Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)

Rick Dalton dancing

**SPOILERS THROUGHOUT**

I. Prolegomenon: “Once upon a time,” Conservatism, and the Appeal of Nostalgia

This isn’t a review. (Here’s Sean Gilman’s review on this site.) It isn’t a judgment about whether a film is good or bad at a filmmaking level. Rather, it’s an attempt at a primarily thematic analysis. It’s an effort to answer some questions I have. 

I want to consider Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood on two levels: 1) a thematic one, specifically focusing on its construction of, assumptions about, and implications about gender and race — though, as a white person, I am more uneasy about tackling this one, aware that my own complicity in whiteness will always cloud how I observe and understand race on screen — and 2) an emotional one, arguably difficult, subjective territory, but one I think I have to address, given my own overwhelming fury upon exiting the cinema after my first viewing of the film. 

First, then: what is the film saying or implying about gender? About men and about women? I believe Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood is, in essence, a conservative film. (And I credit my friend Ben Hynes for using this adjective in reference to the film in a conversation with me and thus, as aptly chosen words often do, doing much to illuminate and organize the clutter of details in the film I’d observed.) And by “conservative” I mean two things: first, a conservative stance is one that is, inevitably, backward looking. It looks to the past as a guide for the future and understands or uses the past to measure the present, which generally fails to measure up. A conservative viewpoint on some level idolizes the past — better days, better times, the good old days. It is inherently nostalgic. Second, the film is conservative in the sense that it not only looks to the past with longing, but it is itself rooted in what I would generally consider (particularly as relative to a “liberal” or “progressive” viewpoint) outdated, regressive understandings of the world and, more fundamentally, of the way the world should be. 

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The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)

hateful jackson

Quentin Tarantino returns to screens this winter with the ultra-violent Western, The Hateful Eight. The story brings together a despicable coterie of villains and pits them against one another in a remote snowed-in outpost. As with every Tarantino film, The Hateful Eight is violent, verbose, and visually sumptuous. This one is also a movie of reflection, a conscious callback to the single setting bravura of the filmmaker’s debut, Reservoir Dogs. The film reunites the director with Dogs co-stars Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, as well as a who’s-who of other acolytes including Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, and the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson.

The film is reportedly also about Tarantino working through his feelings about John Carpenter’s horror film, The Thing, released in 1982. The Hateful Eight contains many conscious nods to the previous film, including its frigid setting, the casting of Carpenter favorite Kurt Russell, gruesome imagery, and best of all, the return of cinema’s greatest composer, Ennio Morricone, who in addition to creating new music for the film, incorporated unused elements from his Thing score. The current three-hour roadshow version begins with a traditional overture, with Morricone’s haunting melodies playing out uninterrupted as the theatre lights dim. This is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

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