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.

• Wasn’t sure about seeing it a third time because the projection was so bad the second time (Regal) but it turned out to be an excellent decision. Honestly might see it again.

• Didn’t really put together until now that Steve McQueen’s scene, about as nakedly expository as QT’s writing gets, also hammers home how fragile these Hollywood egos are. Later on, Rick bristles at the thought of being passed over for McQueen on The Great Escape yet here the King of Cool laments his inability to woo Sharon Tate. The grass is always greener.

• Something I noticed the first time around during the fiercely disputed Bruce Lee scene — and which has only become more pronounced with each viewing — is that the group of onlookers, whom Lee refers to as “all my friends”, conspicuously disappear the second Cliff tosses him into the car. I paid close attention this time and there’s no accompanying racket of them scurrying off, no image of the last guy hightailing it away as the two become locked in combat, nothing. Suddenly, Cliff and Bruce are the sole bodies in this space. Knowing this is Cliff’s mind idly drifting off while he’s fixing the roof, it seems to me a purposefully oneiric choice. Cliff and Bruce did fight, and Cliff didn’t do himself any favors, but maybe it didn’t happen this way?

• Also, re: Cliff’s ambiguous daydream, he nurses a carton of Carnation milk before doffing his jacket and entering Bruce’s “friendly contest”. And in the prior scene, during Pitt and Qualley’s second chance encounter, Cliff drives behind a Carnation truck. It’s most likely incidental, a byproduct of the bountiful period detail, and I know we hear Rick’s voice kickstarting this reverie, but it suggests that perhaps the Carnation logo played some part in dislodging Cliff’s memory. Equally amusing is the presence of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Good Thing” in this scene. It acts as soundtrack to Sharon’s ebullient day off and as counterpoint to Cliff’s disconcerting flashbacks, but what I love most is how we still hear it’s beaming, sun-dappled harmonies after Cliff’s dilly-dallying dissipates. The sequence in his head runs significantly longer than the song yet when we exit Cliff’s remembrances, it’s only halfway over. There’s also the matter of it being produced by Terry Melcher, the original target for Manson’s vicarious massacre. Something so wonderful about the associative nature of Hollywood. It makes the film so much richer and not in a lame easter egg way.

• Consistently amused by the Lancer pilot’s eccentric director (“Evil Hamlet scares people!”). I like that he tells Rick he hired him to be an actor, not a “tv cowboy”, because it feels like Tarantino cheekily called on Timothy Olyphant’s seasoned presence for that express purpose.

• The pea-brained assumption that the quality of Tarantino’s characters is dictated by the quantity of their dialogue is so wrongheaded. Details like Cliff offering nothing but guffaws while Rick’s existential crisis morphs into unfettered excitement at the prospect of living next door to Polanski, or Rick running the gamut of hammy mannerisms after flubbing his line has nothing to do with word count. And Robbie’s often wordless performance, so surpassingly lovely that I almost became choked up each time she appeared, is filled with these kinds of moments. I love how she’s drawn to music and seems to emanate it herself, strutting into the Playboy mansion and bouncing towards her seat in the theater. Her warmest moment comes in the cinema when she seems to absorb all of the affection in the room for her Wrecking Crew performance. Hand resting on her chin, her eyes closed, a sublime smile stretched across her face. Hard-pressed to think of a more poignant gesture in all of Tarantino’s films.

• Still, I’m cognizant of her presence in the film as a sort of angelic feminine ideal. She’s beautiful and lively, yet somewhat chaste. The other women in the film are nagging/oblivious wives, underage sexpots, or psychotic would-be killers. But Tarantino is too smart a writer for this to be an oversight. He’s proven that he can write female characters. And knowing the history of Tarantino, Pitt, and Weinstein, one can only surmise that this is his attempt to wrestle with that history. Death Proof is Tarantino’s other precariously personal film, but there’s a release in that movie’s violent climax and a clarity to its provocations. Hollywood is by turns messy and slippery. Still chewing on this bad boy.

• The violence grows stranger and more abstract with each look at this thing. I’ve been thinking a lot about the tears in Tex’s eyes before he and the other Manson cronies carry out their plan. And I’m not sure what this says about me but the tension during the Spahn Ranch setpiece has all but disappeared on subsequent viewings while the razorwire preamble to the darkly comic bloodbath has become nearly unbearable. I’ve started to dread the carnage as much as welcome it.

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