A Minute With: Robert Towne 35 years after "Chinatown"

Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:56am EDT
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Few screenwriters exemplified the renaissance in Hollywood filmmaking that took place in the 1970s more than Robert Towne.

Scripts such as "The Last Detail" made him a rising star among writers. When "Chinatown," which was directed by Roman Polanski, hit theaters in 1974 it won Towne an Oscar, and has become a classic tale of crime, corruption and sordid family affairs.

On October 6, Paramount Pictures is releasing a 35th anniversary special edition DVD of "Chinatown" and Towne, who at 74 years-old is still active in Hollywood, talked with Reuters about the movie and screenwriting.

Q: In the comment section of the DVD, (cinematographer) Roger Deakins talks about "Chinatown" being a modern film noir of its time. How is the story you wrote one for all times?

A: "It's a combination of things. We didn't try to focus on period objects as such, very often when people do a piece in the past, they will focus on things like a hood ornament on a car to let you know this is the period. But it was shot in such a way that no particular attention was paid to that. I also think the nature of the story itself is one that -- corruption is kind of a timeless subject, isn't it?"

Q: When you sat down to write "Chinatown," did it come easy or take a lot of work?

A: "It was a struggle because of the construction of the story. You have two major threads, one being the water scandal and its conspiracy and the other being the relationship of father to daughter in which there had been incest, which needless to say had been covered up ... Do you start with the water scandal or the incest? Of course after the fact, it was very apparent once I hit on it: the water scandal was the more important. It was the major plot and the subplot was incest."

Q: How much of the script made it on the screen and how much was changed in the production?   Continued...