Books-to-Film

The Future Of ‘Chinatown’: Ben Affleck’s Film Adaptation Of ‘The Big Goodbye’ and Robert Towne’s Netflix Prequel

By January 16, 2021February 25th, 2021No Comments

Revered as one of the all-time greats of classic Hollywood cinema, Chinatown has enjoyed a life of its own for decades. Take, for instance, the maligned 1990 follow-up film, The Two Jakes. The future of Chinatown’s legacy is in these two projects that are currently in development. 

‘The Big Goodbye’ by Sam Wasson

Sam Wasson’s “making-of” biography The Big Goodbye: Chinatown And The Last Years Of Hollywood debuted last year to critical acclaim. Now it’s going to be a feature film directed by none other than Ben Affleck. The story just keeps getting bigger, and why not? Chinatown is steeped in legends, a product of arguably the most turbulent, daring, and culturally vital decade ever–the 1970s. Clearly, Ben Affleck is the guy for the job.

Wasson’s book tells the whole story of Chinatown. Forged in the highly publicized aftermath of the Manson murders. On the cusp of the emerging corporate takeover of the crumbling of the director-friendly “New Hollywood” system. The idealism of the ‘60s having dropped dead years before along with many icons from that flowery decade. This turbulent time gave birth to some of the greatest American art of the 20th-century. Chinatown is certainly part of that oeuvre.  

 

The Making-Of ‘Chinatown’

Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne famously drafted re-write after re-write, battling tirelessly with director Roman Polanski for creative control. Towne wanted the film to end with Evelyn Mulwray killing Noah Cross. Polanski retorted, “We don’t want a Disney ending. Blondes die in Los Angeles.” Like Lennon and McCartney, the results from this volatile combo were pure genius. Not to mention the colossal stars with matching egos threatening to undermine the film that would cement their legacies. Though very often at odds, the combination of these creative forces created a masterpiece. The book explores this struggle, and it does so without being cheap or exploitative. 

Robert Towne’s Netflix ‘Chinatown’ Prequel

This Chinatown off-shoot has been stuck in development purgatory at Netflix for the last few years. Robert Towne wrote a prequel with David Fincher signed on to produce the pilot. The series will explore Jake Gittes’ affairs as a private eye navigating 1930s Los Angeles’ filthy waters of corruption.  

Ben Affleck’s adaptation of ‘The Big Goodbye’

The Big Goodbye appears to be gaining some momentum. Ironically, we’re more likely to see Affleck’s ode to Chinatown hit the screen before Towne’s prequel series. SNL creator Lorne Michaels owns the rights and will be producing the film along with Affleck. Paramount, the same studio that produced Chinatown, is behind the Lorne-Affleck adaptation. 

Ben Affleck must feel like John Huston did when adapting the bible. Just like the making of Chinatown, the odds are against him. How does one tell the creation story of such a culture-defining piece? 2021 is going to be an interesting year for a slew of reasons. Seeing this adaptation unfold is certainly one of them.

 

Patrick Salway is a writer, musician, and actor living in Los Angeles. Follow him on social media @patsalway and @veneer_publications. Listen to VENEER.

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