The Do-Over

Firstly, don’t read this if you haven’t seen ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD yet and are planning to. I will discuss the ending. The first review I read was in The Guardian where they coyly described it as “audacious” and said they could reveal no more, and I immediately flashed on what it could be and was correct.

Oh, potential spoilers for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and GRAVITY also.

Fiona turned to me with her adorable WTF? face when this one revealed its hand, an expression I recall from the similar moment in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (and from GRAVITY, where it seemed, in the moment, impossible that a certain actor could be exiting the picture midway). But she explained afterwards that it wasn’t that her mind was blown by this twist, but that Tarantino was brazenly recycling the twist from IB (“What we must never do,” says Jake Hannaford, that wise and wizened old goat, “is steal from ourselves.”)

“What’s the POINT?” she wanted to know.

First section of movie: skilled recreation of 1969 LA. Some very good lookalikes and performances from people playing Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen (sympathetic here, “an asshole” in Polanski’s opinion, and I take him to be a fine judge of that quality with special insight), Connie Stevens (!), James Stacy (?), Charles Manson, though they needed a Polanski who looks more like a twelve-year-old (though Rafal Zawierucha does good Polanskian grunts of disgust). Product placement of defunct and/or fictional products. An evocation of the plight of the actor on the slide, both sympathetic and skeptical. Numerous lingering and lascivious shots of young girls’ feet.

Paul Duane, on Twitter, seemed to like the same parts of the film I did, and noted: “I was relieved about one thing: no grandstanding QT monologues.” Well, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) gets one grandstanding m., but it’s supposed to make us want to see him get punched, so yes, that does feel like QT has figured something out about the way audiences process the grandstanding m.

Incidentally, this is a very white film. Which makes the casual racism (“Don’t cry in front of the Mexicans”) harder to excuse — sure, I buy it as accurate to the period, but it also means the film can be enjoyed by racists without anything to give them cognitive dissonance and we have TWO scenes of white, fair-haired people defeating Chinese people in fights — Brad Pitt and the actual Sharon Tate in THE WRECKING CREW, knocking out Nancy Kwan. Though I was glad of the cutaways of Lee training the movie’s Tate (Margot Robbie), which allows him to close out his role on a positive note, like Travolta in PULP FICTION, who buts for that film’s playful structure would make his concluding appearance dead on the toilet with an inferior paperback thriller by his side.

For about the ninth time running, I was disturbed by Tarantino’s compulsion to make his characters assholes. His impulse to save the inhabitants of Cielo Drive is sort of sweet, sort of adolescent, but certainly tainted by the way he does it — with an alternate, counter-historical bloodbath, a cathartic outburst of movie violence, performed by a hippy-hating alcoholic actor and a possible wife-killer.

Leo’s character gets an ego-boosting compliment from a child actor — and doesn’t return the compliment. Is it because he’s an asshole and QT wants us to notice that, or because he didn’t think about it? Hard to know.

Tarantino said at the time of NATURAL BORN KILLERS that he hated serial killers and thought the right thing to do was execute them, and he hated them even worse for that because he was in all other respects opposed to the death penalty. I can understand that.

I think what’s going on with these alt histories is maybe that Tarantino hates the Holocaust and the Manson killings because they take the fun out of fictional violence, if you really think about them. So wouldn’t it be nice to replace them with fictional violence, take a fantasy revenge on the perpetrators, numb the pain of the real-world horror? Well, no. The only part of this I can approve of is the undercutting of the pseudo-catharsis with fantastical absurdity (the handy flame thrower in the garage), reminding us, in Bokononist fashion, that we’re being given a comforting lie.

MY version of a happy ending to this story would be one in which NOBODY gets hurt. I can feel the visceral energy of the manic gonzo mayhem but I don’t want it or need it in this context.

I think I can get another post out of this movie’s movie allusions, though… so I will.

39 Responses to “The Do-Over”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “I think what’s going on with these alt histories is maybe that Tarantino hates the Holocaust and the Manson killings because they take the fun out of fictional violence, if you really think about them. So wouldn’t it be nice to replace them with fictional violence, take a fantasy revenge on the perpetrators, numb the pain of the real-world horror?” PRECISELY! Dissing Steve McQueen is part of this. McQueen was by all accounts a Piece of Work off-screen. But on it he was a charismatic star whether riding a motorcycle or a dune buggy. Quentin prefers second-rate TV actors. His interest in Sharon Tate is SOLELY for that scene in “The Wrecking Crew” cause he adores Girlfights (eg. “Kill Bill” I and II) A filmmaker like Polanski utterly mystifies him. “Chinatown” remains one of THE L.A, films (along with Altman’s “The Long Goodbye”) because Roman really understands the city cinematically. That’s why he was able to take the script by the star of “Creature From the Haunted Sea” and turn it into something so memorable. And he did all this many years after Manson’s gang murdered his wife. Quentin has cache and will doubtless have a long and lucrative career (though he claims his next film will be his last — yeah right) But when it comes to moviemaking imagination he’s STILL a video store clerk.

