Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.
We were poking around the architecture forum skyscraperpage.com and ran across this interesting photo of a billboard advertising the film Chinatown. This was located in Los Angeles at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Marmont Lane, and as you can see it touts the opening of the film today in 1974. We lived on the west side of L.A. for four years, and used to pass this spot occasionally. Marmont Lane winds to the right toward the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel, where luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean once made the scene, and a couple met their ends, including Helmut Newton and John Belushi.
We knew the intersection was one of the city's most important billboard spots and wondered what else had been advertised there. So we had a look. We expected to find an assortment of examples, but it turns out the locale was so coveted a relative few companies monopolized it. The first was the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which erected a sign there in 1957, complete with a rotating showgirl and an illuminated marquee listing the headlining acts.
The sheer novelty of the sign helped establish the heavily trafficked intersection as one of L.A.'s go-to spots for promotion, and the sign itself became a landmark. In fact, in 1961 Jayne Mansfield unveiled a Rocky and Bullwinkle statue across the street that was inspired by the Sahara showgirl. It was commissioned by Jay Ward, producer of the television series Rocky and His Friends, for the opening of his office complex.
After the Sahara moved on in 1966 the location was divided into two-tiered advertising. For almost three decades the iconic Marlboro Man towered above the intersection on the higher billboard, first on a horse, and later sans mount. During the time Chinatown was advertised Mr. Marlboro was standing vigil above. The lower location hosted ads for Stroh's and numerous other products, but was a particularly popular home for movie billboards. We found shots of billboards for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Black Sunday, and other popular films of the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of billboards dot the Los Angeles landscape, especially around Hollywood. An uptick of political billboards has some Angelenos considering whether these objects are more akin to visual pollution. They're already illegal in entire U.S. states, including Hawaii and Maine. We always thought they further cluttered an already chaotic landscape, but we imagine they will survive in Los Angeles longer than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Tinseltown is a place where you don't get people's attention unless you scream for it. Nothing screams better than a well placed billboard.
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.
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.
Forget it, Jake—It's Chinatown.
Most critics think it’s one of the best films ever made. We think its promo art is also of rare quality. Below are two Japanese one-sheets for Roman Polanski’s all time masterpiece Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. It premiered in Japan today in 1975.
Thirty years ago he avoided prison by jumping bail and hopping on a plane.
In Los Angeles yesterday, lawyers for film director Roman Polanski filed a request to dismiss a 30-year old charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Polanski was once a U.S. resident, but fled to France in 1978 and has been wanted by American authorities ever since for allegedly giving a 13-year old model Quaaludes and champagne, before having sex with her—or raping her, depending on the telling—in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub when Nicholson was not on the premises.
Polanski’s life story reads like the darkest pulp fiction. He survived the Nazis as a child by escaping to the U.S., but without his parents, who were imprisoned in a concentration camp, where his mother was later gassed. As an adult Polanski rose to fame after directing the supernatural thriller Rosemary’s Baby, but his life was again derailed in 1969 when members of Charles Manson’s clan murdered his wife, Sharon Tate, and their unborn child. Polanski somehow recovered enough from this second horror to continue working, and went on to direct Chinatown, considered by many to be one of the ten best films in American history.
When he was arrested in 1978 he faced multiple charges, but a plea deal was offered. According to prosecutors, Polanski likely would have been handed a sentence of three years or fewer in prison. However, by the letter of the law, the charges could also have resulted in a sentence of fifty years. Polanski didn’t stick around for sentencing. Instead he jumped bail and fled to Europe, where he continued to direct films over the next three decades, including 2002’s The Pianist, for which he won a best director Academy Award in absentia.
Polanski’s lawyers filed yesterday’s dismissal request on the grounds of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, after the HBO documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, revealed that former judge Laurence J. Rittenband held news conferences and extrajudicial meetings about the case. The documentary also revealed that former Deputy District Attorney David Wells gave judge Rittenband sentencing advice, even though he was not assigned to the case.
The girl with whom Polanski admitted having sex (i.e. statutory rape), but who asserts she was violated while basically unconscious, is now 43. HBO’s documentary portrays prosecutors seeking to railroad Polanski, but he admitted what he did, which means the case for unlawful sexual intercourse could have stood on its own without prosecutorial games. Now, thirty years later, it’s possible authorities feel that dropping the charge would be akin to encouraging more flights from justice. And more importantly, a dismissal could have negative consequences upon similar cases still working their way through courts.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
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