’re interested in the subject.
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  • Randy Wilson
    January 1, 1970
    Chinatown is my favorite film. I remember the moment when I heard that last line, 'Forget it Jake it's Chinatown.' My spine tingled and I felt as if everything came together. Not just the film but the meaning of life. Now forty years on, I know better than to believe that films, even great films hand you wisdom on a silver platter. Nevertheless, that provides a glimpse of what Chinatown has meant to me.I was excited about this book before I read it. I liked the idea that it wouldn't be only a Chinatown is my favorite film. I remember the moment when I heard that last line, 'Forget it Jake it's Chinatown.' My spine tingled and I felt as if everything came together. Not just the film but the meaning of life. Now forty years on, I know better than to believe that films, even great films hand you wisdom on a silver platter. Nevertheless, that provides a glimpse of what Chinatown has meant to me.I was excited about this book before I read it. I liked the idea that it wouldn't be only a 'making of' book. This would delve beneath the surface like Chinatown itself and give us more. Maybe its my fault because I had high expectations that I would learn lots of great details about the making of the film. I should have known better but still I'm deflated. I thought I would get the making of and this psychological study of how four key figures (Robert Evens, Robert Towne, Jack Nicholson & Roman Polanski) of the film were playing out relationships with their fathers in this film.To be honest, I didn't care about these men and their fathers. I only cared about Chinatown. The question that I wanted answered was what accounted for this film's greatness? A reputation that I believe has only gotten greater over time. If anything the book knocks the screenwriter, Robert Towne, off his perch. First, he had a co-writer that didn't get acknowledged and second, the screenplay as delivered to Roman Polanski was messy and flat. Connections weren't made and the fluid unfolding of events and ideas weren't on the page.Is it an inconvenient truth that Polanski is the true agent of the film's greatness? Probably. In this era of #MeToo, we are unable to sort through the discomfort that men are vile pigs who on occasion make great art. So we assign the greatness to someone else, Robert Towne, in this instance though his relationship with an ex-wife may not pass the #MeToo smell test but then he isn't the lightning rod that Polanski is. But ultimately I'm the fool for expecting a book with pages and words to conjure up a satisfying explanation for why my life felt transformed in 1978 walking out of Berkeley's UC Theater, rolling over that word... Chinatown.
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  • John Spiller
    January 1, 1970
    "The Big Goodbye" explores the making of "Chinatown" from the primary perspectives of four men who are famously associated with the movie: Robert Towne (writer), Roman Polanski (director), Robert Evans (producer), and Jack Nicholson (actor). In Wasson's telling, Towne creates the source material, Evans serves as the catalyst, and Polanski and Nicholson shape and bring the creation to life.Wasson seems to have had extensive access to Polanski, so "The Big Goodbye" provides a preponderance of the "The Big Goodbye" explores the making of "Chinatown" from the primary perspectives of four men who are famously associated with the movie: Robert Towne (writer), Roman Polanski (director), Robert Evans (producer), and Jack Nicholson (actor). In Wasson's telling, Towne creates the source material, Evans serves as the catalyst, and Polanski and Nicholson shape and bring the creation to life.Wasson seems to have had extensive access to Polanski, so "The Big Goodbye" provides a preponderance of the making of the film from his perspective. With no direct access to Towne, most of Wasson's behind the scenes depictions of Towne's creation of the screenplay comes from his ex-wife, who was later involved in a long, acrimonious divorce and child custody battle with Towne. To me, the most interesting section described the evolution of the original concept of the movie from a series of ideas to the working story that forms the basis of the movie. Wasson also chronicles the fraught post-production process that threatened to undermine the film completely. Wasson does not tend to editorialize, preferring instead to have the reader reach his or her own conclusions based on the facts. But his presentation of the facts tend to color the conclusion he seeks the reader to reach. For example, he does not shy away from Polanski's proclivity for underage girls, but he adds asides that Polanski wasn't trying to hurt anyone and anyway those were different times. Polanski fleeing the country was not avoiding jail time, but rather due to a crooked judge. "The Big Goodbye" is interesting film history focused on a film made right before the advent of the blockbuster changed the character of Hollywood forever. Wasson's sympathetic portrayal of the men behind the film, though, leaves a slight sour aftertaste.
