Post-noir classic's reputation keeps soaring even as its director's keeps falling.
Nearly ten years into this website we've mentioned Chinatown only once—when we wrote a few lines while sharing two Japanese promo posters. The above poster was made for the film's Australian run, which began today in 1975. The film has been discussed everywhere, which means we can't add much, so let's just call it an all-time masterpiece, and one of the most watchable and re-watchable movies ever made, filled with details you notice over time. For example, it didn't strike us until after a few viewings that Jack Nicholson does his own stunt in that culvert scene, the one where the water rushes down the sluiceway and pins him against a chain link fence. You wouldn't see many modern day stars get wet and cold for a moment that lasts five seconds onscreen. We also failed to notice the first few times that the police lieutenant, Escobar, is Mexican-American. It just didn't strike us. But he would have been an extreme rarity in the 1937 L.A. of the film, and the writing and/or casting choice there was certainly deliberate. Other details continue to emerge, and we've seen the movie five or six times.
As far as director Roman Polanski goes, we've talked about him before. But we'll add that art stands on its own, and people stand on their own too. Having created superior art should not absolve someone of crimes; having committed crimes should not serve to denigrate superior art. That's just our opinion. Plus, a director isn't the only one responsible for a film. The hundreds of others involved, including the select group pictured below, and especially the unpictured screenwriter Robert Towne—who is just as responsible for Chinatown as Polanski and won an Oscar for his screenplay—deserve credit. We will always criticize art for being inaccurate when it pretends to be truthful, or for promulgating false or harmful beliefs. Chinatown doesn't do that. Quite the opposite—it offers sharp insights into how and why Los Angeles became what it is. Meanwhile its subplot somewhat foreshadows Polanski's own crime, which makes the film ironic in the extreme. If you haven't seen it you simply must.
Don't worry, dude. I got your back.
The BBC has an interesting report today about a man who has an elaborate full-back tattoo that, though it's attached to his body, he's sold to an art collector. Yeah, that's one's hard to wrap your head around. Let's put in another way. The man, Tim Steiner, earned $161,000 from German art collector Rik Reinking for rights to the piece. As part of the deal Steiner is required to sit shirtless in a gallery three times a year as a piece of living art, which isn't a bad way to make extra cash, we suppose. Especially when some of the exhibitions have occurred at the Louvre in Paris, Civita di Bagnoregio in Rome, the Art Farm in Beijing, and the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania.
And as befits all good art, the exhibitions will continue even posthumously. After Steiner shuffles off this mortal coil, Reinking takes full ownership of his skin, which will be removed so the tattoo can be framed and displayed. Some people, not surprisingly, have called the unusual arrangement ghoulish, but those people perhaps have no idea how strange modern art can get. Steiner, who sees himself as merely a temporary mounting for the tattoo, is happy, if not exactly eager, to be immortalized on museum walls. He considers tattooing the ultimate art form. “Painting on canvas is one thing,” he says, “painting on skin with needles is a whole other story.”
The creator of the piece, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, would doubtless agree. He's known in inking circles, not only for tattooing humans, but also pigs, whose skins he peddles. So Steiner's sell-off of his ownhide isn't really new. The pigs may be getting the better deal, though. They get to root around in mud and slop to their heart's content until they die of old age. Steiner still presumably has to earn a living a somehow. He probably should have had the pigs' lawyer negotiate his agreement.
We like tattoo art, but this skinning business is obviously a practice that's legitimized by social status. Put someone's framed epidermis on your wall at home and you're anything from seriously weird to a psychopath/subject of a murder inquiry; hang it in a gallery and wine swilling upper crusty types call you a collector. But that's sort of an encapsulation of how the entire world works, isn't it? Rob an old lady at a cash machine and you're a thief; take away her pension and you're a politician. Heavy drug usage in the ghetto is a crime wave; heavy drug usage in suburbia is a public health problem. We can do this all day, but we'll move on.
Yes, I’d like to order a pair of curtains, immediately please.
