Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

The immediate example one could provide when invoking the phrase “pulling back the curtain”. So many times throughout this film, Tarantino’s obsession of what goes on behind a film is pushed in our face almost as much as his closeups of feet (which at this point is probably a meta commentary in of itself). He constantly pulls back the artifice of the cinema to voyeristically reveal what’s on the others side. There are shots of hollow western sets being removed to reveal a drab backlot. There’s the overhead shot of Tate and other Hollywood Stars dancing by a pool as the audience peers down into their lives, which is very similar to what something like the entertainment press does for us. Plus the fact that Cliff, who most definitely represents the unadorned side of Hollywood, lives in a trailer behind drive-in theater in the valley is probably not a coincidence. 

Tarantino, in his examination of the “real” Hollywood, creates his most real characters to date. They feel like actual people rather than genre specific characters. Not that those past characters were bad, but they never had a sensibility about them that you could meet them in the real world. Conversely, I very much think I could see a Rick Dalton or Cliff Booth walking around Hollywood. Yet, real characters and the authenticity of revealing the inner workings of Hollywood be damned, because this is still a Tarantino movie and he’s never interested in literal reality.

We first see Rick’s film within the film filmography, which had a clear separation between the real layer and the film. As the film progresses, we see him acting in a TV episode, which shows no separation at all in its shooting style. What’s being seen on screen is the TV show. But it’s not black and white, there’s no aspect ratio change, and we don’t see the cuts. The two realities are blended. (It becomes MOST obvious when Rick hilariously forgets his lines).

While this is happening, Sharon Tate is getting lost in watching herself on-screen in a theater and Cliff is on a ranch taken over by a cult. Both in that moment are also immersed big, comforting, albeit different, lies. And from here, it gradually morphs from an examination of Hollywood to an actual Hollywood movie in the third act that is ultraviolet, ultra gruesome, and ultra over the top. In other words, it goes full Tarantino and it is really something to behold. 

For me, as someone not used to the experience, watching this in 35mm even added to the experience of watching a cinematic spectacle throughout, even most of it is just a grounded film about Rick being drunk and insecure. It’s another revisionist history, turning the the Tate murder into a classic Hollywood happy ending. And the curtain closes.

I’m not going to complain about the pacing like some people are. (I actually loved the pacing). And I’m not going to even get into the fact that his last 2 feature films ended on a triumphant murder of women (which is interesting...). But i will mention the structure could’ve used some work. It’s a BIG film and pretty unwieldy. That much is obvious when the first ten minutes of the third act are wall to VO narration. These structural flaws could probably have functioned better if it were tweaked just a little bit. It’s a great, flawed film. 

2019 RANKED 

Side note: I still prefer PTA’s version of late 60s hippie paranoia to Tarantino’s, but to each their own, I suppose.

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