RARA-AVIS: Why I like The Two Jakes

Frederick Zackel (fzackel@wcnet.org)
Wed, 22 Dec 1999 11:48:22 -0500

This morning I had two hours & twenty minutes that I didn't need an alibi for, so I watched the movie again. It's more than fair to try to explain what I see in it and why I think it's better (in some ways) than its classic parent.

Like all good pee eye stories, it's about truth: its facades; how malleable it is. It's a continuation of a thought, more than a sequel. I like the idea of a wife to protect and divorce. I like the earthquakes, the atmospheres, the very specific references to Los Angeles, even the crack about Patton coming from Pasadena. Patton's old man ran the day-to-day operations of Huntington's old Red Cars. I like the scene where Gittes goes after Loach (sp?)

I like the casual sex (as casual as the racism.) Poor Jake gets his head thumped getting laid. "I'm trying to be a gentleman. Get down on your knees. Put your ass in the air." He needs a drink of water and a chance to catch his breath.

I like that there's a rainbow of motives and agendas, and nobody knows what the next one's up to. Even if Gittes says, it's "as plain as the shoes on his feet." Those shoes, BTW, I remember the propmaster saying when the movie came out that he had been holding onto those two-toned shoes for a dozen years -- waiting for Jack to make the movie. I like the second last scene with the American flag. It reminds me of Errol Flynn and Custer's Last Stand. I like (as Toland mentioned) the Ross Macdonald last scene.

I like the movie because it isn't as technically pure as Chinatown. I've seen (and read) too many technically pure stories lately. Sometimes they feel soulless, no matter what their message. The Two Jakes has a soul that's more baroque, more of a "twisted pearl." Chinatown is young genius.

The Two Jakes is about the ponderance that years (and mileage) give people. The Two Jakes is a middle-age movie. Yeah, we gain memories along with the weight. (Listen to the voiceover about Lou Escobar losing a leg.) Gittes is no longer sleek with youth, and Nicholson huffs and puffs like he's climbing up three flights of stairs. He looks like something the cat's been dragging through the house. Gittes has been smacked with entropy (but doesn't see it,) and only the mention of Katherine Mulwray can quicken his pulse. Nicholson is more than willing not to be movie-star pretty, which cost him & his cohorts many tickets at the box office.

Watching Nicholson peering through a magnifying glass like Sherlock!! What a hoot!!

Gittes is less clean, and he knows it; he calls himself "the leper with the most fingers." His relationship with his lawyer reminds me of Hammett's Falcon. Read Spade and his lawyer; it's ignored in the movie.

So, in no particular order, that's a few of the reasons I like the Two Jakes.

Wishing y'all the very best for the Holidays.

Frederick Zackel

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