Story of the scene: 'Chinatown' Roman Polanski (1974)
Friday 02 May 2008
An LA private investigator called JJ 'Jake' Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, has been hired to spy on the chief engineer of the city water department. The mystery is why gallons of water are being sluiced from reservoirs at night – in the middle of a drought.
So here is Gittes nosing round what is supposedly the Lake Hollywood Reservoir, built by Water Commissioner William Mulholland in 1925. He's seen by a security guard called Claude Mulvihill (Roy Jenson). Walking beside him is a sinister character with a rolling stride played by the director Roman Polanski in a cameo. Jenson grabs Nicholson. Polanski whips out a flick knife and sticks it up Nicholson's nose. "You're a very nosy fellow, kitty cat," says Polanski.
When repeatedly asked about this scene in later years, Polanski and Nicholson, bored with giving the same answer, often pretended that what is shown on screen, over the next few seconds, really happened. Polanski slits Nicholson's nostril with his knife and the blood covers his face. How was it done?
The filming of Chinatown had been a fractious business, with Polanski flying into rages with Nicholson. This tension freights the scene, which was filmed at Point Fermin in south LA. When Nicholson says, as the diminutive director ambles towards him, "Hello, Claude, where'd you get the midget?", there's a personal sting to the remark.
In turn, Polanksi played mind games with Nicholson; the latter knew that Polanski had designed the prop knife himself, and that if the hinge faced the direction he was going to wrench it, the knife would fold safely back into the handle. If it wasn't correctly placed, it would genuinely cut Nicholson's nose. On each take, Polanski would flip the knife over and over until it wasn't clear whether it was safe. That's genuine fear and apprehension in Nicholson's eyes.
In fact, it's clear how the trick was done if you look closely at Polanski's hand holding the knife, which would have had a reservoir of fake blood in the handle and a tube out of sight to deliver it. Just before he jerks the knife away, you see his thumb move slightly to the left to activate the button to release the blood.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'We're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Downton Abbey season 5 episode 6 - review: Thomas and Lady Edith show sad signs of the times
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd