• The Big Goodbye

  • Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood
  • By: Sam Wasson
  • Narrated by: Sam Wasson
  • Length: 11 hrs and 43 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (431 ratings)

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The Big Goodbye

By: Sam Wasson
Narrated by: Sam Wasson
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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times bestselling author of Fifth Avenue, Five A.M. and Fosse comes the revelatory account of the making of a modern American masterpiece.

Chinatown is the Holy Grail of 1970s cinema. Its twist ending is the most notorious in American film and its closing line of dialogue the most haunting. Here for the first time is the incredible true story of its making. 

In Sam Wasson's telling, it becomes the defining story of the most colorful characters in the most colorful period of Hollywood history. Here is Jack Nicholson at the height of his powers, as compelling a movie star as there has ever been, embarking on his great, doomed love affair with Anjelica Huston. Here is director Roman Polanski, both predator and prey, haunted by the savage death of his wife, returning to Los Angeles, the scene of the crime, where the seeds of his own self-destruction are quickly planted. Here is the fevered dealmaking of "The Kid" Robert Evans, the most consummate of producers. Here too is Robert Towne's fabled script, widely considered the greatest original screenplay ever written. Wasson for the first time peels off layers of myth to provide the true account of its creation. 

Looming over the story of this classic movie is the imminent eclipse of the '70s filmmaker-friendly studios as they gave way to the corporate Hollywood we know today. In telling that larger story, The Big Goodbye will take its place alongside classics like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and The Devil's Candy as one of the great movie-world books ever written.

Praise for Sam Wasson:

"Wasson is a canny chronicler of old Hollywood and its outsize personalities.... More than that, he understands that style matters, and, like his subjects, he has a flair for it." --The New Yorker

"Sam Wasson is a fabulous social historian because he finds meaning in situations and stories that would otherwise be forgotten if he didn't sleuth them out, lovingly." --Hilton Als

©2020 Sam Wasson (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"If you love Chinatown, then you'll love The Big Goodbye - and it's good reading for any American cinema buff." --Kirkus Reviews

"Inimitable Wasson...argues convincingly that Chinatown was one of the last great Hollywood films...this portrait of a neonoir classic will cast a spell over cinephiles." --Library Journal, starred review

"Wasson...is one of the great chroniclers of Hollywood lore. And he has truly outdone himself this time." --New York Times

"One of the best things about this audiobook is author Sam Wasson's narration. His modulation and timing are as good as any professional narrator's, and his use of accents provides subtle shading to everyone from John Huston to Henry Kissinger." —AudioFile Magazine, Earphones Award Winner

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

This book is cursed

So, for those who don't know: this is the second production of this audiobook. The first one had a dreadful narrator and was pulled from Audible after numerous 1 star reviews and then a couple months passed and this one, read by the author, appeared. For film lovers, this is 100% for sure worth a credit. Wasson is a terrific writer and an okay narrator. However, the production values on this title are mediocre at best. A lot of clipped sentences and you can hear a lot of the editing. Frankly, I think the production company dropped the ball and -- to be fair -- I bet they were also responsible for the crappy job the last time around. The issue previously was not the narrator as much as it was really weird pacing / spacing, which, when compared to this version, just makes me think it's poor production / editing.

So, I definitely recommend this book. However, if I were a publisher, I'd avoid the people responsible for these two debacles like the plague.

31 people found this helpful

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The "Chinatown" story about Chinatown

If "Chinatown" is a state of mind, a feeling of hopeless futility, then everyone involved in creating the film Chinatown fell victim to it.

I've been a cinema freak since childhood, so I've been well aware of the mystique of Chinatown for many years. I was was aware of Robert Evans' disagreements with Robert Towne about his overly long script. I was aware of the downright evil history of Roman Polanski. And of course I was aware of the power that Jack Nicholson wielded in 1970's Hollywood. That being said, The Big Goodbye goes so deep into the lives of everyone involved in Chinatown, it became clear to me that Chinatown the film was a clear reflection of where Towne, Evans, Polanski and Nicholson were at in their lives at the time. For all of these men, "Chinatown" the state of mind would ultimately bring them each to their breaking points.