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  • Larry
    January 1, 1970
    I have so many feelings about this book. Overall I liked it quite a bit, as can be discerned from my rating. But there are also things about it that I really didn't care for. (Primarily, the author's writing style. At times he romanticizes things with odd stylistic choices, and language.) That being said, for fans of Hollywood, and particularly for fans of the movie Chinatown, this is a great read. The book provides fascinating insights, and not all of them favorable, into the cast of characters I have so many feelings about this book. Overall I liked it quite a bit, as can be discerned from my rating. But there are also things about it that I really didn't care for. (Primarily, the author's writing style. At times he romanticizes things with odd stylistic choices, and language.) That being said, for fans of Hollywood, and particularly for fans of the movie Chinatown, this is a great read. The book provides fascinating insights, and not all of them favorable, into the cast of characters behind the making of the film, both in front of and behind the camera. Robert Towne does not come off well, at all. Robert Evans, not much better. Jack Nicholson doesn't escape unscathed, but a little better than the first two. There are many behind-the-scenes players who are exemplary, both in their craft, and in their humanity. The discussions of the effort that goes into making a movie are truly engaging. When I picked up the book I was curious about part of the subtitle, "...and the Last Years Of Hollywood." The last quarter, or so, of the book does a great job of discussing how the movie business went from one populated by people who loved cinema to one run strictly as a business. The introduction of the new guard, many of whom you will know by name, was the genesis of the type of films that we see now (think, tent-pole series' and non-stop super heroes). And we are poorer for it.
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  • Lloyd Fassett
    January 1, 1970
    2/21/20 Found it through the Wall St. Journal. Absolutely loved the movie and the short piece Robert Townsend, the screenwriter, wrote about how he wrote it on Catalina Island. It was an amazing time of cinema where it was less data-driven in how investment decisions were made. Now it's all algorithm come thriller billion-dollar things that don't appeal to me. I find it interesting the Coen Brothers and movies like Parasite can be made, much less get the Best Film Oscar in 2020. Who 2/21/20 Found it through the Wall St. Journal. Absolutely loved the movie and the short piece Robert Townsend, the screenwriter, wrote about how he wrote it on Catalina Island. It was an amazing time of cinema where it was less data-driven in how investment decisions were made. Now it's all algorithm come thriller billion-dollar things that don't appeal to me. I find it interesting the Coen Brothers and movies like Parasite can be made, much less get the Best Film Oscar in 2020. Who knows...maybe thought-provoking films are on the way back. That would be nice. It's definitely needed in our thought-provoking, polarized times. Maybe something about a freak business failure, bankrupt elected leader of the world's largest economy who gets away with crazy-ass shit, rolls back environmental protections, denies the planet is warming up and has coal generating electric plants remove filters from their smoke stacks....I don't know...just an idea.Subscription required: Wall St. Journal Review Feb 21, 2020
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  • Mauberley
    January 1, 1970
    An exceptional book for all who are interested in learning how a film gets made. And what a film it was. Wasson focuses on four very flawed men who created what I have no hesitation in describing as a masterpiece. Robert Townes's angry and frightened ex-wife is a key source for the author and it is perhaps not surprising that his artistic contribution is most severely called into question, particularly as regards the contributions of his late partner, Edward Taylor. (Evans also contributed to An exceptional book for all who are interested in learning how a film gets made. And what a film it was. Wasson focuses on four very flawed men who created what I have no hesitation in describing as a masterpiece. Robert Townes's angry and frightened ex-wife is a key source for the author and it is perhaps not surprising that his artistic contribution is most severely called into question, particularly as regards the contributions of his late partner, Edward Taylor. (Evans also contributed to Wasson's research and although it was Oct 26, 2019 when the producer passed away, Wasson offers no elegy.) More than anything, it is the incredible attention to detail that makes the film such a marvellous achievement and much credit for that goes to Evans and, especially, Polanski. Richard (Dick) Sylbert's thoughts on production design were, for me, particularly revelatory. In fact, by the end of this wonderfully readable book, one realizes the important collaborations and contributions of all connected with the film: its editor (Sean O'Steen), composer (Goldsmith was quite wonderful here), Anthea Sylbert... Behind all of them looms one of the film's most important, if uncredited, characters, the city of Los Angeles itself.
