Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

Admittedly, I'm not a huge QT fan, but I'm really bewitched by what the guy did here. 

He essentially made a fairytale about bygone spaghetti western heroes breaking through the screen, entering real life, saving not just an entire culture that's now extinct, but more importantly reminding us of how cinema itself provides salvation from the horrors of reality. 

QT, of course, is a massive cinephile obsessed with all the revered classics and forgotten B-movies. His groovy, subversive aesthetic has long been dedicated to pulling from these ancient genre tales, obeying their logic, and morphing them into fresh, hyper-stylized, violent operas of art. The oldies were QT's bread and butter, in a way his salvation, especially the Italian western auteurs. Guys like Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, and Franco Giraldi were all part of a genre he loved so purely, and whose films paved way to something more subterranean as the golden-era of Hollywood eroded from old-school schlock into something more daring and surreal.

It was both the end of nostalgia and the birth of new nostalgia. The bridge from Golden to Modern Film. Culture against counterculture. Old generations against new. 

***SPOLIERS AHEAD***

It's this tumultuous period of transition, particularly when Westerns were falling out of fashion, where QT spins his new revisionist revenge fantasy. This isn't new territory for the guy, he also played with history in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED, but here he uses the Manson family as a perverse backdrop for his cathartic cleansing. Which is to say the guy basically gets into a time machine, travels back to the Summer of Love and asks, "What if we saved Sharon Tate? What if we saved the symbol for a breed of old Hollywood power from dying out? 

It's a provocative question that I think says more about QT's taste in cinephilia than it does about killing off 60's hippie mythology. A love of cinema over politics kinda thing, similar to Truffaut's daring adage that cinema is more important than life itself. We're talking about a filmmaker, after all, who's always wanted to save cinema, save genre, save 35mm and 70mm prints, and by extension save all those schlocky Golden Age classic westerns that informed so much of his work. QT literally believes cinema will save our lives. In BASTERDS he sacrificed a cinema hall to save history, which was still an ode to cinema's salvific potential to deliver the world from the horrors of reality. In HOLLYWOOD he uses Sergio Leone heroes to save old-school stories and dated modes of filmmaking, the same heroes who stepped through the screen and saved his very life.

There's a certain irony however in watching Rick and Cliff, a pair of Hollywood stars who feel their time is done, fight against hippies to reclaim their position in old-school showbiz. These guys feel like stand-ins for QT's brooding, self-reflective thoughts on a studio system that was changing to meet the anxiety of the times. Funny thing is, QT was indebted to the westerns of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, but his career as a subversive, operatic stylist was shaped by hippies like Godard and Melville from the French New Wave, along with Leone and Tessari in Italy who pointed towards modern cinema and all its varying shades of grey and black. 

In other words, QT made a film where hippies get brutally slaughtered to reclaim not merely some semblance of revisionist justice, but to restore the auteur’s own relevance in Hollywood from the fear of dying out. The irony? QT followed all sorts of cinematic hippies into the fray to jumpstart his own career, and who ultimately became a hippie—a provocateur—in the process. He made a film about wrestling with his own fractured relation to cinematic history, and the tension he has between generations. In one breath he wants to immortalize the power of old Hollywood on a narrative level, almost to pay homage to the giants who informed his career; in another breath (on a meta-level) he wants to be a hippie himself and breathe new life into worn genre spaces, as well as revise history to signal cinema's redeeming power. 

It's simultaneously both a preservation and annihilation of the past, as well as an embrace and uneasy release of the future. A crushing cinematic paradox! And so to come full circle: Reducing Sharon's story to historical rewrite felt less about vengeful wish fulfillment (though there is something purifying and classically Tarantinoesque about watching the Manson fam get such a brutal comeuppance) and more about witnessing cinema's salvific potential.

I daresay this is one of QT's best, most thought-provoking.


Tarantino Ranked 

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