WEIRDLAND: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, self-referential with a gigantic heart behind it

Friday, August 09, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, self-referential with a gigantic heart behind it

Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels more focused on the adventures of fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rick’s stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) than it does on Sharon Tate's (Margot Robbie). But Dalton and Booth are only in the story, really, because they happen to live next door to Tate and Polanski. And one gets the sense that Dalton’s primary purpose is to serve as a fictional reflection of Tate, to demonstrate the amount of effort and skill that goes into creating a decent performance on a network pilot for an unmemorable TV western. Sharon Tate, is, as Tarantino said himself, the heart of the film and he “became very enamored of her” while researching her life, he told Entertainment Weekly. Tarantino keeps the camera close on Tate’s face as she soaks in the reactions from her fellow moviegoers. They’re laughing at the right spots! All her hard work has paid off. Her art—the art we see Dalton struggling with during the crosscuts, demonstrating the difficulty of making even pulpy trash—is bringing happiness to people. The joy on her face upends our sense of her story: She’s a living, breathing person, one with joys, hopes, talent and work ethic. She is also an idea and a near-perfect idol—a rarity for Tarantino, whose characters, regardless of gender, are usually fundamentally flawed in some way. 

The production design of Tarantino to LA in 1969 feels like a trippy time warp, especially the recreation of Hollywood and Westwood. The monsters of Manson’s cult are not given similar treatment. At the Spahn Movie Ranch, they are generally seen as a sort of floating menace, dead-eyed with clenched jaws when they aren’t dead-eyed and cackling. Manson is barely in the movie, suggesting that Tarantino hopes to downplay the idea that these were innocents under the sway of a Svengali. Interestingly, Polanski himself is barely in the film as well. That the two men who have come to define Sharon Tate are largely absent from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” feels deliberate.

At one point, family member Sadie (Mikey Madison) suggests that, rather than killing those in the Polanski household, they should instead wreak violence on Dalton's. Sadie’s point is so ham-handedly made and put in the mouth of such an obvious villain that it might feel, for a moment, that Tarantino is playing a trick on us. Sadie’s brief monologue is the cinematic equivalent of a half-thought-through think piece written by a 20-something who thinks she has something to say on the nature of violence in art. Sadie wasn’t inspired to go out and commit murder by what she saw on TV when she was a kid: She’s simply grasping about for an excuse. 

If only the old-line Hollywood people of the fifties and sixties had maintained their pride of place—if only the times hadn’t changed, if only the keys to the kingdom hadn’t been handed over to the decadents of the sixties—-then both Hollywood and the world would be a better, safer, happier place. There’s no slur delivered more bitterly by Cliff and Rick than “hippie,” and their narrow but intense experiences in the course of the film are set up to bear out the absolute aptness of their hostility. Tarantino's latest film is a haunting valentine letter to Hollywood – and perhaps to his own career. It’s hard to believe that in 50 years’ time anyone will make a love letter to today’s Hollywood. Tarantino's ninth film is possibly his most profound one. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking look at what might have been, almost elegiac in its sadness and its desire to reconfigure a world filled with ugliness, hate, horror and hurt.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film that empowers some of the female characters while also fetishizing them. A film that glorifies white macho men while also showing how pathetic they can be. A film which views the Hollywood system as both meaningless and maybe the only thing that really matters. An ending that is both the most feel good moment of the year, and the most downer ending of the year when we are reminded of the reality. It really is the film that sums up Tarantino as a filmmaker the best. Self-indulgent, self-referential, awkwardly derivative and flawed, but you've gotta look past all of it and see the gigantic heart behind it. Source: www.washingtonpost.com

Do Tarantino's critics not get his film, or are they just cynically leeching off its success? With the film release, delivering the strongest-ever US opening in the 'Pulp Fiction' director’s career, earnest woke jargon-filled thinkpieces have proliferated about a work of cinema that is more a hermetic and personal wish-fulfilment fantasy than a political manifesto. Why they miss the point when they claim the film is racist against Bruce Lee? The scene where Brad Pitt’s down-on-his-luck stuntman Cliff Booth can’t keep his mouth shut during Lee’s self-glorifying comparison between himself and Cassius Clay on set, in which the two end up sparring, is meant to give us the essence of Cliff’s character. He is a devil-may-care rebel with integrity and a talent for fighting, who can end up in self-inflicted troublesome scenarios. Also, this scene is actually a flashback which comes from Cliff's not too reliable memory. Actually… What if there is nothing wrong with masculinity, as it is played by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio? Or with male friendship? Or nostalgia? As for hippies, their culture is a dramatically interesting intrusion into the lives of the two central characters struggling with their own self-doubt of incipient middle age. Source: www.rt.com

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