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Antti Alanen: Film Diary:

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - the incoherent text

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Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) at Musso & Frank Grill. In his book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan Robin Wood analyzed some of the greatest films of the period, such as Taxi Driver and Deer Hunter, as "incoherent texts". To him their greatness was based on their incoherence. Quentin Tarantino's meta-cinematic, pop art approach represents a concept of film experience that is completely different from 1970s Hollywood. He broke the narrative, introduced the eternal now and took meta-fiction into a new orbit. Despite its title, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is a film based on reality in many ways. The sense of the place is authentic, real locations are used with flair, movie lore is accurate. Many aspects of the film industry are displayed in loving and humoristic detail. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is one of the great films about film-making. Watching it I was thinking about John Ford's unfulfilled plan to make a Hollywood film. He was not impressed by stars and glamour. He wanted to tell about the Hollywood professionals behind the screen whom he loved and whom the general audience does not know. It would have been totally different from Tarantino, yet there might have been common ground, as well. Tarantino's protagonists have been anti-heroes before, but now in a new way he puts forth the loser. The difference is in psychological nuance and honesty. In the Rick Dalton story we are able to enjoy the poplore dimension of his career curve. Marvin Schwarzs: So Rick, who's gonna beat the shit out of you next week? Mannix? The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.? How about Batman and Robin? [pantomimes the fight choreography] Ping! Pow! Choom! Zoom! Down goes you, down goes your career as a leading man . More substantially, Leonardo DiCaprio conveys the humiliation and the alcoholism of his character, as well as his inner dignity. It is a truly moving performance. I have always admired DiCaprio but have been somewhat unimpressed with his tough-guy posturing. This performance again represents DiCaprio at his best. The "incoherent text" in Once Upon a Time is the story of Cliff Booth. He is the most central character, sympathetic, genial, and our identification figure in a way comparable with Taxi Driver. Cliff, indeed, is Rick Dalton's driver. And like Travis Bickle, Cliff is a war veteran. He is not obviously deranged like Travis Bickle, but his hidden sadistic streak is revealed in acts of violence. He always overdoes violence, and instead of justice there is an excess of violence in his action. Also Brad Pitt creates a psychologically impressive performance. We see his scarred torso and can deduce that his psyche has been scarred as well on his Green Beret missions. Although Cliff seems calm and sympathetic there is something unfulfilled in him. Brad Pitt gives us a memorable portrait of his arrested development and unfulfilled potential. Disturbingly, Tarantino invites us to identify with the sadistic killer. Are we looking at our own mirror image, identifying with glee with the killer, enjoying vicariously a violent spectacle? Once Upon a Time is a buddy movie, a subgenre also analyzed by Robin Wood who saw in the 1970s stories of violence an undercurrent of repressed homosexual urges. Be that how it may, Once Upon a Time belongs to the Howard Hawks tradition of buddy movies, which started with A Girl in Every Port and whose most fulfilled expression is Rio Bravo, also dealing with alcoholism, the fate of the loser and the key theme of mutual respect. " When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell. "

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