Watching with Robert Towne, Oscar-winning writer of ‘Chinatown’

Chinatown is an American masterpiece, a great film released in a year full of great films. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, but in the face of “The Godfather Part II” (among others), it won only a single Oscar: Best Original Screenplay by Robert Towne. It is a magnificent original script, a great American novel written directly for the screen, and it confirmed Robert Towne as one of the finest screenwriters of his generation.

“Chinatown” makes its long-awaited Blu-ray debut this week from Paramount in an edition with commentary, interviews, and featurettes, and Robert Towne agreed to a few interviews to mark the occasion. So for a brief ten minutes, I had the pleasure and the honor of asking him about the film, the disc, the collaborative nature of the production, and of course what he’s been watching lately.

What are you watching?

I wouldn’t want to tell you the last movie I saw because I walked out on it. I so disliked it. I mean the thing that I guess I could say I’ve been watching lately is what a lot of people have been watching, which is “Downton Abbey.” Have you seen it?

I missed the first season and caught up with it in the second, which took them through World War I.

You really should start with the first, it’s really quite wonderful. But that’s what I’ve been looking at lately. There are some movies I want to see but I still haven’t been there. I still like going to the movies but there are so many movies that are depressing without being revealing of much of anything and I sometimes wonder how we can hold on to an audience with films like that. But there are certain films and filmmakers I still like. I like very much “The Social Network,” I like Fincher very much, as you can tell. I mean, we worked together on the commentary.

The commentary track on the “Chinatown” disc is superb, and I appreciate that someone with Fincher’s insight was brought in to engage you on the film.

I think it was particularly good to work with David on that. But the people that were on that disc were so thoughtful. Steven Soderbergh… There were a lot of good people associated with that.

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Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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