The French had a wide array of nudie—er, we mean, art—magazines during the mid-century period, including Paris-Hollywood and Folies de Paris et de Hollywood, which are the two we’ve focused on up to now. Regal was another popular publication—digest sized, light on text, and put together by Éditions Extentia, an outfit based out of 38 Rue du Monte-Thabor in Paris that also published Sensations, Chi-Chis, Paris-Broadway, and Paris-Tabou. It was a far-flung enterprise, even distributing issues in distant French Indochina via the loftily named Société Franco-Asiatique located in Saigon. Or if one preferred, issues could be obtained direct from France through the use of “envoi discret,” or discreet shipping, by which we expect they mean in a plain brown wrapper. This issue of Regal, with its voyeur themed cover photo suggesting a woman spied through an open window, was published in 1952. We have twenty-five scans below.
Being on the Lam doesn't sound so bad after all.
Chinese actress Lam Fung, aka Patricia Lam Fung, came to international notice by starring, beginning at age sixteen, in the films of Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers. Working with them she became known as the “Jewel of Shaw,” and many of the movies she made until her surprise retirement at age twenty-seven were huge hits, including 1960's Lian ai yu zhen cao (Love and Chastity), and 1961's Yuan yang dao shang ji (The Mandarin Swords). Fung died in 1976 from an overdose of sleeping pills, a sad end often speculated to be suicide. No date on this awesome image, but figure around 1965.
Chaos and carnage from coast to coast.
Fotocrime is another offering from Digest Publications, Inc., the NYC outfit that gave the world Exclusive, He, and other newsstand treats. The above magazine appeared this month in 1954, was the premier issue, and is exactly what its title says—a compendium of crime photography and the stories behind them, spiced with a bit of celebrity content. Because it's digest sized the text scans at a readable size, so we don't have to explain much. You can have a look and see what it's all about yourself. Of special note are the crime movie reviews, the anti-handgun article, and the True Detective-style feature entitled “Fotoclue” that challenges readers to solve a hypothetical murder. Forty scans below.
Who were the people behind this magazine? They don't offer many clues.
Top Secret fashioned itself a top tier tabloid, but one thing we’ve never liked about it is an inferior printing process that makes its interior images look like cheap dot matrix. We can’t tell you who to blame for that, though, because Top Secret was so secret it didn’t bother with masthead credits. At least not in the issues we’ve bought. Writers get by-lines, but editors and publishers do not so much as give a hint of their identities. Hell, our issues don’t even have publication dates, but we've discerned this one is from November 1964. Well, the backers might have been incognito but the methods were nothing unusual. One writer digs up dirt on Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane, another tells the story of mass killer Jose Rosario Ramirez Camacho, another contributor delves into Tuesday Weld’s personal life, and a U.S. “heroin epidemic” is pinned on Chinese plotting to undermine democracy.
Of special note, there’s a photo of Pamela Green (panel 18), whose weird transformation into Princess Sonmar-Harriks we shared a while back. Also, the photo of French actress Astrid Caron (in the bikini) looks familiar. That’s because we saw it in a different tabloid—this issue of Inside Story—unattributed and used for a piece about suntan lotions. It shows how these magazines used handout photos for whatever purposes they saw fit. Also, Top Secret publishes an open letter to America entitled A Homosexual Pleads—Why Don’t You Leave Us Alone! You’d be forgiven for expecting something ridiculous from a mid-century tabloid, but this piece credited to an anonymous writer is smart and serious. It enumerates the injustices gay men face, from housing discrimination to military disenfranchisement, and feels like it could have been written yesterday. Scans below.
Another country develops the power to destroy civilization.
Today in 1964 China joined the worst club in history—the nuclear club. The test detonation took place in Lop Nur, in eastern Xinjiang province, and gave China the same standing as the U.S., the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. Of the four most recent states to acquire nuclear weapons all of them—Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—refuse to sign or adhere to agreements concerning non-proliferation and non-first use, a trend that will continue as other states develop the technology. It’s also worth noting that, despite such terms as "sole superpower" or "exeptional" that are routinely applied to the U.S., all of the countries listed—apart from North Korea—possess enough nukes to trigger a nuclear winter that would kill billions everywhere, no exceptions. You can read more about China’s big day here.
