Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★½

Watching this a second time, I found myself enjoying the first two hours much, much more than the first time. The suspense of where Tarantino was taking us had passed: I already knew that the finale devolves into the Tarantino's typical revelry in bloodshed, which I abhor. But the chapters that lead up to that are so full of a collaborative joy: actors loving acting, cinematographers capturing magic, production designers doing extraordinary things.

But I found myself distracted by an unexpected connection as I detached from the film in the final moments:

This movie... or God's Not Dead?

A filmmaker imagines a clash of cultures — one patriarchal and glorious and cocky (Golden Age Hollywood or White American Evangelicalism), one vile and bitter and hateful (hippie culture or atheists). The patriarchal and glorious ones stand up to the wretched. The wretched straw-man villains who oppose the Sublime Power die in misery, humiliated, raging and spitting. The Righteous Hero receives a sign of Divine Blessing by being acknowledged and embraced by Popular and Successful Celebrities (Sharon Tate and Company or the Newsboys) of the Patriarchal and Glorious Ones.

Okay, it's a stretch, but I found myself mulling over the resemblance... even though only one of these movies is well made and a great pleasure for the eyes and the ears. Both represent filmmakers squashing and humiliating a culture they blame for spoiling a Past World in which they existed comfortably in a bubble of privilege... and by exalting the other culture as superior and rewarding them with the approval of the Stars. Both glorify an alternative reality, a fantasyland, demonstrating an incapacity to reckon with what's really going on.

Of course, God's Not Dead is a ridiculous act of self-aggrandizement, very poorly made. By contrast, I really do love Tarantino's movie until the last 20 minutes, when Tarantino's vices get the better of him. When he's making a movie about loving any particular world, that love is vibrant in its particularity and sensuality. I would love a whole movie of Cliff just driving around this astonishing recreation of a lost world, or of Rick rediscovering a passion for acting, or of Sharon delighting in the discovery that she can bring an audience joy. That's real movie magic. That all of this must lead to an orgy of stars who are portrayed as Superior Beings bashing in the heads of the poor — particularly wounded women among the poor — who are portrayed as pathetic and ridiculous... that's more than just a shame.

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