Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I have to withhold a rating on "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" after first viewing because I need to see it again and think about it more. For now, here are some thoughts in list form:

What I loved:
- The soundtrack
- The production values
- The wandering/winding path and pace - which is surprising because I am always saying this or that film should be shorter, needs a tighter edit, etc... Sure, there were a few too many driving (and feet -_-) scenes, but I actually like how the slow pace works to immerse us in that period and that place until we're almost relaxed (rather unusual for a Tarantino film), before the final act.
- Leonardo DiCaprio's performance - I am not a big fan of Leo's (at all), but here he's truly wonderful. Vulnerable. Desperate. A Norma Desmond character for the late 60s, played with equal parts humour and pathos. I'm not sure I've ever liked him better in a role. Kudos!
- Brad Pitt's moccasins

What I liked:
- He's been obsessed with it forever, but this might be Tarantino's most clever use of the Western genre. Here, it's emblematic of the dying of the West, the violent death of the West to be precise; by using the Western genre to weave together old Hollywood and Manson - "Tex" Watson riding his horse; Rick Dalton riding his horse; murder for murder - it's made really clear that the West(ern) is dead. How the director feels about that death is another matter, and more problematic (obviously the film is nostalgia served on a Tarantino plate), but it's nonetheless a very clever interweaving of history, Hollywood, and the old (dying...dead) West.

What I am unsure of:
- Brad Pitt's character - Cliff Booth is rather loathsome for many reasons, and largely underdeveloped, too, so it's understandable if people are unsure of how to take him. He's a gopher. But a loyal friend. He may've killed his wife? But won't sleep with a teenager? He's always ready to work. But he's obviously poor. He's a loner. But he's always around. He's sometimes hilarious (when the acid cigarette hits). But he's always violent. Hmmmmm....
- The Manson narrative: revisionist history is a Tarantino trope & is used in an ambiguous way, yielding many possible interpretations, on which a lot of my uncertainty about this film may hinge. First, it's worth noting that Tarantino has done his research: from what I've seen & read on Manson (and that's a lot) it's accurate in the dumpster diving, the songs, the relationship between the Manson women & George Spahn, the family consisting of mostly women, the location, and so on. There's a caricature element to how it's portrayed but that's consistent with all the characters in the film. They almost all veer towards parody. On the one hand, it's kind of refreshing to see the hippie movement portrayed with some disdain since women (above all) did not fare well in the "free love" scene. In addition, a revenge fantasy enacted on Manson's family, given their history, is comeuppance we might enjoy. But on the other hand, what is Tarantino saying about the youth of today through his portrayal of the Manson cult? Notice who he casts to play them (young Hollywood actors, many the offspring of an older generation of Hollywood actors). Is he saying that youth today are like the Manson kids (or counterculture): cult like? Hive minded? Hmmm...

What I disliked:
- Where is Charles Manson? He's hardly in the film. As the mastermind behind the murders - the director, so to speak - he shouldn't get off so lightly. We see him just once when he's looking for Melcher. Why wasn't there at least a scene between Manson and Cliff Booth? It felt like the story was building to that, especially when Cliff visits Spahn Ranch. Both men work "behind the scenes", both are prone to violence, and both are able to manipulate the minds of others. It seems like Tarantino missed an opportunity here.
- And what about the women? While lots of people liked "The Hateful Eight" I could barely tolerate its blatant misogyny. I rated it a 3 for other aspects and left it at that. In this "Hollywood" there's an outburst of violence towards women that's excessive to say the least. The women are people whose intent (and history) is one of merciless violence, so that's relevant, but yeah ... I'll leave it at that. I watch a lot of horror; I see a lot of violence enacted on women in those films too. It's a topic worthy of deeper consideration more broadly speaking. I recently bought "dead girls" by Alice Bolin, an award winning collection of essays that might be more topical after watching this.
- Sharon Tate's portrayal: A lot of people have commented on this, and I am torn but leaning towards dislike. Part of me feels like she's given life; she radiates happiness, pride and joy. Like "California Dreaming". Like sunshine. And I liked that about her to be honest. She kicks some ass in the movie flashback, too, which is interwoven with Bruce Lee lessons. But she's not given any depth, and that's another wasted opportunity. If Rick Dalton is the beating heart of the film, she's the sun that everything revolves around, including the encroaching darkness. She's not a victim. She's an actress who had a whole life, and we deserve to see that fleshed out. Imagine how this film would have been lifted if Sharon Tate, too, were given the complexity and richness of Rick Dalton's character?

But that's a fairy tale for another time. I hope to be able to rate this film when I see it again, but in the meantime this meandering is all I have.

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