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  • Campbell Andrews
    January 1, 1970
    Catnip for Chinatown & 70s movie fans, dovetails nicely with Sharon Tate as conjured by Tarantino's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. New interviews with Evans, ex-Mrs. Towne (RIP both), Polanski- but not Jack. What impresses is the alchemy of genius that produced this masterwork, how it took everyone and nobody was sure it would work. Wasson knows not to overanalyze but he can't resist digs at some of the greats' work following the period- the Shining is "fluff?" That narrative just fits too Catnip for Chinatown & 70s movie fans, dovetails nicely with Sharon Tate as conjured by Tarantino's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. New interviews with Evans, ex-Mrs. Towne (RIP both), Polanski- but not Jack. What impresses is the alchemy of genius that produced this masterwork, how it took everyone and nobody was sure it would work. Wasson knows not to overanalyze but he can't resist digs at some of the greats' work following the period- the Shining is "fluff?" That narrative just fits too neatly with the spectacle of ruin he wants to languish in. (Also, the 72 Best Picture winner wasn't Cabaret, it was The Godfather. But Fosse did win over Coppola in 72, so I know what he means.)I do agree that no one within was ever better, if only because for one halcyon period they all came together... separately, they sunk to nadirs none could have fathomed with the help of sex, drugs, greed- usually all of the above. Not even one of the greatest movies ever can absolve you of being a shit to your family & friends.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    Although sometimes overwritten and gushing, the book contains a ton of entertaining anecdotes, although who knows how many of the anecdotes are actually true. For example, the Lakers did not play an overtime or double overtime game in Boston during the making of Chinatown. They didn't play any double overtime game during the 1973-74 season when the picture was being filmed. Also, Cabaret didn't beat out The Godfather for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Bob Fosse beat Francis Ford Coppola for Although sometimes overwritten and gushing, the book contains a ton of entertaining anecdotes, although who knows how many of the anecdotes are actually true. For example, the Lakers did not play an overtime or double overtime game in Boston during the making of Chinatown. They didn't play any double overtime game during the 1973-74 season when the picture was being filmed. Also, Cabaret didn't beat out The Godfather for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Bob Fosse beat Francis Ford Coppola for Best Director that year. Those were easy to check, the other stuff isn't.In the book Robert Towne goes on and on about corruption, the loss of ethics and morals, and the lack of shared values in the then current society but the four people profiled in the book - Polanski, Evans, Towne and Nicholson - included a child rapist, a cocaine trafficker, a wife beater, and multiple cokeheads and serial adulterers. So their societal critiques ring hollow.The biggest revelation from the book to me was how big of a role Towne's friend, Edward Taylor, had in all of his writing. Still, these guys came together to produce a truly great movie.
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  • Gary Sassaman
    January 1, 1970
    Movie books like The Big Goodbye are few and far between these days. We've unfortunately entered a time period where people think 1999 is the greatest movie year ever. Sam Wasson's history of the making of Chinatown captures a critical era in Hollywood history when the studio system was on its last legs, but it also spotlights the careers of the four people front and center in the making of this film: Director Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans, writer Robert Towne, and actor Jack Nicholson, Movie books like The Big Goodbye are few and far between these days. We've unfortunately entered a time period where people think 1999 is the greatest movie year ever. Sam Wasson's history of the making of Chinatown captures a critical era in Hollywood history when the studio system was on its last legs, but it also spotlights the careers of the four people front and center in the making of this film: Director Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans, writer Robert Towne, and actor Jack Nicholson, along with some other figures like production designer Richard Sylbert and costume designer Anthea Sylbert. Towne gets the most damage in this book, and I won't go into details since it could be a spoiler alert, but I was shocked to learn certain facts about him. Wasson's prose tends to be a bit high-falutin' in my book, but the story behind Chinatown is just as fascinating as the screen story.
