The Story Behind a Classic: Robert Towne on ‘Chinatown’ at 50

'Chinatown' at 50 (Paramount Pictures)

Robert Towne, the acclaimed screenwriter, reflects on the 50th anniversary of “Chinatown,” a film that has become an iconic classic in the world of cinema. Towne’s script, which won him an Academy Award, is widely regarded as one of the greatest in history.

The film’s ending, which sees Jack Nicholson’s character, J.J. Gittes, return to Chinatown and witness another miscarriage of justice, was initially objected to by Towne. However, he has since come to believe that director Roman Polanski’s vision was the right one.

50th anniversary of “Chinatown” (Paramount Pictures)

Towne has returned to the world of “Chinatown” with a prequel series, written in collaboration with David Fincher for Netflix.

The series explores Gittes’ early days as a detective in Los Angeles and delves into the tragic events that shaped him into the cynical private eye he becomes in the original film. Towne’s vision for the prequel is cohesive and sheds light on the relationship between Gittes and his partner, Lou Escobar.

The prequel series is not Towne’s first continuation of “Chinatown.” A sequel, “The Two Jakes,” was released in 1990, directed by Nicholson himself.

Although it received mixed reviews, Towne has fond memories of working on the project. He has also spoken about how Nicholson’s persona was a formative influence in his writing of Gittes.

Towne’s approach to writing is actor-conscious, and he has written for stars throughout his career. He believes that having a real person to write for makes his task easier and more enjoyable.

Despite the changes in the film industry over the years, Towne remains committed to storytelling, believing that audiences still want to believe in the stories they see on screen