Friday, October 19, 2007

Wow them in the end, and you've got a hit

The 10 best movie endings are delineated in today's Independent by Anthony Quinn. I've seen six of the 10, and I heartily agree with his inclusion of The Third Man (perhaps the best movie ending ever), The Conversation (a practically perfect ending to a practically perfect movie) and Chinatown, of course.

The inclusion of Chinatown allows me to address, for the first time, the title of Blog. "As little as possible" not only indicates my affinity for brevity but also serves as a tribute to an almost inaudible line at the conclusion of Chinatown. SPOILER ALERT. Jack Nicholson (as private eye J.J. Gittes, my namesake) has just witnessed the shooting of his lover by trigger-happy cops. He stands by the scene, blank-faced. You can see his soul shriveling up. After a moment, his mouth mutters, "As little as possible." The line is almost impossible to hear on first viewing, yet it makes the movie. People remember "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," but it has a fraction of the emotional devastation of "As little as possible."

Earlier, we learn that Gittes was once a detective in Los Angeles' Chinatown area, and that he left (or was forced out of) the business when a case went wrong and someone got hurt (presumably a love interest). When he's asked what he did on the Chinatown beat, Gittes wryly admits he and his colleagues were encouraged to do "as little as possible." Why fight corruption if it only results in strife? At the end of the movie, Gittes finds himself again in Chinatown. Again, his well-intended meddling has resulted in the death of someone he cares about. He doesn't scream or cry or rend his clothing; he simply chastises himself with a whisper. "As little as possible." It's a line that encompasses the futility of his existence. It's a killer.

What would you add to Quinn's list? My top pick would be David Mamet's House of Games, which ends on a seductively sinister note. Who knew the quiet theft of a gold cigarette lighter could be so damn delicious?

Update / 10.23.07, 6 p.m. / I forgot to mention that there is at least one other blog out there that takes its name from a line in Chinatown. This would be Bad for the Glass, a culture blog. "Bad for the glass" is uttered several times by Faye Dunaway's groundskeeper. It proves to be the clue on which the plot hinges.


Beedow said...

thank god for the ending of THE CONVERSATION. the rest of the movie dragged along like a trophy tied to the bumper of a 1970s cadillac

J.J. said...

Are you being serious? It sounds like you haven't seen it. C'MON.

Anonymous said...

i would add to the list the limb shattering ending of death becomes her...."do you remember where you parked the car?"


cattleworks said...

I am, unfortunately, not as familiar with CHINATOWN as I should be, although I did see it when it first came out, so I was what, 14, 15?
Your explanation of "As little as possible," was really eye-opening and now I want to see this film again!
Thanks! Thanks alot!


I will now share this trivial but affectionate memory that I will always associate with that film.
In high school, me and two buddies (Pete, and my best friend, Steve) always went to the movies. My parents (one or the other, usually my mom) always drove us.
And if it was an R-rated film, they had to come with us and actually watch the movie, too.
Well, my dad saw CHINATOWN with us.
After the film ended, with that downbeat, violent ending, I remember us walking back to the car, and my dad, apparently compelled to say something wise, something as appropriate guidance from an adult, said:

"Well, sometimes life is like that."

J.J. said...


Middento said...

Thanks for explaining this! I have long wondered exactly where the title came from.

As for best endings to films, I'm surprised that Some Like It Hot isn't on the list. Perhaps that's too cliche.

For a sickly horrifying end, I'm partial to Night of the Living Dead, particularly if we include the closing credits.

My favorite of recent movies is a quieter ending that packs a whollop: I'm still attached to John Sayles' Lone Star, in which a quiet meeting between lovers Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Peña discloses a secret that sets everything we have previously seen -- the WHOLE MOVIE -- on its head. I love that ending.

The Shamus (formerly TLRHB) said...

Thanks for the shout-out, J.J. I'm always glad to find the site of a brother shamus. I almost named mine The Flaw In The Iris. Or Albacore. But that's getting perversely obscure.