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  • Jay Croft
    January 1, 1970
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was catnip for this lover of 1970s Hollywood. I learned a lot about Towne, Polanski, Evans and Nicholson. For instance, Towne had an uncredited writing partner... and Polanski's revisions to the script were wholesale, much more than just insisting that Dunaway's character die at the end. I also would've liked more original interviews with the main people. It's an artful clip job for stretches. And Dunaway... where is she? Barely there. Batshit crazy diva, or I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was catnip for this lover of 1970s Hollywood. I learned a lot about Towne, Polanski, Evans and Nicholson. For instance, Towne had an uncredited writing partner... and Polanski's revisions to the script were wholesale, much more than just insisting that Dunaway's character die at the end. I also would've liked more original interviews with the main people. It's an artful clip job for stretches. And Dunaway... where is she? Barely there. Batshit crazy diva, or terrorized artiste doing her best work? Maybe both. Would've been nice to get her perspective on the four powerful men who mainly shaped the movie -- which would not work without her pathetic character at the story's center.A quibble, though. Fun, fun, fun. I wanted it to go on and on.
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  • Milo Geyelin
    January 1, 1970
    Whether or not you love Chinatown (I do), this is the best book I’ve read on what’s involved creatively in making a first-rate film. Or at least what was involved during that golden age of Hollywood films in the 1970s L.A. before the talent agencies and the corporate accountants took over. Chinatown was unique because it brought together a great screenwriter (Robert Towne) working with a genius director (Roman Polanski) two great actors in their prime (Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway) working Whether or not you love Chinatown (I do), this is the best book I’ve read on what’s involved creatively in making a first-rate film. Or at least what was involved during that golden age of Hollywood films in the 1970s L.A. before the talent agencies and the corporate accountants took over. Chinatown was unique because it brought together a great screenwriter (Robert Towne) working with a genius director (Roman Polanski) two great actors in their prime (Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway) working under the aegis of a legendary producer (Robert Evans) to create a monumental work of art. Each is extensively profiled here. I highly recommend this book. The only reason I gave it four stars is the writing at times lacked clarity.
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    Sam Wasson has become one of the best historians of post-studio Hollywood and "The Big Goodbye", besides telling the story of Roman Polanski's "Chinatown", is the history of the early 70s "New Hollywood" from its earliest stirrings to its eventual, gradual dissipation. Many familiar names come off rather badly, but Wasson isn't interested in cheap shots or character assassination. He focuses not on the binges and the egos (although those figure in, of course) but on the creative work his Sam Wasson has become one of the best historians of post-studio Hollywood and "The Big Goodbye", besides telling the story of Roman Polanski's "Chinatown", is the history of the early 70s "New Hollywood" from its earliest stirrings to its eventual, gradual dissipation. Many familiar names come off rather badly, but Wasson isn't interested in cheap shots or character assassination. He focuses not on the binges and the egos (although those figure in, of course) but on the creative work his subjects did and the struggles and happy accidents that turned the chaos of a slightly unprepared production into a masterpiece.
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  • Koen
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting and informative read but with some issues.Mainly, while some parts were engaging, others kinda slogged along. Overall it seemed to lack some consistency. The topic at hand is interesting enough although someone more a film buff will probably get more out of it then me. I hadn't even seen the film nor was i familiar with it's status.What I take from the book is a better understanding of what it took to make a movie in those days, some insight in the major shift in the way movies were Interesting and informative read but with some issues.Mainly, while some parts were engaging, others kinda slogged along. Overall it seemed to lack some consistency. The topic at hand is interesting enough although someone more a film buff will probably get more out of it then me. I hadn't even seen the film nor was i familiar with it's status.What I take from the book is a better understanding of what it took to make a movie in those days, some insight in the major shift in the way movies were made around that time and quite some biographical info on the major characters in making Chinatown; Towne, Evans, Polanski and Nicholson.
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  • Mike Attebery
    January 1, 1970
    A great read. Tons of new information, with little repetition from past documentaries and books on the topic. The information about Robert Towne is eye opening for any film major, writer, or movie fan who looked up to him as a great screenwriter. The true writing talents appear to be Edward Taylor (who almost no one ever knew existed) and Roman Polanski (who essentially wrote the script for which Towne accepted the Academy Award!). The last 40 pages start to drift, getting bogged down with A great read. Tons of new information, with little repetition from past documentaries and books on the topic. The information about Robert Towne is eye opening for any film major, writer, or movie fan who looked up to him as a great screenwriter. The true writing talents appear to be Edward Taylor (who almost no one ever knew existed) and Roman Polanski (who essentially wrote the script for which Towne accepted the Academy Award!). The last 40 pages start to drift, getting bogged down with unnecessary details about Towne's divorce and drug abuse, but there's some great stuff about the troubled Two Jakes. All in all, a must read for anyone who loves film, particularly THIS film.
