‘Chinatown’ is film pick for Voice of Vashon benefit

A leading critic will discuss the film with audience members

Kenneth Turan, a film critic for both National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times, will share his passion for “Chinatown” at an upcoming fundraiser for Voice of Vashon.

The classic movie will roll at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Vashon Theatre. Tickets to the benefit screening, $20, are on sale now at the Vashon Theatre box office and vashontheatre.com. For an additional $20, attendees can hobnob with Turan before the show, at a reception held in VoV’s nearby Jean Bosch Broadcast Studio.

Turan will introduce “Chinatown” with a talk about the film and its influence on other movies in the 45 years since it was released. There will also be a question-and-answer session with him after the show.

“Chinatown” was released in 1974 and went on to win an original screenplay Oscar and four Golden Globe awards, including ones for its director, Roman Polanski, and one for its star, Jack Nicholson. In 2010, a panel of critics from the British newspapers, The Guardian and The Observer, declared it to be the best film ever made. It also stars Faye Dunaway and includes an appearance by John Huston playing what some have called the vilest character to ever appear on screen.

According to Turan, “Chinatown” is a film that is still worthy of multiple viewings and deep analysis.

Kenneth Turan is a film critic for both National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times (Courtesy Photo).

Kenneth Turan is a film critic for both National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times (Courtesy Photo).

“I’ve seen ‘Chinatown’ more times than I can count, but I’m looking forward to watching it again on the big screen because each time I see it I notice something else exceptional,” Turan said. “Squarely in the film noir tradition, it beautifully combines a serious historical theme and ecological concerns with the character-driven narrative drive of the best of Raymond Chandler’s classic detective stories.”

The film, set in Los Angeles in the 1930s, tells the story of a private detective, played by Nicholson, who becomes embroiled in a case involving the daughter (Dunaway) of a powerful and corrupt mogul (Huston). Eventually, Nicholson’s character stumbles upon a sprawling conspiracy involving land use, water rights, real estate and murder.

In recent years, some in the film world have re-evaluated “Chinatown,” for a number of reasons.

In 2017, the New York City film venue Metrograph included it in a series called “Imaginary Chinatown,” aimed at showing how Hollywood had often depicted Chinatown as a “hyperbolic fantasy space … where one “partakes in copious amounts of opium” and “crime and sin are believed to go unpunished because the locals play by their own rules and ‘Forget it, Jake – it’s Chinatown.’”

And In Paste, an online journal, the essayist, poet and creative writing professor Garrett Hongo was quoted the same year as saying that “Polanski weaponized American racism against the Chinese by deploying it as a tar baby that [Nicholson’s character] and others get stuck in.” Hongo described Polanski’s use of a crowd of Asian-American characters in one scene of the film as intended to “symbolize mysterious, irredeemable and morbid fate” — a highly prejudicial view of Asian culture perpetuated throughout the canon of American film.

Another famous scene in the film — when Nicholson’s character repeatedly slaps Dunaway’s character as she recounts an episode of trauma in her childhood — has also been discussed over the years not only for its misogyny but also for its echo of the darkest aspect of Polanski’s own tarnished life story.

“Chinatown” was the last film made in the United States by Polanski, who fled the country after being charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

In any case, Turan’s talk about the film at VoV’s screening is sure to add layers and texture to islanders’ understanding of “Chinatown.”

Lisa Breen, Voice of Vashon’s executive director, said she is looking forward to hearing the audience take part in a lively Q and A with Turin about all the aspects of the film, including its place in film history and its impact on today’s audience.

“Everybody knows the movie, whether they’ve seen it or not,” said Breen. “So how better to see it now, than with a guided tour with a critic who knows the film so well?”

Turan, a frequent visitor to Vashon, has presented other classic films on the island, including “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II” at Vashon Theatre in 2010 and 2011, as fundraisers for the movie theater. He also made a 2010 appearance at Vashon Center for the Arts’ (then called Vashon Allied Arts) Arts & Humanities Series, interviewing Hollywood screenwriters Robin Swicord and Nicholas Kazan, who own a second home on Vashon.

According to Breen, Swicord was also instrumental in bringing Turan back to Vashon for the “Chinatown” screening.

Proceeds from the evening will go to support all of VoV’s community programs, which include the “community-powered” radio station KVSH 101.9 and an emergency alert broadcast service on 1650 AM. VoV also webcasts its programs on voiceofvashon.org and hosts Channel 21, a public access cable station with local programming.

A second benefit for VoV, celebrating its 20th anniversary as well as the founders and pioneers of the station, will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, in the field of Sunrise Ridge. It will include food by Earthen Bistro as well as wine, beer and soft drinks. Tickets, $95 per person, are available on brownpapertickets.com.

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