I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on a plane, which felt like the perfect way to see it, despite the smallness of the screen. The cramped discomfort and dim lighting made me feel like a sick little kid in the 70s, watching cheesy action TV in between fever dreams.
Like most Tarantino films, it’s cinematically clever, weirdly sincere, deeply superficial, and ultimately frivolous.
Credit: Columbia Pictures
It seems like these old school auteurs, as they go on, end up making heartfelt facsimiles of the things that first inspired them.
Lynch films become more and more like Edward Hopper paintings.
Tarantino films become more and more like TV movies from the late 60s/early 70s. Make such a film about TV/movie culture in LA in the late 60s, and the meta-ness feels almost like depth. Layers of performance and evocation and association that form a funhouse. It teaches you nothing, but it makes you feel things.
As always, Tarantino loves ALL of his characters. The players and their relationships tend to feel not real, exactly, but alive. I might not always want to know them and I might not care what happens to them, but I feel like I walked in to see a slice of an ongoing life.
The collage aspect of his work is a little more restrained in period pieces like this one, but in more vaguely modern works like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, etc., each character we meet seems to be living in an entirely different movie. The world is reimagined as a screenscape of grindhouse atrocities in progress.
Despite all the ambient death, it’s usually some kind of shock when the nihilistic chatterboxes who populate these films get killed, which is an interesting effect.
The hilarious final twist of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and its implications are poignant, though. On the brink of the 60s literally bleeding into the 70s, the dark ritual we’ve been dreading is averted, TV trash meets art house beauty at last and the LA sunset never darkens into screaming evening and we never grow old and the groovy golden age of this strangely innocent hedonistic Hollywood need never end. It’s a parallel universe Tarantino makes us want to escape to because his own longing to do so shimmers in every frame.
The plane lands. The fever dream recedes. The screen is just a screen. But the best moments in this film speak to our experience of the screen as looking glass, and the part of Tarantino AND us that wants to step through the glass into a tacky wonderland where we are forever death-proof as long as we stay cool.