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  • Writer's pictureSam Malone

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Tarantino impressively shows in his most restrained effort yet

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

It’s been 3 days since I saw Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. I needed time to ponder it after leaving the crowded theater. The more time away I get from my first viewing, the warmer my stomach gets every time I think about it. Like leaving a first date knowing that person is special and the butterflies of love start to crack open the cocoon of that anxious appetite-ruining warmth inside of you. If Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood had this same feeling, it’d be for the Los Angeles of 1969. This was Tarantino’s intention, of course. It’s a lovely ode to that long gone (but never forgotten) era of Hollywood. Tarantino (with the exception of the intermittent narration) shows way more than tells and in this instance, thank God for that.

I already plan to revisit it again soon, this time in 35mm film. It is Tarantino’s and any film buff’s preferred mode of viewing (I had the privilege of seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar in 70mm IMAX and Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight road show in 70mm CinemaScope), enmeshing you even more into the world of the film projected with vibrant colors and blacker blacks, that feeling of still utilizing an antiquated (but essential) medium in a digital world where we can watch movies on a screen in our hand. Celluloid was the only way movies were watched in 1969 and I’m excited to see it the way Sharon Tate would’ve watched her last film, The Wrecking Crew, before her death. Although I felt the length in my first viewing, time and distance has made me appreciate how wonderful this film truly is. I can guarantee that I won’t want that reel to run out in my second screening. Now I am certain that my second viewing of Brad Pitt as stuntman Cliff Booth driving around 1969 LA and Leonardo Dicaprio as struggling western actor Rick Dalton on 35mm will be a wholesome, absorbing experience that I will not want to end.

Also, seeing Margot Robbie again as a beautiful homage to Sharon Tate dancing and shopping and being human, watching herself in a movie theater, grinning big and enraptured by the laughs of the audience at her performance on screen might cause a couple of tears for me, especially after researching the details of her horrible, unfair death.

As for the Manson tie-ins, I’ll get to that later. I will review the film in its entirety after my second viewing. As for now, I will savor this feeling until it is hopefully extrapolated in the experience of 35mm film. The transformer of history, master of cinema and ultimate cinephile has done it again.

To be continued... *Spoilers*

Well, I saw Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood again. Seeing it a second time was a better experience, especially on 35mm film. Hearing the projector begin to run and seeing the crisp, clean illusion of Tarantino's images moving on a screen was wonderful. Occasionally lines or black splotches would appear in a flash, reminding the viewers that this is the way movies are supposed to be seen.

As for the movie, Tarantino has done something special here. While it isn't his best movie and not the best showcase for a "Tarantino movie," it is certainly his most moving, heartfelt work. Restrained until it's not, mature as Tarantino can get, and immersive in every single way, it is a simple, playful show of wandering and meandering escapism. There's no need for a plot in a film like this. It's all about showing the era, honoring the time and characters, and giving real people the lives they deserved. Margot Robbie's celebration of Sharon Tate is the beating heart of the film. The fairytale ending is the beginning of a life she should have had and one she was so unfairly taken away from. How unfortunate that this film is a fairytale, and that a pregnant Sharon Tate was actually murdered by hippie heathens rather than enjoying a night with her friends at home and continuing a career that would have definitely included super-stardom.

Thanks to Tarantino and the power of movies, we can relish in the beautiful ending of this film. We can enjoy Brad Pitt as the badass stunt-man Cliff Booth and Leonardo Dicaprio as the struggling actor giving the Mason murderers what they deserved. There's not much more to say about Hollywood since it's been debated and stripped down to the bone by the internet already. It's a beautiful film, with Tarantino's signature bloody indulgences against the people of history that deserved it; it's a love letter to 1969 Hollywood, actors and stunt-men; it's a fairytale we wish were true, an emotional journey you don't want to end, and an homage to a world long gone.

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