Heel-o, and welcome to another episode of Fuds on Feet. Excuse me, sorry: that’s been happening all week, out of nowhere, and I’ve no idea why. As I was saying, welcome to Feet on Film. All the fuds are here for this episode, in which we’ll be talking about the films of one Mr Quentin Tarantino.
Mr Tarantino (I’ve decided to adopt the style of The New York Times today, though toe be honest I’ll probably have forgotten by the end of the episode) is one of those few directors whose distinctive work has led to the coining of an adjective, “Tarantinoesque”, following in the likes of “Hitchcockian”. That his work produced such a result after so few films is remarkable: he has only directed 9 feet-ure films in nearly 30 years (though there’s some creative accounting going on with that number, and I’d argue that the fiddled-with film should only have been one film, but more on that later), but his work made an immediate impact, with his second film, Pulp Fiction, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Perhaps that went to his head and he believed his own hype (or, to be slightly less kind, spent too much time smelling his own farts), as only his fourth film begins with the credit, “The fourth film from Quentin Tarantino”, which is quite the stunning display of hubris. However, his films are much-loved, much talked about, and he’s own of the few contemporary, popular filmmakers that could make a reasonable case for being an example of auteur theory. Or podophilia.
His films are often distinguished by copious amounts of graphic violence, swearing and racial slurs, complex and funny dialogue, often on the subject of everyday topics, music choice, and for paying homage to various different genres, while remaining distinctively Tarantinoesque. There’s also the Spike Lee-like need to appear onscreen, generally to underwhelming effect.
And his films also often contain a lot of sole, though that last descriptor works a lot better if you could see how I spelt it…
We begin with a film that takes its name from an apparent mishearing of Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants, which suggests a really garbled pronunciation, a tin ear or, maybe, a creation myth…
Reservoir Dogs covers, in Tarantino’s favoured non-linear fashion, the planning and disastrous results of a diamond heist after which it becomes apparent there’s a rat in the house. Said rat is Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange, an undercover cop who wormed his way into the good graces of the criminal organisation of Lawrence Tierney’s Joe Cabot and his son, Chris Penn’s Nice Guy Eddie, and is now bleeding out on the floor of a dingy warehouse while Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White, Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink, and Michael Madsen’s psychotic Mr. Blonde all point fingers, and guns at each other. Oh, and don’t worry about that cop sitting over in the corner, he won’t be hearing anything.
Tarantino’s first film pretty much started as he meant to go on, jumping around in time and combining relatively obscure music choices with discordant actions, in this instance giving a generation an entirely new perspective on Stealers Wheel. That ear-cutting scene in particular lead to criticisms of Tarantino’s work as being violent, gratuitously even, and perhaps in his later work that might even be fair to say, but I’ve always found Reservoir Dogs tame by the standards of any post-Code time.
Like most of his films, _Reservoir Dogs_is less about the narrative, hence my rather brief summation, but more about hanging out with the characters, and of course, the main Tarantino hallmark of the period, the dialogue, which like Kevin Smith’s contemporaneous work, is not particularly realistic, but is, undeniably cool and fun.
And, at a risk of spoiling my meta criticism of every Tarantino film, I rather get the impression that if you were to ask Tarantino why he wrote, shot, directed, etc, any part of any film he’s made, the answer would be “because I thought it would be cool and/or funny”. As more often than not I’m on his wavelength, that means there’s a good number of films on here that I found cool and/or funny, Reservoir Dogs most certainly amongst them, but I’m not sure I’ve got a great deal more to say about them.
All surface and no feeling, maybe, but with a surface this polished, with this many great turns, and this much entertainment, it’s hard to be hard on it.
It’s a strange thing that one of the characteristics of Quentin Tarantino’s style that so many people list is “non-linear storytelling”, despite only one third of his films having such a structure (some identify The Hateful Eight thusly, though these people are wrong and would do well to seek out a definition of “flashback” and how this differs immensely, but I digress), and I suspect much of that has to do with Pulp Fiction, whose three, intersecting, main storylines are told out of chronological order.
Said three storylines are those of hitmen Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), and ageing boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), and which intersect in location and character, with the film beginning with the end of Jules’ story, and near the end of Butch and Vincent’s. The disrupted narrative makes it rather difficult to summarise, but the most important points are that a near-death experience causes Jules to consider ending his criminal career, while a decision by Butch not to deliberately lose a boxing match puts him in the sights of Vincent, as directed by his boss, the gangster Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).
