Director Robert Towne on Finding the Inspiration for ‘Chinatown’ at the Library

CHINA TOWN !!!

Longreads

It was in Eugene, Oregon, in April of 1971 that I ran across a public library copy of Carey McWilliams’ “Southern California Country: An Island on the Land”-and with it the crime that formed the basis for “Chinatown.”

It wasn’t the compendium of facts in the chapter “Water! Water! Water!” or indeed in the entire book. It was that Carey McWilliams wrote about Southern California with sensibilities my eye, ear, and nose recognized. Along with Chandler he made me feel that he’d not only walked down the same streets and into the same arroyo-he smelled the eucalyptus, heard the humming of high tension wires, saw the same bleeding Madras landscapes-and so a sense of deja vu was underlined by a sense of jamais vu: No writers had ever spoken as strongly to me about my home.

The rapacious effects of a housing development in Deep Canyon nearby, and a photo…

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