I checked out the new Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Regardless of what the professional movie reviewers had said about it, I was expecting many of the usual artifacts QT keeps on the dusty shelves in his manic, movie museum mind.Knowing the basic plot description, I was expecting cool dialogue, a scene or two of crazy bloodletting, expert cinematography from Robert Richardson, deep cuts from the golden days of AM radio and some memorable characters.
I was also expecting the obligatory shots of women’s feet. Feet are fine. I got nothing against them. If you have an odor problem or excessive fungus growth on the toes please keep them out of my view. That’s all I ask. Feet are the reason so many fashion designers and sneaker company executives get filthy rich. The ladies need them to get around just like the dudes. They are strictly utilitarian in my view; get you from point A to point B and all that. They help you run away from hissing geese and skip out on the check if the bartender adds too much water to the whiskey. It’s cool with me if QT digs them. It’s his flick, after all.
Regarding what is written above, Tarantino did not disappoint.
Hollywood also had a gentle, wistful undercurrent that I don’t think was present in any other QT flick besides, my favorite, Jackie Brown. The adaption of the Elmore Leonard novel, for me, holds up the best on repeated viewings. Pulp Fiction was a phenomenon and blasted QT into the stratosphere, riding a retro rocket of coolness. I still enjoy Pulp Fiction. However, there are some passages that have me yawning and picking my nose out of boredom now. This is just my opinion and I don’t want to find myself chained up and gagged in the basement of some seedy, suburban pawnshop for having it. The rest of you folks have your own thoughts and, by all means, write about them. In a sane world, everyone gets to speak their mind; no matter how crazy the ideas sound to society. Beating each other up over politics is getting too bloody and personal. Let’s kill each other over our favorite films. That’s where the fun is.
The sense of longing gives Once Upon a Time In Hollywood a sweetness that is rare for a QT movie. I lived in a seaside town for many years. The vibe of this flick reminded me of taking a stroll on a warm October night in a half empty Long Beach, NY. The hustle and bustle of the summer is over. All those attractive bodies, tanned by the sun, have vanished like ghosts. So are the smells of suntan lotion, french fries and cold beer. You can still hear the waves crashing on an empty beach, but you also catch the sound of dead leaves scratching the pavement as a chilled breeze moves through. That’s the feeling of age stalking you like an IRS agent.
Will you ever see that summer fling again? They were perfect, weren’t they? Made you feel stronger, happier and smarter than you’d ever been. You started paying those parking tickets and credit card bills on time. Stopped cursing and smoking like an eighth grader in the schoolyard. The fact they were an attractive, interesting person made you feel like you had stolen one from the dark overlords of the universe. Those cosmic creeps weren’t happy unless they kept decent humans down in the dumps 52 % of the time.
Then September showed up and ended the party. It was the month of smelly school librarians and fascist hall monitors. That summer romance moved on to bigger and better things, taking the next logical step in life. You’re standing on a lonely street, faded tan and summer muscles gone soft, trying to recall how exciting it was to hold their hand on the boardwalk on the Fourth of July. Three months down the line and there’s only a row of empty cars and two fighting cats to keep you company. People have but a finite number of summers. We should live them to the fullest.
What the fuck has this got to do with Margot Robbie’s feet, you ask? I’ll try to make it all tie together. QT’s movies have been known to meander and take their time gestating. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no different. His characters often rattle on about shit that isn’t necessarily germane to the plot, so I’m just returning the favor.
The scenario of Hollywood is a simple one and nothing we haven’t seen before. After centuries of people telling stories, can we really have truly original tales anymore? Actual human history repeats itself more often than a drunk lying about an imaginary girlfriend, so having flicks with similar themes is no big deal. As with most of his movies, QT is talented enough to infuse it with enough creative flourishes to make it a satisfying cinematic experience.
Leonardo DiCaprio, in a wonderful performance, plays Rick Dalton. He’s a television actor whose career and liver have seen better days. People taking refuge at the bottom of a bottle of booze is nothing new in film and literature. The dude writing this article has been known to take three day vacations there when the world spits in his face for laughs. Leo brings a humor and poignancy to it that makes Dalton all too relatable to many of us. A scene in his trailer on the set of a television show is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Fucking whiskey sours, man. They’ll kick you in the head like an angry mule.
Brad Pitt, also at the top of his game and aging in a way that should make all of us dudes curse the genes our parents passed down to us, plays Cliff Booth. He is the longtime stuntman for Rick. Nowadays, he just drives Rick around and fixes broken stuff at the actor’s home. And, most importantly, he’s Dalton’s friend. Like all good buddies, Cliff saves Rick a fortune on therapists. Booth is a guy that seems to be blissfully content with his station in life. He’s cool living in the typical Hollywood ramshackle trailer with his loving, weathered dog and fridge full of cheap beer and macaroni and cheese. If he has regrets, Cliff keeps them buried beneath his California good looks and relaxed surfer’s attitude. The Hawaiian shirts and Champion Spark Plug tees are perfect wardrobe choices.
When the shit goes down in this film it’s Hollywood and the year is 1969. I’m not the biggest film historian. I’d rather drink booze and play ping pong instead of reading about dead actors and studio heads, but this is right at the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This might be the time the baby boomers now call “The Good Old Days.” I really wouldn’t know because I was born in 1972. My golden age was the 1980’s and 1990s. However, the 1960’s were a tumultuous time. This country was wrestling with the Vietnam War, African Americans fighting for their civil rights, riots, and the assassinations of two Kennedy brothers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Doesn’t seem like such a swell time from where I’m standing. 2019 isn’t any walk in the park, either. At least we have the internet. Which, ironically, is probably part of our festering problems.