Me? Why should I touch it? You’re the one always going on about how you can tell everything about a man from his handshake.
British author Sax Rohmer, aka Arthur Henry Ward, wrote many novels but made his reputation with the Fu Manchu series. Tales of Chinatown doesn’t feature that famous character, but instead deals in short story form with other characters and various unsavory goings-on in the Chinese underworld of London’s Limehouse district. There are problems with Rohmer’s depictions of the Chinese, but the writing is almost a century old, so no surprise there. On the plus side, there’s sinister atmosphere of a type here you don’t often get anymore. Tales of Chinatown first appeared in 1922, and this Popular Library edition with art by Rudolph Belarski is from 1949.
Police Gazette conveniently forgets who invented what and when.
Police Gazette editors hit the panic button with this November 1961 cover claiming the Soviets have a death ray bomb. For a mere twenty-five cents readers were able to acquire new nightmare material by reading about this superweapon, which in the story is called an n-bomb. They’re of course referring to a neutron bomb, which by releasing deadly unshielded neutrons would minimize destruction and contamination of property but maximize human death. Not quite rays, so much as a wave emitted by a massive air burst, but still, the new element it brought to the nuclear party was wantonly scattered neutrons, so, okay—rays it is. It must have been a real stunner for Gazette’s millions of readers to learn of this horrific weapon, but unless the Russian scientist who brainstormed it into existence was named Sam Cohen we have to call bullshit on this tall tale, for it was Samuel T. Cohen—an American physicist—who conceived and developed the neutron bomb.
Cohen was an ex-Manhattan Project scientist who spent his career in nukes. He promoted his bomb relentlessly, defending it as “the most sane and moral weapon ever devised,” because “when the war is over, the world is still intact.” See, this is what can happen when you live in a military bubble—Cohen defined morality not by the neutron bomb’s extra-lethal effects on actual living and feeling humans, but by the survival of (reusable) material assets. At its most compact it could blast an area scarcely a mile across, however only a blind man could fail tosee that tactical neutron weapons were simply the thin edge of a wedge opening a tightly sealed nuclear door.
Of course, once the Soviets caught wind of this abomination they developed their own neutron bomb, prompting the U.S. to accelerate its program (see: arms race), until Ronald Reagan ordered 700 finished warheads to be deployed in Europe. It was only mass protest by Europeans—those ungrateful victims of two previous devastating continental wars—that thwarted Reagan’s plans. They realized that neutron weapons made nuclear war more likely, not less likely. If this wasn’t clear enough at the time, it became crystalline when China announced in 1999 that it had built its own neutron bomb. As you have probably deduced by now, the entire point of the Gazette’s death ray story is to urge President John F. Kennedy to get off his ass and develop an American n-bomb to counter the Soviet one. You almost have to wonder if the text was fed to Gazette editors from Sam Cohen’s office.
Moving on, Gazette wouldn’t be Gazette without at least a little Hitler, so in addition to the death ray feature it offers up photos of Adolf relaxing with Eva Braun at a retreat in the Bavarian Alps. In contrast to the
many stories about Hitler living in bitter, defeated isolation in South America, here readers see happy Hitler, socializing during the 1930s with friends and compatriots. Next up, Gazette gives readers their fix of celebrity content with Rita Hayworth, who had been married five times and whose problem the editors are only too happy to diagnose—in their esteemed opinion she’s just too wild to be tamed. And lastly, Gazette presses panic button number two by tying the nascent civil rights movement to communist agitation from overseas. This is a tabloid tale that was told often in the 1960s because, well, we don’t know why exactly—presumably because who besides the puppets of foreign governments would ever deign to demand equal rights? Anyway, we have a few scans below, and an entire stack of early 1970s Gazettes we hope to get to soonish.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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