Right off the top, for clarities sake – I’ve never been a fan of Quentin Tarantino. I saw “Pulp Fiction” within the first couple of days of its release and I’m forever grateful for being introduced to Amanda Plummer (“Honey Bunny”) but overall the film didn’t really bang my bongos and the endless hosannas of the fan club went quite some way towards properly alienating me, to the point that I missed or avoided a lot which followed. And since you ask, I hated “Resevoir Dogs”. I found it to be sadistic, malicious, and simply violence porn. I felt the same way about “Inglorious Basterds” – the long scene of a captive German waiting to be murdered made me really angry. I never saw the end of that one.
I have no idea why I was at the first session, opening day for this effort, but I was – and to quote “Oddball” in “Kelly’s Heroes” the film is ultimately some kind of “weird sandwich” – but a tasty one, and one that is interesting to examine the workings of, because ultimately “Hollywood” does work, and work well, but for the majority of its running length it is rather like listening to someone trying to start a fucked tank engine – occasional moments of hope when the bloody thing actually works and long periods of embarrassed forbearance listening to the starter-motor grinding away and the driver swearing until finally the thing bursts into respectable life and drives off, up the driveway into the night and unexpectedly pleasant memory-land. In my case anyway, it completely redeems itself in the last minute or so of running time.
This is no mean feat. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is pretty easy going, and it is not short either being 161 minutes long; but while those desperate for a blizzard of action may be disappointed, it is worth pointing out too, that prior knowledge and understanding of the Manson “Family” and their activities and subsequent place in the American subconscious is essential for any real appreciation of this film. And before you scoff and say that “everyone would have to know of them”; I have been asked by quite a few people (all born since 1990) whether they would like this film – they had no idea at all. Neither did my carer who saw it with me, she didn’t like it and was illuminated by my explanation in the foyer after the film had finished.
“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” fits squarely in Quentin Tarantino’s mini-genre of what could probably best be called “shallow alternative histories”, where the stupider possibilities of alternative history are considered. Unlike Len Deighton’s “SS-GB” which examined the long term effects on Britain of a loss to Nazi Germany, or Phillip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”, examining the U.S after a loss to Japan. Tarantino has never run much deeper than the Goodies arriving at a crux point in history, with guns, and slaughtering all the “Nazi Rat-Fuck Bastards” that need Slaughtering. His interest in history goes little deeper than getting to watch Hitler’s body writhing under the impact of a magazine’s worth of machine-gun bullets in gory, pornographic slow motion. Strictly primary school masturbation material, which of course finds rich fertile soil in the hearts and minds of the American Gun-Nut brigade, and the hearts and minds of people who rather like the idea if Hitler being turned into cat food with a machine gun. Of course that happens at the end of “Inglorious Basterds”.
In “Once upon a Time in Hollywood” there is no Hitler, instead Tarantino takes on the Manson “Family” who quite arguably did more damage to the US than Hitler ever did. Tarantino’s intercession of good into that fateful night is more sure, more mature than “Inglorious Basterds” and altogether more worth seeing. I found that it lost a fair bit of its excitement and shock value on a second viewing three days after the first, but if anything I found it to be a more worthwhile matter film than anything Tarantino has done before. In fact I found the absolute ending, including Sharon Tate’s last words to be more heart-rending and poetic than I had the first time. A fitting death knell to the joyous innocence of the 1960’s.
( If you know the story of Charles Manson)