Rick Dalton, once the star of the hit show Bounty Law, is now relegated to being the guest heavy each week on a different cop or cowboy show. He gets his ass kicked, killed or jailed by a much younger leading man. He treats his wounded pride with copious amounts of alcohol as he learns lines for his next gig. In the young actors he’s playing second fiddle to, Dalton sees himself and the promise of what his career and life was heading towards before it was derailed by his own ego. Introducing booze to the mix when dealing with personality flaws is like poking a sleeping bear with your index finger and yelling in its ear. Leo knows all too well how a grizzly can fuck your shit up and slice you to ribbons in minutes.
Happenstance would have it that film director Roman Polanski(Rafal Zawierucha) and his beautiful young actress wife, Sharon Tate, move into the house next door to Rick in the Hollywood Hills. Tate is played by the talented stunner, Margot Robbie. Polanski is riding high off the success of Rosemary’s Baby. There is a quick reference to that film and if you are chewing on popcorn like a camel you probably won’t hear it. Sharon Tate is portrayed as the gorgeous ingenue. You get the impression she has no idea the power her beauty holds over men. I found it ironic Robbie was in that real life position when she starred with DiCaprio in the The Wolf of Wall Street. This is a case of art imitating life and then dropping acid with an alternative history.
Tarantino has always been a somewhat polarizing figure. There was always a bit of pearl clutching for some violence or use of the N word by some of his characters, but it never amounted to much. In today’s climate, however, The Church of the Perpetually Offended is on him like white on rice for this flick. I am wondering if the phrase “white on rice” is offensive now? Maybe we need to check our white privilege grains at the door? There is a controversy that Margot Robbie doesn’t have enough lines of dialogue to keep the SJW sect from howling like a pack of emaciated cheerleaders brawling over eyeliner. A reporter from Time Magazine even wrote an article where they counted every line of dialogue a woman has ever spoken in a QT flick and compared that to the lines spoken by men in the same films from the director. Far be it from me to infringe upon Time’s First Amendment Rights, but I think that’s just a nonsensical thing to write about. To each his own, I say. Peak 2019, as the internet kiddies write on the social media.
You want more dialogue for women? Write your own movie, Time magazine reporter.
These decisions by QT weren’t born out of a rabid sexism. They’re artistic choices. Depending on what he knew about that fat producer that has a complexion like month old government cheese, QT deserves some heat. However, so do half of the Hollywood hypocrites that people worship so much. If you work in an office, people know when shady shit is going down. You either say something about it and risk whatever consequences that brings your way, depending on the players involved. Or you go quietly about your business, collect your paychecks, have sex with your spouse once a week on Thursdays, and put money aside for junior’s college education or rehab stint. It’s America, after all, and your kid is gonna cost you a fortune by the time their life is turned upside down by some horror as they hit eighteen years old.
I found Robbie’s iteration of Tate to be a sentimental look back on youth and liberty. It’s when you had your whole life ahead of you. Each new experience was a learning curve, yet you had enough confidence to balance out the naivete and nerves and will yourself to succeed. When you had the innocence and physical beauty to turn heads and make the people who had lived life, failed and fucked up a few times, look back with mild regret. She is The Declaration of Independence with great fashion sense; The Bill of Rights with perfect skin. She’s a hot mama Magna Carta.
The sight of Robbie strutting her stuff on the sidewalk in that late 1960’s sunshine, wearing boots, mini skirt and a tight sweater is emblazoned on my mind. Newsflash folks, straight dudes like to look at beautiful women. All the corrosive political correctness on the planet can’t erase thousands upon thousands of years of human biology. And, yeah, the idea of her makes me look back at a truckload of missed opportunities and screw ups in my life.
Framing the story around the specter of the Manson Family and the tragic events that happened in August of 1969 turned out to be a smart move by QT. I found myself filled with sadness and dread each time I saw Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring(Emile Hirsch) on screen. It is doubtful anyone over twenty years old doesn’t know who they are. Their tragedy, as well as all the victims of the vile Manson Family, has become American Folklore. The United States loves its sensational murders and killing sprees. The bloodier the better. I also think if the victims or murderers are rich and famous, a sly current of schadenfreude tickles our curiosity a little more. It’s a disgusting thought, but we all have our moments of outright scumbaggery. People get killed all the time, unfortunately. Perhaps interest in these incidents isn’t the worst thing? Those are ideas, however, for another discussion.
We first get glimpses of the killer Manson Family, walking up and down the streets of Hollywood, hitching rides, selling drugs and Lord knows what else they did for kicks and money. Knowing the history, the audience realizes there is danger infecting the relatively idyllic setting that QT paints of Hollywood in 1969. These skinny, shabby ragamuffins with greasy hair and stoned smiles were there to cause some pain. It’s built in tension that QT barely had to work for.
That’s not to say he didn’t do a good job of building suspense. Pulp Fiction always has me thinking someone is going to get half their head blown off out of nowhere in all of his movies. He’s earned that reputation with me, by the way. During a random and fateful trip to The Spahn Ranch, Cliff Booth meets up with some unsettling members of the Manson Family. It started to look like a Rob Zombie flick might break out at the dusty, dilapidated and mostly deserted ranch. As a horror film fan, this was my favorite sequence. QT found a part Lena Dunham was born to play and Dakota Fanning is disturbing as Squeaky Fromme, who, besides the crazed, twitching ringleader himself, might be the most famous member of the Manson Family. Between this flick and Midsommar this was the summer of killer hippies.
The alternate history ending is a violent and funny mess of absurdist mayhem. I don’t know if the victims of the murders of the real Manson Family have relatives still left alive. If they do, I am not sure how they would feel about the ending.I always wonder how friends and families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks cope with the media onslaught that starts at the end of August each year? However, for the picture I think Tarantino was trying to paint about Hollywood and life in general, I think the final scenes of this film were suitable ones.