Spring 2016

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42 CINEMONTAGE / Q2 2016 Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles by Jon Wilkman Bloomsbury Press Hardback, 326 pages, $34.00 ISBN # 978-1-62040-915-2 by Betsy A. McLane A t a preview screening of the film Chinatown in summer 1974, an official from the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is reported to have remarked, "It's totally inaccurate! There was never any incest involved!" That anyone employed by the DWP might quip that the corruption and villainy portrayed in the film is true reveals how deeply the history of Los Angeles is tied to its endless demand for water. The film is set in the late 1930s, and the events that inspired it — the so-called California Water Wars of the Owens Valley — actually took place primarily between 1902 and 1928. Such mixing and mashing of facts and fables, timelines and personalities is what makes Hollywood myths, and Chinatown, produced by Robert Evans, written by Robert Towne and directed by Roman Polanski, offers the screen's greatest mythic vision of Los Angeles. All were nominated for Oscars and Towne won Best Original Screenplay. Behind the neo-noir atmosphere and twisted characters of Chinatown is a true story, even more complex and deadly than Towne's, but few remember it today. In Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles, Jon Wilkman does a masterful job of culling fact from legend. His focal point is the St. Francis Dam break of 1928 and the resulting floodwall that swiftly and terrifyingly killed hundreds in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Few people now think about the disaster, although the former dam site is not far from the thousands of vehicles traveling every day on Interstate 5 near Santa Clarita. The dam was masterminded and supervised by self-taught engineer William Mulholland — Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown, portrayed by character actor Darrell Zwerling as a champion of good who is murdered because he wants to stop the building of another dam that might also break. The real Mulholland was far more complex, more of a combination of the Mulwray and Noah Cross (John Huston) characters in the film, sans the incest. He not only designed and supervised the building of the "monster" San Frisquito Canyon dam, he was directly responsible for envisioning the entire water supply for a booming Los Angeles, including Lake Hollywood and the revolutionary, gravity-driven Owens River Aqueduct. LA still uses his aqueduct. Mulholland arrived in Los Angeles at age 22 in 1877, worked initially cleaning ditches and ultimately became the Chief of the Bureau that became and remains the all- powerful LADWP. His rise parallels that of the city from small town to major metropolis. The ballyhooing of civic leaders, then and now, who promote a sun-filled, shiny future as they profit from real estate speculation — from Hollywoodland in 1923 to Playa Vista today — could not exist without Mulholland's passion for water. He and the movie character Mulwray share that passion, and it proves to be the undoing of both. Mulwray is found drowned in one of his own reservoirs; Mulholland publicly accepts the blame for the Saint Francis disaster and is forever shattered. It is no wonder that in Polanski's anamorphic CUT/PRINT Forget It, Jake This Is the Real Story Behind 'Chinatown'

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