It’s been a long time since in every interview from Quentin Tarantino (Knoxville, 1963) the theme of retirement arises. Director of Pulp fiction wants to retire in his tenth film, so there would only be one more after Once upon a time in hollywood, and that leads to self-imposed pressure on your next project. The one that should conclude his career in style, put an end to the career of an essential filmmaker in the last three decades. Tarantino knows perfectly well what that means, and that is why it seems to give him anguish to detract from his own legacy.
The blood, the body and the feet of women in Tarantino’s cinema: empowerment or machismo?
The filmmaker is aware that he has an image to maintain. Because you only think in those terms: there is nothing so complex that it cannot be synthesized with an image that resonates by itself, that channels speeches from spectacularity. That is why his idea of turning to literature draws so much attention – he assures that when he retires from the cinema he will dedicate himself entirely to it – and that the first of his expressions has been a novel-expansion of Once upon a time in hollywood (Reservoir Books). Once upon a time in hollywood, movie, is not just that proverbial love letter to the cinema. It is also the definitive assumption of a thought strongly dependent on the visual, on the cultural construction of the gaze.
What’s the point of translating something like this into pages? A picture is worth a thousand words, after all. And the novel of Once upon a time in hollywood work with that certainty.
Leave the cinema alone
Once upon a time in hollywood it is a very complex film. The most sophisticated that Tarantino has ever done, the most capable of continuing to generate performances several years after its release. It may, however, that the primary key to begin decrypting it is in a specific image. Or in the confrontation of two images, rather: the actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) burning Nazis with his flamethrower in one of his films, as opposed to Dalton himself, in the pool of his house, using this same flamethrower to finish off a young woman who calls insistently “hippie“.
Are the hippies the new Nazis? The novel does not delve into it outside of what was seen in the film; that is, outside of Dalton’s custom of naming the members of the Manson family that way, who within our reality murdered Sharon Tate and three other people on the night of August 8, 1969. In this reality, the movement hippie was associated with these crimes despite the fact that Manson and his people could only be linked to it for cosmetic purposes. Guided by the megalomania of its leader, the Manson family was an entity alien to the promoters of the Summer of Love and yet, culturally, it remained associated with them forever. Once upon a time in hollywood he shares this appreciation, and he does so because Tarantino’s thinking runs exclusively through pop channels.
Which is not to say that he is innocent. Pop, for the filmmaker, is political and assigns blame. It is intuited from the role of the Nazis in his filmography: he is an enemy as monolithic and exaggerated as the saga of Indiana Jones, but whom Tarantino holds responsible for what, according to his view of things, is the worst possible crime: turn cinema into a propaganda tool. The Nazis are not executed in Damn bastards for being genocidal, but for turning a movie theater into an auditorium that celebrates the benefits of his regime. Tarantino disgusts Goebbels more than Hitler, so to speak.
This leads to Once upon a time in hollywood. These hippies false, mostly women, who try to give a political alibi to their actions and attack that film mecca that the director adores. First, taking over the Spahn Ranch, once dedicated to filming westerns, and then standing in front of Cielo Drive justifying their homicidal intentions with a cynical poetic justice: they are going to kill those who taught them to kill through a cinema full of gratuitous violence. Nothing infuriates Tarantino more than the fact that they criticize the abundance of violence in his cinema, and the bloody death suffered by the assailants minutes later – with built-in flamethrowers – is his ultimate revenge.
That’s mostly Once upon a time in hollywood revenge. Also a furiously reactionary movie, sanctioning a present where these hippies False have given way to somewhat more diverse subjectivities, but which also subscribe to these crimes against the Seventh Art. From these anti-violence activists we have gone to a feminism strengthened by #MeToo, which precisely took on the producer without whom Tarantino would never have had a career, Harvey Weinstein. By annihilating those early dissidents, correcting history, Tarantino avoids successive mutations: 1969 is frozen in time and Hollywood can remain a dream machine where anything can happen – from losers like Rick Dalton getting a second chance until Sharon Tate stay alive, and perhaps as a consequence her husband Roman Polanski will never have legal problems – so that the cinema will preserve its purity. And the cinema wins.