SPOILER WARNING AND MAJOR DISCLAIMER:
While the author does go into detail about Polanski's statutory rape conviction, I didn't feel like the author was critical enough. The author doesn't excuse Polanski's criminal activities, but he does end that section of the story by reading the victim's letter excusing Polanski's actions. The victim's experience is obviously true and valid, but in light of recent revelations about Polanski's abusive nature toward Sharon Tate while they were married, I'm sure there are other victims out there too. In regard to Polanski's personal/criminal life, he should be viewed for what he is, a rapist and predator. For this reason I'm giving it an overall rating of 4 instead of 5.

That being said, I loved the book. Great read. Amazing history of amazing artists at their peak. And like I said, this is the "Chinatown" story about Chinatown. Loved it a whole lot.

9 people found this helpful

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Every fan of Chinatown will love this book-

Extensiveness researched, beautifully executed and delivered, my favorite book of the year. Read in three sittings, a compelling and addicting work.

4 people found this helpful

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THE Backstory of THE Movie

A moviegoer’s delight. Sam Wasson presents an amazing amount of details and storylines of the before during and after of this all-time favorite movie of yours and mine.

2 people found this helpful

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Richly detailed lost Hollywood of the 60s and 70s

4.5 of 5 stars.

The Big Goodbye weaves an informative narration of Chinatown’s production and cast members’ lives and the Hollywood culture of the late 60’s and 70’s. Robert Evans brought Paramount Pictures back from near-insolvency. The complex creative relationship between Robert Towne and Roman Polanski led to one of Hollywood’s greatest triumphs and perhaps it’s finest script. The personal shortcomings of Polanski, Towne and Nicholson are told honestly, but in context. Highly recommended.

Sam’s narration is decent. While not a great reader, his familiarity with his own material makes for an enjoyable experience.

1 person found this helpful

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Overwrought

This book takes itself way too seriously. It is not content with just being about Chinatown and the movie business but tries to make profound points about the whole era (late 60's-early 70's), LA, drugs, and yes, life itself. Along the way there are quite a few stories that don't ring true to me. Not doubting people told the author these things just that he took them at face value. One in particular about a Polanski\Nicholson fight is surely exaggerated. It doesn't help that many of the books main characters like Polanski, Evans and Towne are very unlikable. Only Jack Nicholson seems remotely like a good guy. As far as Faye Dunaway goes, she may have had a major role in the film but she has a very minor role in this book.

The author reads the book himself which is usually a mistake but from other reviewers I gather that the original narrator botched the job so I don't blame him for giving it a go and he's not terrible.

1 person found this helpful

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not much

I love the movie Chinatown, I love Robert Evans and his The Kid Stays In The Picture, I love Roman Polanski and a great deal of his body of work, I love Jack Nicholson and could hear stories about him all day and night however listening to this after Leave The Gun, Take The Cannoli just made me realize that Chinatown's production although interesting doesn't really have the power behind it you may think. I enjoyed the set up of this book but once all the players are involved it sort of just happens. not bad but not great.

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The story about the masterpiece, Chinatown

I absolutely loved this book. I listened to the audio version and would drive home slowly to hear as much of the story as I could. A wonderful book about one of the best movies ever made. Additionally, great detail about one of the best screenplays ever written. Do not pass up this book.

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Hard to put down

As an NYU film school grad in 1973 this was the world of Hollywood filmmaking I wanted to know and be part of. As I worked my way up in editing rooms there was so much beyond that you heard about but didn’t understand . This intelligent masterful book explains a lot and puts that world an era in context.’

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Amazing

Well articulated, great history of the film business in its heyday. Highly recommend listen!