These are threads that loosely link a series of vignettes that include a dance contest, an LA-set Deliverance homage, an armed robbery, a drug overdose and rather grisly car cleaning, all set to a great soundtrack and dialogue about, amongst other things, regional naming of hamburgers. It probably shouldn’t work, yet it does, and it’s full of memorable moments, characters and lines: who can forget the efficiency of Harvey Keitel’s Wolf (or, sadly, his reprisal of the role in Direct Line insurance adverts), Samuel L. Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 monologue, or Bruce Willis’s evocation that, “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”
It made Tarantino, resurrected John Travolta’s career, at least for a while (being known before then for dancing, and after for… Cthulhu? Xanadu? Xanthan gum? Something like that) and cemented Sam Jackson as, well, Sam Jackson.
However, watching all of Mr Tarantino’s films in such close proximity has served to fully crystallise the realisation that there really is nothing below the surface of his films. This film’s title card defines for us the noun pulp as, “1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter. 2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.” The films are too slick and too polished for the “rough” or “unfinished” aspects to hold true, but as for the rest? Every film that Quentin Tarantino has made is a pulp fiction. They say nothing, they critique nothing. Watching these films again, I strove to find meaning, looking for, perhaps, an acknowledgement of the artifice of the medium of cinema in the conspicuous black and white rear projection behind Vincent Vega’s car as he drives through Los Angeles, or a commentary in Jimmy’s (Tarantino’s own character here) very free use of that particularly odious racial epithet, yet having a black wife. But it’s simply not there: what you see is what you get with Tarantino.
Mr Tarantino is a pop singer, who makes lightweight confections that entertain, but never satisfy. And they do entertain, but it’s a real curiosity to me why he’s quite so feted in cineaste circles, and quite so highly regarded at, for example, Cannes. He’s a storyteller, and rightly lauded for his most characteristic skill, his dialogue, which, while often little resembling anything any human might actually say, is usually great and, in the mouth of the right actor, absolutely sings: for example here, via the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson, or with Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, which I’d argue is its pinnacle.
That his films are more often than not entertaining, like personality, goes a long way, but Pulp Fiction, more so than Reservoir Dogs, appears now as a mission statement for Tarantino’s oeuvre. Not a template: his works, while often bearing similarities, are nevertheless too dissimilar to be simply formulaic, but a philosophical and tonal outline that he hasn’t strayed much from since. It’s still good, though.
If Reservoir Dogs was the ultimate career calling card, and Pulp Fiction the paradigm-shifting sophomore sensation, then 1997s Jackie Brown must surely rank among the most anticipated movies of all time. Tarantino’s first adapted screenplay, working from Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, it tells the story of an emotionally and financially down-at-heel air stewardess, the titular Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), as she finds herself caught between a low level arms dealer and two ATF agents. The arms dealer, Ordell Robbie, uses Jackie to smuggle cash and goods from Mexico, and is none too impressed when she is intercepted with thirty grand and a bag of cocaine by Leonard regular Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton). Enlisting the services of bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to get Brown out of chokey, Robbie plans to kill Jackie before she testifies against him, however Brown is nobody’s fool, so after thwarting the attempt on her life and striking up a friendship with Cherry she sets about devising a scheme to rob Ordell of the half a million dollars in Mexican savings he’s planning on bringing into the country.
Leonard’s novels are renowned for their plotting, character dynamics, confidence capers and smart-ass dialogue, so on paper it looks like a good choice for Tarantino to dip into that well for his first adapted work. Viewers at the time, however, came out of cinemas broadly disappointed at the change in tone, sedate pace and relative lack of shock factor they’d anticipated from what was now very much the Tarantino Brand. There were of course those who championed the movie, but they were certainly in the minority, and indeed the backlash was sufficient such that I for one never bothered to watch Jackie Brown. Until now, obviously. I am pleased to report that in the brief 23 years since the movie debuted it appears to have worn rather well, as I found it engaging at a character level in a way that Dogs and Pulp were not, and a pretty obvious indicator that QT was not a one-trick pony.
