Friday, September 6, 2019
Quentin Tarantino | Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood
by Douglas Messerli
Quentin Tarantino (writer and director) Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood / 2019
My husband Howard had to do some insistent coaxing to get me to see Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood; although I’d seen a number of his films previously, I’ve never been a great admirer of his bad-boy macho heroes who spend a great deal of time on screen torturing, murdering, and quite literally torching anyone who they don’t much like.
But the true focus of this meandering film, fortunately, is not on the terrifying Manson group (showing up in one sequence in full force a bit like a terrifying clan out of a science fiction film), but upon the bromance between Dalton and his stunt-man, Cliff Booth (wonderfully performed by Brad Pitt), who drives the now declining actor Dalton throughout the magical city in a way that you can only wonder what their relationship really is, a close friendship, maybe a little less than a marriage, but clearly something which in Hollywood doesn’t much get talked about.
I have now given away, of course, something that Tarantino begged critics not to reveal at his movie’s Cannes showing. Spoiler alert: Tarantino, as usual, despite his careful study of the time and events, loves to re-bend history. As in his film Inglorious Basterds this director warps time in order to reclaim the horrors of our history. Hitler is destroyed long before he actually was. And instead of the horrific stabbing and killing of Sharon Tate and her friends at their 10500 Cielo Drive address, the confused Manson gang attempts to kill Booth and Dalton, after a night where Booth has smoked an acid-laced cigarette and Dalton is cooling out in his pool.
Yes, there is more Tarantino violence, some of it almost unbearable to watch, but these are, after all, monsters who deserved to be destroyed, even by a huge flame-thrower towed out of Dalton’s garage. It’s hard to feel sorry for the Manson murderers’ death, or even more Hitler and his associates’ inferno in a movie-theater.
In Tarantino’s films history is never dead, but gets replayed, re-perceived, and completely altered. He gives us an alternative history we might better endure. But, as our current President keeps shouting, it is truly false history. Even if we might love it, it “ain’t the facts jack.” And there is something dangerous in its myths. Booth, wheeled off in an ambulance, is a false hero, despite the former Viet Nam survivor he might have been, a figure only in the fictions of film mythology which Tarantino so loves. The question this director never truly confronts is the reality we all need to face.
The Manson monsters were not stopped. They killed actually many more people. Dictators and blindly selfish leaders are not killed before their time. Trump still lives, and so too Vladimir Putin, Kim Jo-Un, Rodrigo Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro, and so many others. Tarantino’s works are wonderfully quirky myths that, alas, do not satisfy my reality.
Los Angeles, August 22, 2019