Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, 2019

Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Releasing
"Hush, hush
I thought I heard her calling my name now
Hush, hush
She broke my heart but I love her just the same now
Hush, hush
Thought I heard her calling my name now
Hush, hush
I need her loving and I'm not to blame now" - Hush by Deep Purple

You’re pretty for a stunt guy.'”

Burt Reynolds at the time of rehearsing to play George Spahnand spoken by actor Mike Moh, who plays Bruce Lee and says the same to the character of Booth

Burt Reynolds (1936-2018) had said “You (Tarantino) gotta have somebody say (to Pitt), ‘You’re pretty for a stunt guy.” when he was cast as George Spahn (the Helter Skelter Ranch owner) and when he found out, during rehearsal and script reading, that Pitt would be playing Cliff Booth.

Tarantino’s dazzling LA redemption song.”

Peter Bradshaw of The Rolling Stones

Has Tarantino sobered up? Is this Tarantino’s wistful midlife crisis that we’re watching on-screen, a regressive redaction of popular culture? If yes, I would like the man placing an 8mm camera to the side of his temple, the forehead; to return, and perhaps he does return by the end when we see a high on acid Cliff Booth (a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Brad Pitt) repeatedly bash a woman’s face into the wall/pillar mounted telephone set. The kind that gives out a little ring every time a face cracks open, shreds apart when it makes contact with the telephone set. 

Plus, people driving big and small luxurious cars, and the brilliant, uninterrupted way the sequences are shot also becomes a character in the film; For instance, the character of Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) driving a 1952 MG TD to Hush by Deep Purple and the numerous shots of both, Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Booth, in a 1966 Cadillac Coupe DeVille (owned by Dalton in the film) and a 1962 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, which Booth drives when he’s on his own. Exquisite is what I would call those scenes. Smooth and seemingly shot effortless, such is the fluidity of Tarantino’s camera work and the shots of cars and people driving them. Is this Tarantino’s version of a revisit that exhibits an ethical pathos that wanders away into a dream-like telling of harrowing events, that have been made less harrowing, even sweet and where the horror has persisted by an alternative narrating of facts?

This is a serious, even maybe sensible love letter and an elegy to the B-films of yore, specifically the ones being made by the end of the Swinging Sixties, which we all know that Tarantino loves and has grown watching and renting out. Once Upon a Time is unrestrained with Tarantino’s provocative impulses intact; the latter mitigating a mature auteur’s vision.

The powerful, meticulously hardened director tries to present a surrogate version of history in his feature presentation and succeeds in it greatly. An auxiliary telling of events of August 1969 that shook all of Hollywood and also send violent ripples across the country, and that is why I believe, Cliff is shown defeating the character of Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) in a hand to hand when Lee boasts to the tenuous almost a lissom group of the film crew and bystanders, that he can overcome and subjugate Cassius Clay in the ring.
Here’s a little anecdote; both Tarantino and Pitt love Bruce Lee and Pitt requested the director to shorten the version of the fight, saying: “it’s Bruce Lee man.” Well, Mr. Lee was boastful and mocking but this was something that Tarantino must have come up with, made up for the sake of this film. Like how he treats the awful, harrowing events of the Tate–LaBianca murders. After all the claims made by Lee in the film about Muhammad Ali are all made up since Lee went on record himself in 1972 (after one rumor too many) and said that:

Everybody says I must fight Ali someday. … Look at my hand. That’s a little Chinese hand. He’d kill me.”

– Bruce Lee (1972)

By altering the events and therefore the consequences altogether, the filmmakers and especially Tarantino high on his mature as fuck tenor, offer the dejected (by historical events) audience much communal catharsis, and rendering an alternate rendition of history even at the cost of controlling the splendid expression to what can be termed as legitimate rage; Afterall it was a decade coming off a long-bad acid trip. Where boys were being sent to ‘Nam and getting killed before they could turn twenty (Platoon, 1986).  

The scene I speak of where Cliff keeps banging the head of one of the members of the Manson Family – it may have been the loathful character of Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison) – well that had me on the edge of the chair, with teeth tightly clenched and I found myself almost whispering in rage for Cliff to hurt that bitch even more and then some. 

