Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Fred Raskin Show -- either his coming-of-age or QT’s delayed acquiescence to a non-Menke style, this being the first movie after her that doesn’t come with a constant sense of wanting. It’s possible that Sally Menke could have cut something entertaining out of Django or The Hate Fellate (his two worst), but Raskin was all wrong for those ones, weak material lowered to oppression by an incongruous style, Quentin directing like Menke could return from the dead and give them the buoyancy only she could.

Buoyancy, however, is not the game in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which is written/directed from the ground up to support a languorous, discursive edit, favoring elegiac long takes and poring (remembering, searching) camera dynamism. The form enriches content: the distended and often uneventful, sometimes productively boring, second act uses its temporal expansion, through digression and lingering, to avoid what must follow, the audience and the film itself being dragged (across concrete) to that endpoint ostensibly threatened by the gambit of a “true story,” an all-day hangout spent dreading the sunset.

And then it never sets. The third act sees the film become more “movie-movie” -- an increased use of voiceover, the film’s first dose of heavily stylized dialog (via Manson family), the actual content of the voiceover specifically evoking the written action found in screenplays. Filmic to the point that Quentin’s dream manifests, and the movie world supplants the real one like real stuntwoman Zoe Bell permeating Grindhouse’s continuity to bring Death Proof’s second half into our reality. Despite finding Death Proof to be Tarantino’s masterpiece, I have often felt ambivalent about the intended end to its brilliant means...that film can (should, imo) be read as Tarantino’s confession of and apology for Uma Thurman’s injury on Kill Bill’s set, and I have always wondered if this actually does anything, if that film or any film can undo hurt.

Once Upon A Time… shines a light by revealing what QT gets out of movies. Not a way to affect the real world, but a way to make it more bearable through large-scale fantasy (the fairy tale title card here cinches it), regret expressed through extended “what-ifs” and loving recreations of a better world, reflected through his whole career -- a world where everyone always can think of the smartest thing to say about milkshakes, or where nitrate film can kill Hitler, the reason he’s dedicated the entire second half of his career to period pieces, a fixation on the time that got away and the power to grasp it once more. It’s not realistic, or maybe even healthy, but it’s relatable in that small part of our mind, the desire to make the movie screen 10% more porous. Like Cliff Booth on the roof entertaining protracted fantasy/flashback, or Rick Dalton’s western scenes being filmed with no visible cameras, no crew to spoil the illusion of the movies as reality, what we want isn’t going to happen. It’s too late. But it’s a nice dream.

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