Central to the discussion around the movie’s release was the casting of Grier and Forster, which to my recollection felt like something of a stunt at the time, but in less cynical retrospect more a function of the director’s cache enabling him to cast the people he wanted to tell the story of Jackie Brown in the most authentic way. It really was a smart choice, because both the leads inhabit their roles in a way that feels immediately comfortable, their convincingly world-weary demeanour and easy chemistry a real treat from the off. Forster in particular is effortless in his seen-it-all-before portrayal of the bail bondsman, but with a surprisingly sentimental edge we hadn’t seen in a Tarantino movie before or, come to think of it, maybe since.
Make no mistake though, this is Grier’s movie and, while perhaps the least traditionally thespian of the main cast, with their support she nonetheless commands the screen convincingly and with quiet, powerful dignity. It’s been a long time since I read Rum Punch, and until I watched this movie I hadn’t realised it was an adaptation, but as I recall it this is exactly how I’d imagined the character of Jackie to be.
While the pace is certainly very sedate I’d argue that Pulp Fiction in comparison perhaps only seems less so because it is punctuated frequently by myriad memorable scenes. Nothing about Jackie Brown shouts “look at me!” in quite the same way, but rather than being to the movie’s detriment it helps maintain focus on the characters who are, in the main, much more rounded and believable than perhaps we’d become accustomed to by this point in the director’s oeuvre. Sure, there are still the peripheral players who seem to be there mainly to service Tarantino’s fascination with the minutiae of popular culture, but here they are kept suitably in check, and there are no ten minute digressions into discussions about foot massages, painfully overwrought bible recitals or the perceived value of milkshakes. This is most assuredly Tarantino’s interpretation of another artist’s work, and he has the good sense to trust the source material over and above all else. In doing so he demonstrates his skill as a filmmaker as much as a commentator on culture, and his catalogue of work is the stronger for it. I’m glad I came to this movie when I did, as I think it’s easier to see now in retrospect how the pace and commitment to character demonstrated here feeds into some of his later works, and in that context I think I enjoyed it more than I might have done contemporaneously. A movie I shall definitely be coming back to again.
Spilt, of course, into two volumes, apparently at the behest of The Beast Weinstein and his distaste for long running times, something Tarantino will soon pay no regard to, Kill Bill tells us of Uma Thurman’s The Bride, once a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who miraculously survives the bloody assassination of her wedding party by said DVAS, whose boss, David Carradine’s Bill, apparently wasn’t happy with the resignation paperwork or something. Hell of a punishment for skipping the exit interview.
Years later and freshly out of a coma, the Bride resolves on revenge, going after Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii, now head boss of the Yakuza, Vivica A. Fox’s Vernita Green, Michael Madsen’s Budd, Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver on the way to Bill, where there is of course a sting in the tale.
It’s told in, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, non-linear fashion, skipping around to parts of the Bride’s previous life as an assassin, her relationships with the people she’s now sworn to kill, her quest for Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzo steel, and her training with Gordon Liu’s Pai Mei. But mainly it’s about the killing.
I recall being underwhelmed with Part One of this, and more on-board with Part Two, in the main because while Part One has most of the action, Part Two has most of the reasons you might actually care about the action, so I suppose what I’m saying is that this film can’t really support being split in half, at least the way Tarantino’s done it.
However, rewatching them back to back, and at least somewhat remembering the plot and characters has led to me being a little less harsh on it this time around, my first revisit since release. There was also, perhaps an element of snobbery in that assessment seventeen years ago. After all, Tarantino is not now and certainly was not then a master of action cinema, let alone the various flavours of mostly Asian cinema action he’s paying homage / imitating here. After all, why watch this end-of-the-pier tribute act when you can instead watch the source inspiration?
To be fair to my snooty younger self, he’s entirely correct, but I now can view this more as the selection box of action that Tarantino appears to have intended, a starter course for the uninitiated, if you will, and he’s at least had the good sense to surround himself with people who have mastered the art, like Woo-Ping Yuen, and the largely practical effects make for a welcome change of pace to modern action outings.
Even with a greater appreciation of Kill Bill, I still don’t love it, and it’s not actually moved much if at all in the Tarantino league table, but I’ve perhaps moved from “don’t bother” to “guarded recommendation”.
Tarantino’s attempt to create his own version of the types of films he grew up with continued in 2007 with “Grindhouse”, his collaboration with Robert Rodriguez in which the duo produced a pair of films (intended to be shown as a double bill, but only released as such in the US) that attempted to capture the aesthetic of the low budget horror and exploitation films typically shown in grindhouse cinemas. Rodriguez made Planet Terror and Tarantino made Death Proof.