Leonardo Dicaprio (The Revenant, 2015) is such an ethereal talent. He has come a long way and he is a force to reckon with here as an actor on his way down, with Italian directors offering him roles in Spaghetti Westerns, which were unknown at the time and their popularity was not how it became after Sergio Leone had Mr. Fonda shoot a child in the face. It was never the same after that. Imagine Tom Cruise doing something like that. Unimaginable.  

Pitt is the cool cat here, his mannerism is the same. Sometimes it even goes the Twelve Monkeys, 1995 way, in persuasion acts. “You ain’t done yet!” He points and gestures to an uncertain Rick Dalton and when he says, half smilingly: “I try”

A fictional poster for one of the Italian (Spaghetti) Westerns Dalton stars in

The collage of events being shown come across as staggering film-making, and at the same time also disturbing, well in a sardonic and dark way; the flamethrower, a film prop that works for real is put to good use by Dalton and Tarantino. 

The charm is there although somber and preoccupied with the thoughts of movie lore and how to twist and turn for Tarantino’s own good and some for the sake of illusory regression.

The 160 minute feature starts off low key (although with the cars and hand painted posters making an entry before the plot contrivances), and then it begins to sparkle as we get attuned to Tarantino not resorting to his typical, signature style of directing a movie. He wants history to be told like how he imagined it to be and Bruce Lee gets the short end of the stick. 

This is a film, which will grow on it’s viewers if they choose to re-watch. Not many would but this pilgrim has already decided to own a copy when the film is released on BluRay/DVD. 

This film is a cameo heaven; Steve McQueen shows up, played by Damian Lewis, and he nails it in the few seconds given to him. Then we have Al Pacino, gesturing with his hands as if holding a machine gun and making a firing sound, “I loved that scene”, he gruffs and Dalton can only manage a forced smile as what Pacino had to say to him as Producer Marvin Shwarz, does not go down well with the actor – firing imaginary bullets into imaginary Nazis or not firing imaginary bullets into imaginary Nazis. So much so that Dalton (not Timothy) comes out of the restaurant, bar and sheds a tear and Pitt, his stunt double and friend tells him to contain himself before everyone sees a tough guy like him (his TV persona) on the verge of a meltdown. That comes later, in an actor’s RV. And we know that Dicaprio is still the man, having survived the cold of the unorganized territory (Calgary and Fortress Mountain in Albert), while leading a group of Captain Andrew Henry’s trappers as Hugh Glass in late 1823. 

It is a wholesome film, if I may; and even though we do get to witness signature Tarantino sequences, scenes, like maybe an arrow pointing to a car, stuck in a still frame and jumping off a bridge, with a yellow arrow pointing to it with the name “Cliff” appearing on the screen, just above the arrow that points to the Volkswagen. Then we have the poignant, an almost parental advisory, exchange between a young actor (Kansas Bowling) and Dalton. James Remar also makes an appearance along with a cameo by Kurt Russel, Zoe Bell, James Mardsen, Michael Madsen (but of course; Reservoir Dogs, 1992 will always be the film for which Tarantino has already been immortalized, only for Pulp Fiction, 1994 to further validate the certitude), Austin Butler, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch and Rafal Zawierucha as Roman Polanski. 

In this age of the mighty SFX, this one comes as a breath of fresh air and that too by the master himself. A man who started small, in an abandoned garage, and now the garage is but only a small part of his filming process. The garage has not become small, the director has become rather big and significant in his loopy laced telling of stories the way he sees them happening and I’m not complaining one bit. 

Lastly, even though not full of fireworks and the growling, gripping suspense in the air; the kind of stuff we have begun expecting from Tarantino, there are moments in the film which feel as if the axis of it is being bent, pulled by the sheer eminence of the director’s style and the heavy fuel performances of Hollywood veterans; telling a tale of their own little town where everything big & ugly, from Roscoe FattyArbuckle (the murder and rape of actress Virginia Rappe in 1921) to the recent Harvey Weinstein “meetoo” clamor happen every few years. 

He’s done it again! And this time with a certain cultured and restrained sophistication that I thought would never come to Quentin Tarantino. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Netflix has yet to gain rights to the film, however, a Blu-ray can be purchased by clicking on the link/image above or by commenting below and ordering through the blog.

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