I'll admit. I have had a copy of Chinatown on DVD sitting amongst my stuff for years and had never watched it until a few days ago.
When I say never watched it, I mean NEVER watched it period. It was one of those movies as a child my mother referred to as "one of those ugly movies" so I just never got around to seeing it. In film school and in publications I read about it over and over as being not only the best screenplay of all time, but pretty much everything else cinematically it is considered a "10 out of 10". Now seeing it I have to agree. It is a perfect movie.
What intrigued me more while watching it, was the references by Jack Gittes to his past in "Chinatown" that he never fully discloses, and where other characters warn him "Don't do it again Jake". He only states at one point that there was a woman, while working on the beat in Chinatown that died because of him and he shows hesitation when his current case begins to gravitate towards that geographical area.
Chinatown serves as a location that represents facing his past and where he sees redemption in Mrs Mulwray. Jack Nicholson's performance is so subtle and dead on that you can sense the dilemma within the character. This of course all brought to my mind the actual events surrounding the director, Roman Polanski previous to this film.
A few years before he had found success with Rosemary's Baby and became an A List celebrity when tragically his wife was murdered by Charle Manson's crew. Horrified as it evoked the memories of his own mother's death at the hands of Nazis (in a bizarre coincidence she was pregnant as well) Polanski fled the States. When producer Robert Evans approached Polanski he showed hestitation in "returning to Los Angeles", but he overcame that and infused his experience into every frame of Chinatown.
It's breathtaking without thinking about the Polanski experience, but a classic example of a director using events from his own life that get worked out on the screen.
Here are some great interviews taken from the DVD's special features.