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  • Scott Isenberg
    January 1, 1970
    I anticipated that this book would focus primarily on the process by which Robert Townes’ screenplay became the the iconic film, “Chinatown”. It does that, to be sure, but it offers the reader much more: the real-world experiences of the four principals—Robert Towne, Roman Polanski, Robert Evans, and Jack Nicholson—that informed and shaped the simultaneously romantic and terrifying tale that we see in the screen. It reads more like a novel than a film study, and a valediction to a Hollywood that I anticipated that this book would focus primarily on the process by which Robert Townes’ screenplay became the the iconic film, “Chinatown”. It does that, to be sure, but it offers the reader much more: the real-world experiences of the four principals—Robert Towne, Roman Polanski, Robert Evans, and Jack Nicholson—that informed and shaped the simultaneously romantic and terrifying tale that we see in the screen. It reads more like a novel than a film study, and a valediction to a Hollywood that is no more.
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  • Jerry Knoll
    January 1, 1970
    What an enjoyable read. The author does such painstaking research into every aspect of the main characters involved in the making of the movie Chinatown - Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson, Robert Towne, the writer, and Robert Evans, the producer. We follow the script through all its many, many iterations, then the refining, then the filming - all the way to the release and the night at the Oscars. Very engaging, with wonderfully rendered nostalgia for a time when films were made with care, love, What an enjoyable read. The author does such painstaking research into every aspect of the main characters involved in the making of the movie Chinatown - Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson, Robert Towne, the writer, and Robert Evans, the producer. We follow the script through all its many, many iterations, then the refining, then the filming - all the way to the release and the night at the Oscars. Very engaging, with wonderfully rendered nostalgia for a time when films were made with care, love, and integrity.
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  • William Dury
    January 1, 1970
    Documents creation of the 1973 film “Chinatown,” closely examining the efforts by director Roman Polanski, screen writer Robert Towne, movie star Jack Nicholson and producer Bob Evans.Polanski is a astonishing mixture of light and shade: victim, genius artist and rapist. Wesson gives him credit for taking a disheveled script without an ending and turning it into what became an Academy Award for Towne. Description of his work shooting the opening scenes of the film leave no doubt as to his Documents creation of the 1973 film “Chinatown,” closely examining the efforts by director Roman Polanski, screen writer Robert Towne, movie star Jack Nicholson and producer Bob Evans.Polanski is a astonishing mixture of light and shade: victim, genius artist and rapist. Wesson gives him credit for taking a disheveled script without an ending and turning it into what became an Academy Award for Towne. Description of his work shooting the opening scenes of the film leave no doubt as to his astonishing ability as a director. His rape of Samantha Gailey was criminal.The other three are all amazingly talented in their own ways. Post “Chinatown” Towne and Evans descend into cocaine addiction and dysfunction, Nicholson, earlier ideals lost, into greed.Fine book, especially for film buffs. Might be the finest book about the making of a film I have ever come across.
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating read about the creation of "Chinatown." Happening right on the edge of the dissolution of the old Hollywood studio system and the development of indie films, this recounting reveals the 'Chinatown' levels of production chaos surging through the process of making the film. The Goodreads blurb pretty well tells the basic story, one largely of horror. I'll re-watch this tonight, must be fourth or fifth time, at least, but it's been several years since the last time.
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  • Tommie Whitener
    January 1, 1970
    What a fantastic book. I enjoyed it immensely. Of course, if you don't love LA and the movie "Chinatown" like I do, you might only just like it a lot for its insights and remembrances of a time past and people young only on the screen. However, I had to pace myself so as to not finish the book all in just a couple sittings. I'm sure my next viewing of "Chinatown" will be markedly enhanced for having read this book.
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