Salutations. My name is Jonathan Hortenz, formerly of a small independent newspaper whose name I am legally obligated not to speak. I was employed by them as their film critic, but in this day and age the musings of aficionados like myself are seemingly less important than a review pulled from a fruit-based website. My previous forays into web-based film review were tentative at best, but now that my only other option has been torn from me it’s time to give it the old film school try and just hope they (they being my taskmasters here at the Fictosphere, who have promised me payment which I don’t believe I’ll see before The Day the Clown Cried) don’t want me to do another infernal podcast. You may be asking why such an esteemed reviewer simply doesn’t create his own platform, and the answer to that lies in the questionable wisdom of my “colleague” Steve who said that it would be better to hitch my wagon to something that already exists. Now, with that brief introduction out of the way, onward to my review of the newest release from auteur Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
What is there to say about this film and its creator that has not been said thousands upon thousands of times? Tarantino is one of a dying breed, the true Hollywood director, a man whose singular vision can be taken from the womb of his mind to the silver screen with minimal interference from studios and I have been a fan since Reservoir Dogs. While I do not claim that all of his ideas are golden (Grindhouse, in particular, latched his dynamite Death Proof to the simply banal Planet Terror and I give thanks everyday that most of those asinine trailers never made it past the double feature) every inch of the film Once Upon in Time in Hollywood was printed upon might have well been cinematic ambrosia. This was a relief, as when I heard about the film’s connection to Charles Manson, I was worried things would end in an orgy of violence and things did seem to be headed that way during points in the film. I should have had more faith in Tarantino, as what we actually received was a love letter not just to the golden age of Hollywood, but the sheer act of creating visual media. I must warn you that there are spoilers ahead. I’d really rather not do so, but I have a feeling that if I didn’t they’d post this with a giant banner at this point anyway.
The film’s foci are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), bosom friends and partners trying to do their best in the world of Hollywood, and their somewhat contrary approaches to their lives in film. Rick is constantly in a battle with both himself and his view of himself: he is both his most ardent backer and most potent obstacle and his story is one of overcoming both of these. He wrestles every day with the dying light of his star, and it’s only when he puts aside the past that he’s truly able to move on towards a brighter future. The scenes where he struggles to memorize, and then remember, his lines are far more tense and eventually gratifying than anything seen in something from the Marvel factory and his arc throughout the movie had me on the edge of my seat and wondering where his life would take him and I almost cheered at the movie’s end. Cliff, on the other end of the spectrum, has long made peace with his past and role in life. While Rick is on a journey to find out who he is and what he’s capable of, Cliff knows both of these from the outset and, in my opinion, offers a much less compelling arc because of it. There are some tense moments featuring Cliff, primarily at the Spahn Ranch, but his storyline serves only to mirror Rick’s struggle and eventual deliverance from the status quo he has found himself in. Cliff is also responsible for most of the film’s violence, which may not reach orgy-level proportions but can certainly be called a menage-a-trois of carnage.
While this twin narrative of self provides most of the film’s heavy lifting, we also spend a lengthy amount of time with Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) going about her daily life. Some say that these parts are largely perfunctory and that Robbie was wasted in the role, but Tate is presented as an almost angelic figure whose brief interactions with the common folk are portrayed as almost religious experiences for those involved. This provides a certain amount of drama, as those familiar with Hollywood’s history know of her connection with Manson but the world of the film (and, indeed, of Tarantino himself) place Tate on a pedestal and then, wonder of wonders, allows her to survive! This life where there was once only death (both of Tate and her associates and the golden age of Hollywood itself!) signifies hope in a world all too devoid of it and it’s only now that I’ve completely failed to talk about the cinematography, which is excellent as one would expect of Quentin Tarantino. The entire movie is bright, even scenes shot at night, with all the colors vibrant and reminiscent of Dorothy’s first view of Oz. In this alternate history, there’s even scenes from versions of movies and television shows (film’s inbred cousin) with each shot and manipulated ot the point where one might expect these to be pulled from actual filmstock and not produced simply for this movie.
Indeed, this film is a perfect love letter to Hollywood and I spent a goodly amount of time pondering its intricacies and the folk I’ve talked to about it have all agreed that while they might not like the film (like certain heathens I could mention) it is an excellent film but there is one glaring omission: there is not a single naked booby anywhere in the film. While those of you who have been following me from my early days know this complaint is nothing new, I feel compelled to explain myself for those of you reading a Jonathan Hortenz review for the first time. It is my firm belief that the sight of a nude breast is the single friendliest image that could be captured upon film, but this is in no way a sexual thing. In fact, once intercourse is introduced, the friendliness of the breast is rendered moot and including them is nothing but sheer titillation. No, I speak of the static breast, unclothed, as one might find in museums and one should be able to find in more cinematic art. After all, what could be friendlier than our earliest source of sustenance? Not only that, but they’re a reminder of our evolutionary roots and an icon of what it means to be a human being. Yes, a single naked booby (or, better yet, a pair of naked boobies) of a friendly size upon film unmolested by man or beast should be in every film and the stigma against an unsexualized breast should be lifted not only in cinema, but life as well. This film contains many women, many of whom were obvious free-spirits (Steve insisted on calling them hippies, which I suppose fits) and whom one would expect would doff their shirts at a moment’s notice for no other reason than the simple joy and freedom of the sun on their bare skin. This was not the case, and while Tarantino’s mystifying foot fetish was on proud display, naked boobies were not.
You may be asking if I still hold this film in high esteem based upon that information, and while I do, I cannot give it a perfect rating. Others with less stringent criteria might laud this as an almost perfect film, and while it may be that, its lack of naked boobies makes it a steadfastly unfriendly one. I’ve also been instructed to tell you to comment and share this article, which I will do in the hopes that the Fictosphere’s promises of payment come to fruition. Until next time, my friends.