They are the wickers with which the novel of Once upon a time in hollywood. Mimbres of high iconographic level, impossible to be expressed through literature. How can you convey in words the sheer cinematic magic of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) contemplating herself on the big screen while projecting? The mansion of the seven pleasures? The answer is that you can’t. The only thing to do, if anything, is to inject rhetoric into the matter. Shield signifiers. Establish a feedback so that the message of the movie Once upon a time in hollywood resonate louder.
If the ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ movie was a love letter to the cinema, your novel may go through a catalog of ‘right’ ways to love it
The guardians of history
The fundamental character of Once upon a time in hollywood, both film and novel, is Cliff Booth. Played by Brad Pitt, he brings together all the metaphorical possibilities of being a stuntman: he does everything that Rick Dalton cannot do – closely related, by the way, to the creation of Tyler Durden in Fight club, also played by Pitt — and he doesn’t get any credit for it. Not that I need it. Booth is a presence above good and evil in Once upon a time in hollywood, a specter in possession of the absolute truth that modifies reality first by going to the Spahn Ranch, and then reducing the raiders of Cielo Drive just enough for Dalton to take the credit later.
One of the greatest concerns of the novel is to give background to Booth. What should not be confused with an attempt to humanize it: Tarantino simply reinforces its repository nature of the film’s ideology. On the one hand, its provocative condition —consecrated to declare that five decades of historical progress have been a mistake— is made explicit with the confirmation that he killed his wife, along with a large number of misogynistic comments and the revelation of more crimes. He is a terrifying, fascinating character whose mythical aura is endorsed within the book with, wow, an exquisite cinephilia. That’s right, Cliff Booth is a cinephile through and through. It is full of opinions. At a certain point in the novel, he ranks one of Akira Kurosawa’s best films.
Tarantino’s first novel is an exercise in utter self-indulgence that will most likely set many readers back
But it’s not just that Booth is a movie buff, and that he obviously shares many of the author’s preferences: it’s that he’s a movie buff. really. In other words, someone who experiences cinephilia according to how Tarantino believes that it must be lived: without prejudice, without distinctions between territories or high and low culture. Also in this sense he refutes the defects of his friend Rick Dalton: the actor is allergic to foreign cinema, he despises the spaghetti western and refuses to consider Western novels to be a legitimate form of culture, no matter how much they love and excite you in an intimate way. Cliff Booth does not have these prejudices: he is a cultural omnivore, a free soul, who stands tall with frank superiority over any of the enemies of the cinema that appear in the pages of the novel. Be the hippiesEither Charles Manson or … well, Bruce Lee, who Tarantino compares frankly with Manson on the grounds that he didn’t really love Hollywood, he just wanted to enter his star system.
If the movie of Once upon a time in hollywood was a love letter to the cinema, his novel can go through a catalog of ways correct to love him. Booth’s behavior encapsulates a few, but the vision that ends up prevailing is that of the author himself: that omniscient narrator of enormous erudition who dedicates pages and more pages to telling anecdotes of the time and even summarizing biographies of real actors, as in the case of Jim Stacy or Aldo Ray. It is an exercise in absolute self-indulgence that will very possibly put many readers back, but cemented by an overflowing enthusiasm and irresistible house brand dialogues, omnipresent otherwise in a narrative as given to parentheses and fugues as the film itself .
The novel, in effect, is a complement to what we saw in theaters and it lacks totally autonomous meaning: its objective is to delve into several of its key details, which can sometimes qualify the proposal’s inherently conservative breath. It is very nice in that sense that so much extra attention is paid to Dalton’s relationship with the very young actress Trudi Frazer (Julie Butters), because it symbolizes an intergenerational reconciliation: youth and diverse identities are not a bad thing in themselves They only have to love the medium with sufficient purity, without allowing extra-cinematic notions to contaminate their vision. Trudi and Dalton can communicate beyond their particularities because they know that they are very lucky; One of the last lines in the book is “Wow, Rick, what do we have a great job for?”
And that’s it. The smartest decision Tarantino makes as a novelist, ultimately, is to skip over elements of the film that would only make perfect sense on the big screen: Dalton appearing in The great escape, Dalton doing his great performance in the pilot of Lancer… And Cliff Booth saving the fate of Sharon Tate and Hollywood. All these scenes are omitted or superficially described in the novel by Once upon a time in hollywood, because Tarantino knows they belong in the movies. Only in the cinema are they possible. Only in the cinema can we dream.