Iconic American Films: Chinatown with Marc Lapadula

Iconic American Films: Chinatown with Marc Lapadula


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Join film professor Marc Lapadula for a deep dive into American cinema. In this three-part series (participants can join one seminar or all three) we will look closely at one film at a time and place it in its social and historical context and to understand the artistic intention behind its creation. The series will span the 1950s - 1970s.

We will examine three outstanding films in their entirety, one per session, each one representing a decade, for an in-depth look into what each individual filmmaker is trying to say as an artist about the tumultuous social, psychological and political unrest of their times. The films are Rebel Without a Cause (1955) directed by Nicholas Ray, Doctor Strangelove (1964) directed by Stanley Kubrick, and Chinatown (1974) directed by Roman Polanski.

These three entries are timeless works of cinematic mastery that perpetually transcend the eras in which they were made, connecting with audiences in the present day. We will deftly uncover what has been woven into the rich fabric of these sub-textually complex and sophisticated narratives.

In addition to the significant distraction and allure of Television in the 1950s, the intrusion of the House Un-American Activities Committee and its concomitant blacklist decimated the ranks of talented actors, producers, screenwriters, composers, and directors and threatened to drain Hollywood’s once seemingly depthless talent pool. With this in mind, how did the decade of the 1950s, and its after-effects that spilled over and influenced the '60s and '70s, manage to produce some of the most outstanding and controversial cinematic achievements in the history of movies?

The treacherous web of political and cultural limitations imposed during “The Red Scare" compelled filmmakers to become much more sophisticated in the articulation and dissemination of their oftentimes jaundiced view of society, forcing them to disguise their true artistic intentions and scathing critique of a world headed towards moral chaos and self-annihilation behind the clever mask of genre thrills. The 1960s would soon fall under the tenebrous shadow of The Vietnam War just as the decade of the 1970s found itself marred by the moral decay and political corruption of The Watergate Scandal.

In this session, we will discuss Chinatown (1974). This classic movie spotlights the antithesis of the hard-boiled detective who “always gets his man.” The story ultimately exposes the fraudulent myth that the Film Noir genre actually is. Jack Nicholson embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover a vast conspiracy that threatens the salvation of a city infected by a contagion of moral corruption that proves lethal to those who are the most innocent.

Led by Yale University professor of film studies, Marc Lapadula, this interactive seminar is part of a three-part series exploring iconic American films.  You may enroll in one or all of the series. Professor Lapadula recommends that you watch the film ahead of the session if possible.

The full series includes the following seminars, one iconic film per session:

Marc Lapadula is a Senior Lecturer in The Film and Media Studies Program at Yale University. He is a playwright, screenwriter, and award-winning film producer. In addition to Yale, Marc has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate Film School, created the screenwriting programs at both The University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins where he won Outstanding Teaching awards and has lectured on film, playwriting and conducted highly-acclaimed screenwriting seminars all across America, as well as Canada and Mexico, at notable venues like The National Press Club, The Smithsonian Institution, The Guthrie Theater, The Commonwealth Club, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Toronto Jewish Film Festival, The Brookings Institute for Johns Hopkins University and The New York Historical Society, to name only a few.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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