When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘no, I went to films.’
There was a time when a new Tarantino film had film buffs salivating. That was until he forgot how to edit. where once he was renown for snappy dialogue he’s now verbose. In books and film the most-missed art of the modern era is the editor. Books like Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and films like the Hateful Eight that should have been classics outstayed their welcome. Yet, it started so well with the stone cold classics of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Both were the kind of film you had seen in your mind via the poster. Reservoir Dogs was so tight that characters didn’t even have names. However, it it was the sleekly Ridley Scott directed True Romance script that best captured the spirit of Tarantino best. The comic shop guy who lucks out with the hooker with a heart. So, having read glowing reviews of his ninth film I hastened to the cinema.
It was the matinee showing in Leicester square and I was excited to be watching the movie on 35mm film, despite being unsure as to what this really meant. It sounded important; the sort of thing film nerds mumble in their sleep.
It’s a long way from 1992 to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The story is set in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969 and is so utterly lush, like a pool of stress balls, that it’s immersive; like being transported into those Pathé newsreels. At times, as they sweep past vintage LA shop fronts it’s easy to forget you’re even in a cinema. And there’s enough smoking to make your clothes smell of nicotine. It’s reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and not just in length.
We are flung around freeways, cinemas. restaurants and film lots commandeered by the Manson family like a drunk without a seat belt. But then someone asked about the story and I struggled to answer. It’s not atypical of Tarantino to imply stories rather than tell them. It’s a character study, of Rick Dalton, a fading film star, and his buddy-on-the-payroll and stunt double Cliff Booth. They find themselves as men out of time. Dalton at least, is shored up by the security of having bought a condo in Hollywood Hills, ‘if you rent you’ve only visiting’ he says, while spending most of his time boozing. forgetting his lines and guest starring in other people’s TV series. There’s less of a plot and more of a slow fuse to the astonishing finale, even if for a moment the script seems to have been doctored by an eight year-old boy. The infantile strikes again in a scene which is as unbelievable as it is unforgettable with Booth and Bruce Lee.
The movie is gorgeous, but you yearn for cliches, which Tarantino avoids as studiously as he embraces close-ups of feet. Brad Pitt’s moccasins deserve a blog post all of their own. It’s a character study and the threads leading to a thousand unseen endings.
There are films within the film, and it ends up hanging itself on the loose ends. (Did Booth kill his wife?). It is so lovingly filmed that it was hard not to purr at the sepia past, at the Americana that probably even looked vintage at the time. There are cute moments and savage moments like only Tarantino can; although it’s a long time coming. It also remains with you, like a dream from childhood or a question remaining forever unanswered. It’s frustrating, yet beguiling, and unlike any other blockbuster you’ll see this year.
This post was previously published on Lifeassistanceagency.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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