“Forget it Jake… It’s Chinatown,” lingers the final words of the titular Chinatown, probably the finest mystery ever put to film. This thought, this confusion and dissatisfaction, has lingered and weaved itself into every new one since, not least of all PTA’s undoubtable neo-slacker-noir genre masterpiece.
A film made to be viewed on film, every speck of grain and flicker of the frame seemingly hand-selected specifically to create the melancholy feeling of a presence unknown, whether in front of or behind the lens. Smoking, guns, bright colours and deep confusion – this film is a vintage, visual montage: Theatre of the absurd. A dreamlike, drug-fueled hallucination as if it were Chinatown seen through the stoned, glazed eyes of its own protagonist, everything from Sportello’s heightened and hazed paranoid perspective. It’s a trip, a satiating experience of a truly filmic film about lost love and inherent vice, whatever the hell that means. It may be a time and a place, one seen through only rose-tinted shades, seen like the scene where Doc, following the revelation that she’s gone missing, thinks back to his ex-old Shasta, as does the film itself; cross dissolving between the two characters at different places at different times we again feel the physical act of manipulating the “film”. The whole sequence mirrors the story as a whole, literally casting us back. We see as Doc sees, as Anderson sees, shots layered like the multiple threads and through lines of the winding and weaving narrative. A smoky soul, too free to look back; too stuck to move forward.
Seen as an unadaptable nightmare, and underappreciated by many. It’s not meant to be understood, especially not either sober or on your first viewing; it begs rewatching and discourages dissection or much thought beyond “that was cool”. More and more I think PTA’s films should be viewed without any second thoughts or scrutiny. It doesn’t hold up to any sort of logic but remains as nonsensical as those two little oh-so-unimportant words “inherent vice”. “Gee,” he thought… “I don’t know.”
Written by Bryson Edward Howe