' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

“Chinatown”, perhaps my favorite screenplay, written by Robert Towne, contains a plethora of punchy lines. The most famous is undoubtedly the last line – you know, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown”, delivered by Joe Mantello with an emphasis on the concluding word to make it sound less like the L.A. neighborhood where they are than a state of mind. Yet there is a line I have always loved a little more. It happens when Jake Gittes, private eye, pays a visit to Deputy Water Department Chief Russ Yellburton and Yellburton’s secretary tries warding this snoop off, saying Yellburton is in a meeting. Gittes says he’ll wait. The Secretary says Yellburton is liable to be tied up indefinitely. Gittes ripostes: “I take a long lunch hour. All day sometimes.”

The dry spin Nicholson puts on those perfectly penned words lets you know he’s seeking to get under the Secretary’s skin, sure, and quickly he does, but also that his character is telling the truth, which Nicholson emits throughout in his very insouciant air. He’s the kind of guy that takes a long lunch; all day sometimes. That, of course, is the benefit to self-employment, and probably not how most people lived in the 1930s. Yet I’ve come to view it as something like the dream, a future where automation is utilized for good rather than evil, freeing us from the ravages of work and leaving us to, like, ponder the cosmos and have plenty of time to pour over the new Frankie Cosmos LP. Lofty, I know, but I might have thought here, out beyond the gates of the new millennium, we would have made some honest to goodness work/life progress. Instead we’ve drifted further from the Gittes Idyll, into a Corporation First false idyll where companies create their own campuses as a means of entrapment and technology has rendered everyone reachable even during recess; they have analyzed the data, okay, and it should only take you 7-10 minutes to eat your lunch, so scarf it down and get back to work.

In a way, Jerome Facher saw all this coming. Maybe not the real Jerome Facher, retired partner at WilmerHale, but the Jerome Facher played by Robert Duvall in “A Civil Action”, certainly, a defense attorney representing a food company in a lawsuit pertaining to toxic groundwater. Facher is a villain, if an eccentric one, carrying around a ratty briefcase out of superstition, sitting apart from everyone else at a conference table, etc. These eccentricities sort of guard against the character’s ethical quagmire but also lead to my favorite scene in the movie, one where some overly-intrepid young law clerk makes the mistake of delivering a brief to Facher on his lunch break in the darkened bowels of the firm.

Clerk: “Mr Doyle asked me to bring this to you.”
Facher: “When?”
Clerk: “When did he ask me? Just now.”
Facher: “On your lunch break? That hardly seems fair.”
Clerk: “I almost never go to lunch, sir. Too much to do. I just grab something.”
Facher: “You know, I’d make a point of taking an hour or so away from all the noise and insanity of this place. I’d find a place that was relatively quiet and peaceful, have a sandwich, read a magazine. Maybe listen to a game if one was on. I’d make sure everyone knew not to disturb me during that hour. Because that would be my time – my own private time, which no one, if they had any sense of self-preservation, would dare interrupt.”

The way Duvall says my time, underlining “my” by pounding his finger on the table as he says it, oh, that makes me want to stand up and cheer more than any courtroom movie closing monologue. And even if Facher proves smarter than, frankly, everyone around him, on his side or against, they view him as some sort of bizarre dinosaur. And that, I suppose, is true. He’s a dinosaur of a more civilized age, a long time ago, before the efficiency experts helped us internalize lunch breaks as something to be whimsically laughed off.

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