Death Proof (and not Death Prof, as my fingers repeatedly insisted on typing last night, which I imagine as a high school-based take on Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down, which would have made for a considerably more entertaining film), incidentally the only Tarantino film I hadn’t previously seen, is a mash-up of 70s slasher and muscle car films.
In contemporary Austin, Texas, there is a group of young women, who go to a taqueria and then to a pub. Nothing they do or say is in any way interesting, entertaining or consequential. After 45 minutes anything at all happens, when Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike drives his “death-proof” car head on into the car containing the young women at high speed, killing them all. Michael Parks’ Earl McGraw pops in from Kill Bill, for some reason, and says he can’t prove that Stuntman Mike murdered the girls, but he can make sure that if he does it again it won’t be in Texas. Somehow. Very moral stance, anyway.
We cut to a little over a year later, in Tennessee, and footage which is now pristine, whereas the first half of the film was portrayed as old, scratched and damaged. This is a REFERENCE. Here, we find another group of young women. After another inconsequential 45 minutes passes, and after the women have left their attractive friend alone in the middle of nowhere with a strange man, Stuntman Mike appears and attempts to kill them, but this time his victims fight back. There then follows twenty minutes of hugely underwhelming car chases and collisions in terrible, ugly-looking, horrible-sounding cars.
Kurt Russell is the villain (though a pretty poor one, as he can’t do menacing), but given his would-be victims miss a good two dozen chances to stop to allow one of their number, who is hanging on to the car’s bonnet, to get into the car, and then injure and endanger lots of innocent people before not even bothering to check whether the human hood ornament is OK when they do stop, I’d have been quite happy for everyone to die. But that’s a little too close to caring about anything in Death Proof, something the previous 100 minutes worked hard to ensure I wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, do.
Death Proof is, by a margin, and a pretty vast one at that, Quentin Tarantino’s least essential, least entertaining and generally worst film. Whether any of its lack of dynamism is due to the fact that Tarantino himself served as DP here, rather than his usual collaborator, Robert Richardson, or even Andrzej Sekuła (André Seh-ku-a), the cinematographer on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, I don’t know. But what I do know is that if you make an homage to slasher films and then limit your slasher to, effectively, two scenes in your two-hour-long film, you done fucked up.
It is gar-bage.
The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi. I hope as creators and audience we can all agree on that point. If we can’t, then this is your cue to unsubscribe and never trouble our RSS feed ever again. There is, however, and argument to be made that so long as Nazis exist (and current evidence suggests they most certainly do), a quite useful Nazi might be one who spreads terror among the ranks of his fellow scum, telling tales of “Bear Jews” and terrible torture at their hands for anyone repugnant enough to affiliate themselves with the crooked little cross.
Yes, in 2009 Tarantino decided that he’d make his Boys Own, Where Eagles Dare World War Two movie, lifting his title (if not the plot) from 1978’s The Inglorious Bastards. In that movie a group of rogue US soldiers volunteer to steal a V2 rocket from the Krauts. In Tarantino’s version the name of the game is… to kill as many Nazis as you can, as horribly as you can, occasionally leaving behind a lone survivor to spread fear and legend among the Axis ranks. Lead by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), the Basterds have their sights set on a eliminating a group of high ranking Nazi officers at the premier of a propaganda movie. As luck would have it their goal coincides with that of a young Jewish refugee named Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) who, as a young woman narrowly escapes extermination by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), though her family were not so lucky. Some years later Shosanna now runs the theatre where the propaganda movie is to be premiered, and though it has come to the Basterds’ attention as a prime opportunity you can be certain that Shosanna has her own plans.
Coming off the back of my disappointment with both volumes of Kill Bill and Death Proof, I had taken another Tarantino sabbatical at this point in my movie watching endeavours, and much as I missed out on Jackie Brown it turns out to be another piece of bad timing on my part that I didn’t catch up with Basterds until after the release of the following movie, Django Unchained. While I appreciate coming back to Jackie Brown now that my faculties are more capable, I really wish I’d seen Basterds sooner, because it is one hell of a ride.
If I had been sceptical before as to Tarantino’s ability to manipulate his audience through anything other than pop music and ultra violence then this movie would have put my mind at ease. The opening act where a young Shosanna evades Landa is easily one of the more knuckle-whitening examples of a major studio movie building tension of recent memory, and things only improve from there on. This movie’s twist on the Mexican stand-off, in which the Basterd’s German-speaking allies are wiped out in a bar massacre is, I consider, one of the best standalone scenes of the director’s career, introducing and immediately disposing of no less a calibre of talent than Michael Fassbender in an act of filmmaking that requires great writing, and great balls, and still the movie gets better.
