When people are talking “art versus artist”, they often bring up Roman Polanski’s neo-noir classic Chinatown from 1974.
Chinatown, one of the best of its kind, was Polanski’s final film in America before fleeing from prosecution, and it became one of his most enduring contributions to the world of cinema.
Despite the fact that Chinatown is widely regarded as a classic of the genre, the behind-the-scenes stories much outweigh the mayhem onscreen. The picture had already had a tumultuous road to production, with no one seeming to grasp Robert Evans’ screenplay, and the failure of Polanski’s latest run of films causing major complications combining creative egos and careful producers.
The blazing rivalry between Faye Dunaway and the filmmaker was one of the primary issues during the filming.
Polanski said that Dunaway showed “certifiable proof of insanity” when she walked off the scene after he pulled a stray strand of hair right off her head, which was obstructing what he felt was the perfect image. They recounted the situation differently in their respective narratives, with Dunaway insisting on being polite despite her pain. Polanski, on the other hand, claimed that she used slurs.
Polanski was filming a scene for Chinatown when Dunaway arrived in a vehicle, as told in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. She expressed an interest in touring the facilities, but Polanski advised her to stay put. Polanski was talking to her via the vehicle window when she tossed a cup of liquid in his face, resulting in the classic exchange: “You cunt, that’s piss!”
Dunaway: “Yes, you little putz!”
When she reflected on the incident, she chastised Polanski for making it all about pulling a strand of hair from her head, when that was not the issue. Dunaway claims that it was Polanski’s “incessant cruelty” that got to her, and she couldn’t understand why he felt the need to humiliate her at every opportunity.
In Chinatown, Dunaway is neurotically brilliant, so the friction between her and Polanski definitely didn’t harm the product. But by the early 1980s, she’d earned a reputation for being “difficult,” a perception bolstered by her lavish portrayal of an unhinged Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, as well as her subsequent enmity toward our own mild-mannered Xan Brooks. As a result, she may have won a battle but lost the war.
With a famously demanding director and one rowdy performer already at odds, the fiery Jack Nicholson created his own ruckus by refusing to leave his trailer until the cherished Los Angeles Lakers game was over. As assistant director, Howard Koch Jr. recalled: “Roman says, ‘Where is Jack?’ I went back to Jack and he went, ‘Howie, it’s overtime. I’m not leaving now. Just tell Roman I’ve been waiting an hour-and-a-half. Let him wait for a few minutes.’ So Roman has a cow, and then the game goes into double overtime. We’re all basketball fans, so nobody’s upset except for Roman who could give a f*ck about the Lakers. ‘Where is he?’ I said, ‘Roman, it’s double overtime.’ He’s like, ‘WHAT THE F*CK IS DOUBLE OVERTIME?!’”
Polanski took matters into his own hands in a fit of anger. Polanski once stated, “I grabbed a mop and ran inside Jack’s trailer to smash the TV,” Polanski once said. “But I didn’t have enough room and the damn thing wouldn’t break, so I grabbed the TV and tossed it out the trailer.” Nicholson’s reaction only made partial sense; he stormed off set, but for some inexplicable reason, he chose to strip down to his underwear and leave completely naked.