Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★

Point 1: This is Tarantino prestige that he tries to hide with geekiness, but he knows he's playing in the cool kid sandbox (Hollywood can't resist a Hollywood story) and even the oddness he lets peek in is only beneath the half-assed, guilty tropes borne from having "cred" behind him and his project. He'd hate to find out the people praising this film know nil about shows like Bonanza or The Virginian, but he still knows they're watching and his head naturally inflates in the way stark individualist's heads still do: by getting complacent. He also knows the time of Bonanza and The Virginian is over and degrades it with his vulgar lead character and Tarantino's own (knowingly?) ugly writing. Where's Morton Fine when you need him?

Point 2: The following happens every time with the release of a Quentin Tarantino movie: people arguing over his moral calibrations and the solipsistic nihilism of his retributive stories. Is Daisy abused for being a woman, question mark. Is Bruce Lee mocked, question mark. Yes and no to those two questions, because Tarantino is just one of those dumb literate white guys who is "apolitical" for "a reason." Every single time. I remember my naive days typing out reams over the Nazi/Jewish love story of Inglourious Basterds and if Stuntman Mike is a pussy or just human (a vile one, let me make clear).

This film is just another case of loads of discussion being posited at films that are intentionally provocative (there's the nihilism again) and which always contain whole dialogues about the very flashpoint debate(s) within the films themselves. Inglourious Basterds has the monologue about squirrels being no different from rats. Death Proof has the entire discussion about the difference between romance and sexual extortion. This has Bruce Lee's entire monologue about performers vs. athletes, fakery vs. authenticity (actors vs. stunt men). It's right there, no use debating when the entire point for the viewer is whether we can let him off the hook for bringing up conundrums only he dares to ask, reductively moralistic and hermetically sealed they may be. The fact Cliff acts as iconoclast, a weird intermediate figure between actor and full-on man of action, is what catches Lee off guard. The fact is, Cliff shouldn't exist, because he is everything we value about Hollywood and everything we hate about it all in one personage, a sort of agglomerate of every Hollywood below-the-line burn-out story ever gossiped about. In other words, Tarantino usually hates everyone in his films (remember Inglourious and its ad campaign?). Hippie kids are fucked, Cliff is most definitely a racist and sociopath. If he's finally found a figure he can shelter completely from violence, let it be a Hollywood Madonna-Christ he conjures up completely from a contrast to his two main characters, as well as their ideological other, let nothing exist in between.

Point 3: This is Tarantino's goodbye to the Western, and if it means it will keep him from demeaning the genre again with his affection, then let it be so. I have just enough trust in aesthete Tarantino that I know he watches Western/action-TV's studio heydey and knows just what about them is special, even rarefied. Yet he ruins them with Tarantino-esque pastiche dialogue and the expected racial canards, here aimed at Mexicans for no reason whatsoever except "California" and "Westerns" (which required some thought, I'll admit). It's always a delicate balance between wistful appreciation and hateful abuse with Tarantino, and I admire how fate for him is just an amoral roulette table. Here, in the auspices of Hollywood and with his nostalgia for a sort-of studio system, we see the nerdiest Tarantino can be and he's still murdering it with post-modernity and his moral hard-ons. He hates and loves in equal measure, and it’s as organic an auteurist impulse as his wish to please the Awards-season upper echelon.

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