August 14, 2019
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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Tarantinos last word? Discuss with spoilers
Quentin Tarantino, the ur-Gen X movie geek director, has, for some time, suggested that he wants to make 10 films then retire. (He insists that Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 are one movie, though I remember buying two tickets.) By his count he’s got one more to go, but walking out of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood there’s a feeling of “Gee, what exactly is there left to say?”
All of Tarantino’s passions – the unhurried “hanging out” vibe between ultracool men, the lost pop culture ephemera, the tweaked idols of childhood, the lore of movie-making and fiery explosions of over-the-top violence – are on display. The film’s conclusion, the literal opening of New Hollywood’s gates, make perfect punctuation to the end of a career. (This is partly why I don’t think he’s kidding when he says he’d like to do a Star Trek project next. He wants to take the ride again, but not necessarily in his own ship.)
There’s a lot to unpack in this two-hour-and-45-minute film, especially when you get past the dead end of counting Margot Robbie’s spoken lines to ascertain if the film respects women. (Lillian Gish didn’t talk much in a lot of her movies either.) These are some topics that kept us buzzing.

Revisionist history
That Sharon Tate is a key player in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and doesn’t end up dead isn’t, weirdly, that big of a surprise. Tarantino could never outdo himself in the revisionist history department after Inglourious Basterds, a movie in which a squad of Jewish American soldiers machinegun Adolf Hitler into hamburger. But going into this film, you kinda-sorta know that the gruesome Tate murders are unlikely to play out as they actually did in August 1969, however the fun (and, yes, it is fun, no disrespect to the families of those who were actually killed) is in watching it play out.
Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth is the ultimate Tarantino hero. He works in movies, but in the most workmanlike department – as a stunt man. He lives behind a drive-in. He spends his days driving around Hollywood doing odd jobs, looking cool, smiling at women (but mostly regarding them from afar). And when duty calls and the job requires it, he can swiftly unleash preposterous amounts of deadly violence. His attack with a can of dog food to prevent the Manson Family killers from making their way up the hill to Roman Polanski’s rented home will go down as one of the strangest and most shocking attacks in cinema.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Tarantinos last word? Discuss with spoilers
Spahn Movie Ranch
The languid pace in OUATIH (sorry, I can’t type out the full title any more) allows Tarantino to use the Hollywood of the Mind as an exploratory sandbox. It’s perfect, then, that one of the tensest scenes (and one that a screenwriting professor would likely suggest be truncated, further proving Tarantino’s greatness) is set at the Spahn Movie Ranch.
Out on the edge of Los Angeles, the ranch was used for mid-century film and television productions of exactly the sort that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton would appear in. By the late 1960s, the owner, the old and blind George Spahn had turned the shooting location into something of a “wild west” tourism spot, but it was hardly on most visitors’ must-see list. Gradually, members of Charles Manson’s “hippie cult” moved in until they basically had the run of the place by the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders.
It’s a footnote in late 1960s California movie lore, so it’s a natural that Tarantino, forever obsessed with the near-forgotten, would set the lengthiest sequence of his film there.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Tarantinos last word? Discuss with spoilers
The legend of Bruce Lee
Can Batman beat up Superman? It’s a question comic-book fans still (embarrassingly) ask and (even worse) some have an answer to. For kids obsessed with junk TV and B-movies from Tarantino’s era, you could easily swap in either of those superheroes with Bruce Lee.
To that end, it makes perfect sense that Tarantino’s idealised hero – Brad Pitt’s stuntman Cliff Booth – would pair off against Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh) and come away with a tie. Lee’s daughter has voiced displeasure at the way her father has been portrayed, calling it “disrespectful.” Critic Walter Chaw, who liked the film, wrote about how audience responses to the scene troubled him. Issues of respectability aside, the question remains if the fight “actually happened” or if it was something in Cliff’s head. We see the fight in a flashback that also includes a scene drawn from overheard conversation, in which we also see a flash of someone else’s thought’s about Cliff (eg. did he kill his wife?) It’s a little confusing, and intentionally so, but remember that this movie’s title is Once Upon a Time, so perhaps we shouldn’t take all of this too literally.
The film’s sole
At some point in the last decade I became aware that Tarantino was into feet. Hey, everybody’s into something. One can only surmise that he became aware that we became aware, because there are so many tootsies in OUATIH – even squashed against glass! – that it goes beyond a joke into a benignly perverse jubilee.
The best scene in the movie, and one of the few (if not the only!) extended moments of pure joy in Tarantino’s oeuvre, comes when Robbie’s Tate pops in at a cinema to watch herself on screen. Not that The Wrecking Crew, a forgettable Dean Martin action-comedy, is legendary cinema, but it was and still is serviceable entertainment.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Tarantinos last word? Discuss with spoilers
After a day of running ironic errands (one, giving a Manson Family hitchhiker a lift, and two, picking up a copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles for hubby Roman Polanski, who would later make the film adaptation not starring her but Nastassja Kinski) Tate settles into her seat, puts on some cute glasses and just glows when the matinee crowd seems to be digging her work.
Considering Tarantino’s zeal for movies, watching an iconic, beautiful woman watch herself goes beyond voyeurism into a kind of sensory overload loop. The scene plays out for a long time and, as a capper, Robbie’s Tate kicks off her heels, leans back and props her feet up directly in front of the lens. It’s a hilarious, knowing wink but it is also a celebration. You can tsk tsk this sort of thing but if you do, you are no fun.

The Andrew Oldham Orchestra
Despite OUATIH’s relaxed pace, we know it is all building up to a violent climax. With the date of the Tate murders approaching, our heroes and their upbeat adventures in The Dream Factory are almost over. They, and the movie, are out of time.
Tarantino tees up this final night with a montage of Los Angeles turning on its tacky-yet-glorious nights to the Rolling Stones’ hit Out of Time. But keen listeners – the types who would, like Tarantino himself, recognise all the old radio jingles blaring out of Cliff’s car – know something is a little off. The version we hear isn’t the typical Stones hit. It is a rarity – Mick Jagger’s vocals atop the orchestral backing track created for Chris Farlowe’s cover of the song. Mick recorded it as a demo and it wasn’t commercially available until 1975. It is therefore a song literally out of time, and further evidence that this Once Upon a Time story is one living in myth.
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