Mark Cira’s review published on Letterboxd:
Oh, this is one of those "the more you watch it, the more disturbing layers reveal themselves" films...
Watched it with mum this time around who asked me about my knowledge of James Stacy. Conversation went something like..
"Mark, why'd you think Tarantino put that close-up of James Stacy riding his Motorcycle off the lot?"
"I don't know, aesthetic flare, trivial insert Tarantino style?"
"Well, didn't a drunk driver hit James Stacey on his motorcycle, killing his girlfriend?"
Ahhh, a light conversation with mother.
But, it's true. And the James Stacey TV Western scene is a de facto nightmare for Rick Dalton twofold: first because he can't remember his lines in front of Stacey but also, as an alcoholic, he stares down the double barrel shotgun of James Stacey's eyes, someone who lost his love to an alcoholic.
But wait...didn't James Stacey also get charged for molesting an 11-year old? And isn't there a young girl mere steps away from him on set?
And didn't James Stacey drive his car off a cliff in an attempted suicide?
Damn...wait...is Dalton looking into a fractured mirror of his future self, as a has-been? And is the character of "Cliff" a literal one?
And the temporary narrator Steve McQueen at the Playboy Mansion. What's up with that? Wasn't McQueen a notorious woman abuser who eventually pressed the gun up to the temple of his ex-wife? Oh, and he's telling us the story of a woman who ends up getting brutalized?
And Robert Goulet on the TV singing McArthur Park...another famous male star who was a notorious alcoholic who beat his children.
Now I see this film in a much less gentle or nostalgic light. Tarantino has used the form and style of the "king of cool" to actually uncover a sordid and abusive history in Hollywood. This AIN'T a cool, fun, love letter to Hollywood. Quite the contrary. Tarantino is inscribing a whole level of metaphysical history, probably one of guilt and tragedy given he nearly lost his own leading lady, Uma Thurman, for refusing to hire a....
That's right, a stunt double.
Tarantino creating his own rubik's cube of history and abuse, masquerading it as cool and hip. This isn't a California Dream, but a true California Nightmare.