As a work of cinema Inglorious Basterds is a wonderful balancing act of the serious and the insane, from genuinely mindful contemplation of the twentieth century’s darkest moments, to downright nonsensical, wildly entertaining spraying of tommy guns and MP-40s. It somehow respects a global conflict rooted in vile ideology while affording its audience a rollercoaster release valve, and that it ends in a Nazi massacre really is simply too good to be true. We will talk about another movie that seeks similarly OTT retribution for history’s wrongs in a moment, but for now I’m quite happy to declare Inglorious Basterds my favourite among this director’s canon.
Another outing in Tarantino’s 100% accurate history simulators, Django Unchained tells of Jamie Foxx’s Django, and his unchaining, at the hands of a bounty hunter, Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz, initially to help him identify some bounties, but soon becoming a partnership, and friendship, with Schultz agreeing to help Django rescue his wife, Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda, from the plantation house of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin J. Candie.
A perhaps overly brief summation of nearly three hours of cinema, although Django sure as hell doesn’t feel it’s length, but as mentioned in reviews passim this is less about the narrative – although it’s more than strong enough for this sort of thing – but about the characters, from Foxx’s steely resolve, to the disarmingly charming Dr. Schultz, and the on the surface equally disarmingly charming Candie, although that’s a mask that slips quickly, backed up by a who’s who’s of nigh on everyone Tarantino’s worked with in memorable roles from the minor to major, like the incredible Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen Warren.
It’s very much taking the cartoon alternate history ball of Basterds and volleying it into any and all nets available, being to Spaghetti Westerns as Basterds was to jingoistic war films. While, for once, this has thematic content that could conceivably be analysed, dealing of course with the acts and legacy of slavery in America, at the risk of being dismissive of Tarantino’s development as a director and person, I suspect that still, if questioned most of the reasons for anything that’s happening here would be answered “because I thought it would be cool and/or funny”.
And again, it is cool and funny. Very much so. The most so, arguably. Across the board the cast are excellent, the characters are charming and/or loathsome, the over the top violence is amusingly comedic, and overall it’s just a great deal of fun, if not a film, apparently, that I can say a great deal about that I’ve not said about Tarantino’s prior work. It is very good, I, it seems, am not.
The Hateful Eight
Next on our journey through “Quentin Tries the Genres” is the Western, with 2015’s The Hateful Eight, in which a blizzard strands a disparate group of travellers at a way station in the mountains of Wyoming.
A number of the director’s previous collaborators return here, including Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell. This last plays bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth, who we first meet handcuffed to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue, a wanted murderer he is transporting to Red Rock for trial and execution (the film suggesting no doubt whatsoever over her guilt). On the road he, separately, encounters two distressed travellers: fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson), and a former confederate soldier and soon to be new sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Goggins). Ruth reluctantly grants them room in his privately-booked stagecoach, fearing either an attempt to steal his bounty, or an attempt to free her.
Ruth’s perturbation increases on the group’s arrival at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the roadside inn where the familiar owners are nowhere to be found. In their stead is Señor Bob (Demián Bichir), a Mexican who claims to be an employee, as well as a few guests: Joe Gage (Madsen), a cowboy; Oswaldo Mobray (Roth, somehow managing to sport a spectacularly unconvincing English accent), the local executioner, and a Confederate general (Dern). Certain that at least one of these people is not who they claim to be, Ruth disarms them all, with the exception of Major Warren, and the group settle in for an uncomfortable and tense few days together until the blizzard passes and the road to Red Rock is passable again. Not that Mr. Tarantino’s previous work suggests anything at all, but you may reasonably surmise that not everyone who walked into Minnie’s Haberdashery will be leaving in the same way.
