Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Jean Luc-Godard said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. Quentin Tarantino has finally made a movie about movies and it is a bold and meandering stroke of self-indulgence, as well as the most deliriously entertaining too-much-of-good-thing movie since The Wolf of Wall Street. Like that film, it is a Trimalchian feast for film geeks that has been cooked and served by a master chef at the peak of his powers. It is Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown and essential movie-going that is double-stuffed with film, music and pop-culture references and jokes. I kept thinking of Godard’s Contempt, another self-referential work of ambivalent eclecticism that takes cinema as its subject and the digressions and ruminations are the point (Consider the fight between Bardot and Piccoli that takes up one third of that movie, then compare it to the lengthy exchange here between Leonardo DiCaprio and a little girl). Tarantino clearly loved recreating the hazy, sun-soaked Los Angeles of half a century ago and he has obsessively fussed over every small detail as if he were Roy Neary recreating Devil’s Tower in his living room. He lets his camera hold its gaze on the minutiae like a proud child displaying their artwork (He has, however, far more respect for visual accuracy than he does for historical facts, and his wild and improbable revisionism might be interpreted as a careless stunt, but, Ingrid, it’s only a movie). As much as he labors over his fever-dream images, his unique talent is for quirky, woolgathering dialogue. Tarantino loves listening to his characters pontificate and drone on. He knows that people who say too much are generally people who have little to say and he enjoys getting them in over their heads. Both DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have a splendid time in their multi-faceted roles. Viewers conditioned by the bite-sized exposition of television that is designed to get on to the next commercial might grow impatient with this leisurely pop-collage. There are movies that are much more than just a superficial plot with a payoff, movies that are more than a quick cheeseburger, movies that can be walked around in and the journey itself is the destination (Hitchcock knew that when he tossed away his twist ending to Vertigo halfway into the movie). Tarantino understands what Orson Welles meant when he said, “A movie studio is the biggest electric train set a boy ever had”. He makes his movies because he himself wants to see them and we are welcome to come along for the ride.