Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

3.8.09

"Middle of a drought, the water commissioner drowns."

July 1974 was the middle of an unusually cold and nasty winter. I was in the last year of school. That month, I saw an evening performance of Oedipus at Colonus at the Melbourne University Union theatre and froze on the tram on the way home. That July, I also had my first cinema date.

I took the girl by tram to the newly-opened Cinema Centre in Bourke Street. Acres of electric blue velour chairs swept down to a giant screen about half a mile away, and more acres of electric blue velvet draped the walls, downlit in the folds by continuous hidden fluorescent strips. The walls concealed new sensurround speakers that made you think you were going down with the ship in The Poseidon Adventure. It was the last word in 1970s cinema d├ęcor and it was hideous.

Oh, the movie: Chinatown. I had kind of forgotten about it. I half-remembered the darkness, Faye Dunaway and a score that sounded like a Formula One race in slow motion. Or something. Then it all came back, thanks to this Terry Teachout item by from the Wall Street Journal, reprinted in The Australian last month.

Every neo-noir film released since then has borrowed from Chinatown, which looks as fresh today as it did in 1974. Yet a preview audience hated it, and studio executives were sure that it would bomb at the box office—until Jerry Goldsmith, working against the clock, wrote a brand-new score that helped turn a costly disaster into an unforgettable hit.
It was coming back to me.

The tension between the dark romanticism of the string-accompanied love theme and the crisp, bristly clatter of pianos and percussion is what gives Goldsmith’s spare score its powerfully individual quality. Though “Chinatown” runs for 131 minutes, it contains only 23 minutes of music — but every note counts. Instead of the usual wall-to-wall underscoring, Goldsmith saves his fire for the film’s key moments ...
Teachout writes that while the soundtrack album has been out of print for years, the music comes through clearly on the remastered DVD version. I'll be looking out for it.

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It was our one and only date. Perhaps she didn’t like the movie. Perhaps she didn't like the cinema. Perhaps she didn’t like me. I don’t remember. We went home by tram. It was freezing.

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