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Life and Arts

Author Sam Wasson dives into the lore behind ‘Chinatown’

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Author Sam Wasson will be at the Buena Vista Branch Library in Burbank on Feb. 12 to talk about his latest book, “The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood.”
(Courtesy of Flatiron Books)

Author Sam Wasson is not shy about saying that no one makes great movies today, and he lays out his case in his latest book.

“The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood” is a deep dive into the talent and the drama behind the movie “Chinatown,” a film that many consider to be one the greatest films of all-time.

Wasson will be at the Buena Vista Branch Library in Burbank, 300 N. Buena Vista St., at 7 p.m. on Feb. 12, along with Howard Koch, a former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Roman Polanski’s first assistant director on “Chinatown.” They’ll discuss the screenplay for that film and talk about how movies were made in the 1970s.

During an interview Tuesday, Wasson said he considers “The Big Goodbye” his eulogy to the old Hollywood, when, he maintains, studios took chances on their actors and developed profound screenplays that meant something.

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Wasson said filmmakers working during the era when “Chinatown” was made had the opportunity to practice their craft and get better with each movie that they created.

“Hollywood used to make great movies, and it’s not nostalgia, it’s fact,” he said. “Even if you divorce the aesthetics from it, the means of production was much more efficient, and for that reason alone it’s worth looking back on and saying we have something to learn.”

Wasson sees movies as a medium that poetically tell a story through sound and images and engages the audience to pay attention. He said that quality is lacking in films today.

He said instead of developing screenplays that have depth and offer social commentary, filmmakers today are focused on doing well at the box office and having little substance.

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“I don’t think they make movies anymore,” Wasson said. “I think they make very expensive television.”

The only way that former quality of filmmaking can return, Wasson said, is through educating students at an early age to be mindful of what they are creating and to give meaning to their work.

Hubert Kozak, a librarian with the Burbank Library, said Thursday he hopes people who attend the event next Wednesday walk away with a greater understanding of how films are created.

The librarian added that many Burbank residents are interested in learning about the lore of a particular film and about the arduous process of putting a movie together, especially given their hometown’s prominence in the industry.

“I’m not trying to put on programming at the library that shows so much the technical aspects of filmmaking, but rather generally what it takes to make them,” Kozak said. “It seems to me that making a film ... is a minor miracle.”

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