Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Before the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino originally wanted to put a list of acknowledgments for all of the filmmakers who inspired the movie… I know pretty stupid right? Godard was one such director on Tarantino’s list but he went on to say that one of the reasons why he didn’t put the list in front of the film to begin with was because “Godard is your hero for a little bit and then you outgrow him.” Now he can say that all he wants but clearly he never rubbed off those Godard teachings and with Once Upon A Time in Hollywood he indicates that he still very much subscribes Godard’s philosophy of “cinema as fraud” and "not a reflection of reality but a reality of reflection." He dressed this movie up in the finest of polish and then once we get sutured in comfortably, he pulls us back out. He presents historical figures but completely reorients their position in time while also presenting immediately recognizable actors and playing into their own stardom (I mean seriously, can you really cast Lena Dunham in a bit role without playing into the fact that that is THE Lena Dunham?). While the philosophy of Godard is still very much an underlying text in his work, his greatest storytelling influence still remains himself — not just finding influence from his other movies, but also his sexual fantasies, violent daydreams and long car rides down Melrose he never got to have. Tarantino makes a grand thesis of his entire body of work by essentially stating “I AM A FILMMAKER, THEREFORE I AM GOD” and announcing it to the world through the biggest megaphone imaginable. Films are not a fantasy to Tarantino as much as they are an alchemical canvas — he can shape history to his liking in order to give Hitler a violent sendoff and Sharon Tate a happy ending. He can tell us a long-winded story and he can do so with as many foot shots as he wants — which exist in this film as a clear wink to his own public scrutiny as a renowned foot fetishist as he forces us all to observe and dares us to stay invested in the story as they show up. 

Our setting is a weird space after Hollywood’s Golden Age but before its Renaissance when television took everyone out of the theaters, directors left town to shoot on-location and movie stars were left floating adrift with sports cars and endless parties. The rhythm of the story is established without abiding to any rules of narrative structure and sometimes without linearity either, then it all gets wrapped up with a heroic Hollywood ending as if to meet a quota yet it’s also a Brechtian one that reaches out to the audience and shakes them awake to make one fully aware that all 161 minutes of the movie that just happened is built around a gargantuan lie and an unfulfilled wish for Tarantino. Self-indulgent much? Absolutely. Self-reflexive? That too. Multiple things can be true at once and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, all things considered, remains a savior fantasy that is also a hypnotic, intoxicating exploration of the medium’s possibilities as well as its limits.

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