It’d be nice to be able to talk about Quentin Tarantino’s take on the Western, perhaps comparing it with genre-redefining works like those of Sergio Leone, of whom Tarantino is a noted a fan, or even Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. But whether or not old Quentin is capable of making a Once Upon a Time in the West, he clearly has no interest in doing so, as The Hateful Eight is a Quentin Tarantino film: it’s just that this one happens to be set in 1870s Wyoming. In that regard there’s not much else to say: for the most part I enjoy Quentin Tarantino films a lot, and I enjoyed this a lot. The dialogue is fun, if at times distasteful, the performances are all very enjoyable (Kurt Russell in particular feeling much more comfortable here, bringing back aspects of both Tombstone’s Wyatt Earp and Escape from New York’s Snake Plisskin, than he did as a murderer in Death Proof) and while its near three-hour running time is pushing it a bit, it’s only the flashback scene that shows the setup that feels extraneous.
It’s in the visuals that The Hateful Eight really stands out, though: shot by Robert Richardson using Ultra Panavision 70 lenses last used on the 1966 film, Khartoum, and thought to no longer exist, which were retrofitted to modern Panavision cameras, and filmed on 65mm Kodak Vision3 5219 stock, allowing the director’s dream of shooting a 70mm film to be realised, and resulting in his best-looking film.
These lenses were then used in an unexpected location: indoors. The super-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio that the lenses allowed provides a genuinely interesting look to the film, and also allows multiple characters to be seen at once in multiple scenes, capturing reactions and movements without having to change the coverage, and it just works so well as the tensions rise.
The music isn’t left out, either, with The Hateful Eight being the first Tarantino film to feature an original score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone (plus the addition of three of the tracks from Morricone’s unused score from The Thing).
I continue to enjoy this film. I am, though, just left with that constant sense of disappointment that there isn’t more there. I want a steak, Quentin. Stop giving me dessert.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Described alternately by the director himself as either his magnum opus and/or his love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, Once Upon a Time is the most recent of Tarantino’s efforts, and if I may jump the gun and go straight to some sort of conclusion, a pretty good distillation of his craft to date.
Based loosely on the histories of a number of Hollywood leading man/stunt double partnerships, though none so much as that of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, Once Upon a Time largely follows fading 60s TV Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his long time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they find their careers on the wane at the cusp of a new decade in both filmmaking and social norms. Battling rampant alcoholism, Dalton’s relationship with Booth has become more of a client/minder affair, their co-dependency unexpectedly pure and bereft of cynicism, their unspoken affection for each other completely intangible yet obvious in their dynamic.
Woven into the Dalton/Booth dynamic almost as an aside, the movie’s secondary plot thread follows the tragic figure of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) as her own career gathered pace, though her fate as history books have it is rewritten in a startlingly revisionist piece of corrective chronology. If there is a point to the movie, it appears to be as an outlet for Tarantino’s dream of how the 60s should have closed out, a sort of time-travelling restorative justice perhaps? One suspects, however, that the more important thing here is the journey, and what a journey it is.
As Tate, Dalton and Booth pursue their dreams and battle their demons respectively, Tarantino presents late 60s Hollywood as a rich tapestry of character, sounds and visuals, pulling together all of the tools he’s collected over a quarter century to sculpt perhaps his most mature work since Jackie Brown, if not of his career. That’s not to say Once Upon a Time is dull or bereft of those hallmarks we’ve become so familiar with, in fact far from it: the one or two instances of violence serve to remind us how ugly that violence is, the soundtrack is of course cooler than cool, and the cameos from recognisable faces are even more numerous than ever. Rather it’s the way we as viewers are never in doubt as to how these aspects are fully in service of the story rather than Tarantino’s ego that impressed me most, and the same can be said of his clearly affectionate nods to incidental characters such as Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen. Yes, you heard me, Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen are incidental characters in this movie. I understand that in the case of Mike Moh’s fantastic portrayal of Lee some feathers were ruffled, not least of all among the martial arts legend’s family, but let’s just say my mileage varied on that one, and I think this, along with the rest of the name-checking, is both wholly justified and unbelievably entertaining.
Remarkably, given conversations we have frequently around these parts, Once Upon a Time completely justifies it’s length, and in fact at a running time just shy of two and three quarter hours this is one of those rare occasions where I could easily have spent another hour with these characters without fearing fatigue. One understands there may be a three or even four hour cut to be released at some point in the near future, and I for one would like you to take my money now. If indeed this proves to be Tarantino’s penultimate picture, it leaves me in great anticipation of what his parting gift to us all will be. If instead he awakes morning and unexpectedly declares Kill Bill was two separate movies after all, then it’s hard to imagine a better or more fitting way to cap off a career in movies than this immensely enjoyable love letter to that medium’s heyday.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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