July 22, 2019

CINEMA | Tarantino's Golden Age – 'Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood'

"I'm as real as a doughnut, motherf*cker!"
Brad Pitt Quentin Tarantino | Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood

Artful sometimes controversial cinematic auteur Quentin Tarantino's much-ballyhooed ninth, possibly penultimate film is a bittersweet love letter to old Hollywood's apparent innocence and purity. Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood continues the idiosyncratic filmmaker's latest string of revisionist historical fiction as a nostalgic coda to the 1960s long bygone era of counterculture in the vein of a melancholic hangout flick.

A sentimental but crowded riff on the end of the era's golden age of cinema using tragic icons like Sharon Tate (an idyllic and vivacious Margot Robbie) and the Manson Family, Once stars power duo Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a fading star and his loyal stunt double sidekick, Rick f*ckin' Dalton and Cliff Booth, as they weave in and out of perfectly recreated 1969 Los Angeles.

DiCaprio gives such a committed performance of feverish desperation as a forgotten artist. It's a fearless, vulnerable, and sometimes unhinged role that captures the utter insecurity and sadness of a fallen once movie star. In contrast, Pitt is so effortlessly ultra-cool, cavalier, and casual as per usual. Theirs is a fruitful buddy dynamic as friends and unconventional life partners.

The downtrodden Dalton is starkly contrasted to the rising stardom of Robbie's Tate as fictionalized next door neighbours. Ultimately, the film's primary focus on fame rewrites Hollywood history just as it retells its glossy appearance with the looming seediness always lurking in danger of bursting everyone's dream of the movies. Framed in long-gone cultural touchstones including television western procedurals, Once's cinematic language moves us through the glamour of Hollywood Hills amidst the darkness of its outskirts.

Leonardo DiCaprio Quentin Tarantino | Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood

Tarantino's period vision of Los Angeles is so meticulously detailed and specific yet heightened. The film's painstaking production design only builds the leisurely hangout nature of the loose story. We follow various characters on their everyday tours of the city in and out of Hollywood with real-life characters coming in the play every now and then.

In a film full of very famous character actors in very small bit parts or cut out of the picture entirely, eight-year-old newcomer Julia Butters almost steals the entire film from her adult co-stars in her two very memorable scenes as an earnest but ultra-serious child method actor—she rejects the term "actress". Her character seems like a further complement to the idealized female personification of the purity of cinema most clearly shown through Robbie as Tate.

This is by far Tarantino's most mature work of affectionate mediation on our constantly changing culture exemplified in fiction. What's real and realized on screen blurs everything. Tate is seen as an idealization of the hope cinema can bring. Every smile, move, and interaction she makes says so much about her place in Hollywood, especially when we watch Robbie watching (sort of herself) the real Tate on screen. Tarantino's cultural pastiche of alternate film history attempts to capture what Hollywood was or tried to be and could have been.

Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood is a joyously wistful and romantic fairytale fantasia despite the slight inevitability of some of its real-life characters. It's a clear elegiac tale of a provocateur to a bygone era of what the film industry was. A sort of sweet mid-life crisis on film, there's such a deeply personal emotional stake to the characters, setting, and historical context.


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