How to tell a story


BLAM! Blam! I’m a movie star: Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a time … in Hollywood’. Photograph courtesy

THE WHIPLASH BRILLIANCE of Quentin Tarantino’s film Once upon a time … in Hollywood will leave you second guessing everything until the closing credits and then some; by and large, all of your predictions will be wrong. Constructed like a Greek tragedy, this essay on the faux realities of cardboard-cut out Hollywood serves as an important cipher into what news, fake news and storytelling are about, but it also presents important insights into the mischief of coincidence and the way in which history can turn if the timing of crucial events is tweaked, even by a second or two.

Above all, it skirts, under the folds of a very conventional story, and shies from pushing its narrative edge with earnestness or obviousness. At first, you’re introduced to a silver screen baddie called Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). It’s the late 1960s and this Westerns careerist is experiencing a touch of bad guy blues. He’s supported by his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and immediately, this work offers an intelligent and almost nostalgic take on the two golden boys of contemporary Hollywood being thrust in the tropes of the industry of 50 years ago. It’s clustered with vignettes by a host of other well-known faces, from Al Pacino to Luke Perry, Kurt Russell to Dakota Fanning, to name a few. And it features a pit bull terrier named Brandy who deserves an Oscar all of her own.

And the narrative, while boldly told and easy on the eye, is deceptive. Is it about a superstar and his much-lower earning double, the guy who takes all the body blows for him, to render the work credible? Is it about a kind of vigilante type hero who has a moral core, physical savvy and attempts, like Mad Max to address the bad stuff in the world? Is it about the bad deal children get in the industry, the world? Perhaps it is about how time and chance work and how just one walk with your dog in the wee hours can change history. Or maybe it’s about a certain event that happened in August of 1969 to the then wife of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate?

Perhaps it’s about all four of these issues, the latter which effectively brought an end to the image of happy, sweet hippies with flowers in their hair and love, not war, on their minds. Perhaps it’s about more: and the way in which our society tells tales. Either way, it will keep you riveted, and even in the moments when the trajectory feels bumpy, hold on tight, there’s a denouement which will knock you sideways and leave you questioning, right at the end.

Arguably, the structure and editing of the film tops its other strengths. Here you get a conventional film tale thrust and woven into the fabric of history. The phalanx of young nubile female hippies foraging for spoils of the rich in an industrial sized dustbin threads itself through the narrative with devastating understatedness, enabling you to realise their value with more and more increasing horror as the work unfolds.

Ultimately, this is the kind of film that feeds into the notion that contemporary cinema is more than bland or obvious entertainment for the masses. This is the type of wisdom and message that elevates it unequivocally to an Art. But will it be the same if you have no handle on what really happened in Hollywood, early in August of 1969? Maybe not.

  • Once upon a time … in Hollywood is directed by Quentin Tarantino and is performed by Inbal Amirav, Madisen Beaty, Zoë Bell, Kate Berlant, Gillian Berrow, Michael Bissett, Kansas Bowling, Parker Love Bowling, Austin Butler, Raul Cardona, Josephine Valentina Clark, Clifton Collins Jr, Maurice Compte, Julia Butters, Chic Daniel, Bruce Del Castillo, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kenneth Sonny Donato, Omar Doom, Lena Dunham, Dakota Fanning, Gabriela Flores, Ramón Franco, Spencer Garrett, Rebecca Gayheart, Zander Grable, Michael Graham, Clu Gulager, Nicholas Hammond, Perla Haney-Jardine, Danielle Harris, Maya Hawke, James Landry Hébert, Damon Herriman, Cassidy Hice, Emile Hirsch, Courtney Hoffman, Dallas Jay Hunter, Lorenza Izzo, Keith Jefferson, Martin Kove, Lenny Langley Jr, Vincent Laresca, Damian Lewis, Michael Madsen, Mikey Madison, Hugh McCallum, Scoot McNairy, J Louis Mills, Mike Moh, Casey O’Neill, Timothy Olyphant, Al Pacino, Victoria Pedretti, Eddie Perez, Luke Perry, Daniella Pick, Brad Pitt, Margaret Qualley, Rachel Redleaf, Ed Regine, James Remar, Chad Ridgely, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Margot Robbie, Samantha Robinson, Marco Rodríguez, Costa Ronin, Kurt Russell, Gilbert Saldivar, Ruby Rose Skotchdopole, Harley Quinn Smith, Monica Staggs, Craig Stark, David Steen, Sydney Sweeney, Lew Temple, Heba Thorisdottir, Victoria Truscott, Brenda Vaccaro, Dreama Walker, Mark Warrick, Kerry Westcott, Emile Williams, Rumer Willis, Breanna Wing, Allison Yaple and Rafal Zawierucha. It is written by Quentin Tarantino. Produced by David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, it features creative input by Robert Richardson (cinematography), Fred Raskin (editing), Victoria Thomas (casting),  Barbara Ling (production design) and Arianne Phillips (costumes). Release date through Ster Kinekor in South Africa: August 30 2019.

Categories: Film, Review, Robyn Sassen, Uncategorized

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