Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

The closest corollaries to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in Tarantino's own work are, ironically, my favorite and least favorite movies of his: Jackie Brown and Inglorious Basterds, respectively. The former's gentle, deliberate ruminations on the individual and cultural experience of time's passage and the latter's historical lament via revisionist vengeance meet in the middle, and it's a showstopper.

The 1969 L.A. of OUATIH is one of the most lovingly rendered worlds Tarantino has ever constructed, appropriate in many ways (the shadow of Charles Manson looms) but especially to a cineaste as the epicenter of the Hollywood dream factory's transition from a studio dominated landscape to the rise of the auteur's independent clout. It's also reminiscent of Thieves Like Us, where Altman kept returning to the background drone of 30s radio commercials, newscasts and programs like The Shadow and Mr. District Attorney to illustrate a shared cultural world, where the law abiding citizens and criminals alike draw from the same cultural touchstones. Tarantino takes the same tack by flooding the film with ads, billboards, vintage food and drink labels, and his trademark musical soundtracks pouring out of car speakers and hi-fi's. This element gets a brief twist with the Manson cultists fawning over a tv show idol they crossed paths with, before determining together that they will mete out violence on the creators of the art that taught them violence. It's a rare moment of acknowledgement on Tarantino's part to implicate himself and his brand of onscreen savagery as a part of a system complicit in the perpetuation of real life acts of violence. Though it may have been tongue in cheek, it didn't strike me as a throwaway comment; rather, that he takes the subject seriously as a means of catharsis and analysis. In that way, everyone watching the climax either reads that much more forcefulness in its brutality, or rejects that proposal altogether. Regardless, I can't help but feel that there is a stronger foundation to Tarantino's hysterically savage conclusion than there may have ever been before.

As central to the film as the dynamic of aging tv star Rick Dalton and his stuntman buddy Cliff Boothe is ("closer than a brother, but a little less than a wife"), the punch of the bloody finale derives its power from what the audience anticipates as the inevitable helter skelter slaughter of Sharon Tate & Co by Manson's cohorts. Margot Robbie as Tate is a simply wonderful subject to follow, imbuing her with a lightness and humanity that honestly (for the film's runtime and even beyond, if my Letterboxd friends' viewing habits are to believed) frees her from an association of perpetual victimhood and reintroduces her to us as a young actress with a budding career that promises so much more. It's probably the film's greatest achievement, and I would say it succeeds on a level that Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained strove for yet never quite achieved.

It's always been his unabashed love of film that has driven Tarantino's narratives and aesthetic, and while he's incorporated that adoration in his films in really colorful ways, this version of that expression feels the most palpable. At their best, his movies have always ignited that infectious love of the medium inside me as I've watched them, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood repeats that effect as well as anything he's done before.

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