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    Bravo! to the two Davids. You’ve hit it spot-on. Another disturbing aspect of this film which I’ve not seen (I usually wait until his films hit the $1 pile of my local DVD store partially on the grounds that Gore Vidal once said, a good book is worth waiting for to see if it lasts) is the way QT trashes Bruce Lee. This has been the subject of a strong rebuttal by Lee’s daughter and somebody who trained with her father in Hollywood. I can only wish for a direct confrontation between Shannon and QT where she will certainly not act as a wimp when Terri Gross interviewed him on FRESH AIR but give this sexist bully a taste of her father’s “medicine”.

    So good to read this entry today as well as DE’s pertinent response.

  3. If anything I think the portrayal of McQueen is TOO sympathetic, making him wise and philosophical and self-deprecating.

    The Lee-trashing is pretty shameful considering the borrowing QT has done (that yellow tracksuit) and ignores the very real possibility that any arrogance from Lee may have been self-protection in a culture designed to denigrate him on the grounds of race. QT has always been offensively clueless about race.

    What the film succeeds as, for much of its long runtime, to use a tired phrase, is a hang-out movie. Though I’d rather hang out with Rick Dalton’s neighbours than with him.

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    I’d rather hang out with Roman. Especially today with his Dreyfus film about to premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

  5. Christopher Sharrett Says:

    I have long thought that Tarantino’s lack of empathy for other human beings is matched by his little interest in the 70s culture that he keeps recycling to no good purpose. He seems to find no value in anything. Does he mean for us to see this culture as kitsch? To enjoy it? I don’t even see postmodern pastiche. As Robin Wood said upon seeing Pulp Fiction, there is nothing here but nihilism meant to revel the filmmaker as a hip consumer. Good work to the two Davids.

  6. I haven’t seen the movie, but everything I’ve read about it (and this post is the best I’ve read, certainly better than what the New York Times had to say, A.O. Scott needs to retire already) indicates that it’s a Western in the best/worst reactionary Eastwood tradition – i.e., the embodiment of law and authority (in this case, white Hollywood star) is rendered an outsider who then must re-law and order the world according to his values and principles – this usually involves the putting in their place of women and minorities, which seems to be the case here (one good piece I read asked the question of why Tate couldn’t have been the flamethrower-wielder – why must she be simply a damsel in distress?).

    I think Tarantino has a sincere love for this kind of story. And hey, nothing wrong with that – love what you love. What annoys me is that, when you pose the question of whether Leo’s character is supposed to be an asshole, or (in essence) Tarantino is an asshole and it shows in Leo’s character, I can’t help leaning towards the latter. That it’s ambiguous may not be because Tarantino is winking at us about his hero’s flaws – it may be because we WANT him to be winking.

    It seems to me that Tarantino has succeeded as a filmmaker by disguising his sincere love for problematic things about America’s and Hollywood’s past as ironic deconstruction, and throwing his audience (and critics) lots of clearly unironic but less problematic things to distract them from looking too closely at the other stuff.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    This is little better than the fan-boy historical denial gushings that I’m so sick of reading The two Davids and Chris Sharrett have a much better take on this film. Why don’t you answer their critisims rather than indulging in QT worship?\

  8. Christopher Sharrett Says:

    Tarantino doesn’t care to create characters; what we see onscreen hardly qualify as types. Sharon Tate is more fully an alive person than in this rubbish. Tarantino is a grotesque, overgrown child who keeps telling you he has seen lots of movies. Enough with him.

  9. Christopher Sharrett Says:

    Pardon. I meant to say that Sharon Tate is more fully a real, alive person in Valley of the Dolls than here.

  10. tony williams Says:

    I do remember a very poignant photo of Sharon Tate as an expectant mother holding up the baby clothes she chose for her new delivery that would never happen in UK newspapers at the time. That photo told more about her than what I’ve heard about QT’s depiction.

    No, I’ve not seen the film but will wait until it reaches the $1 section of the local DVD store. But Gore Vidal once said he never bought any new novel when it came out but waited to read it to see if it would last. I doubt whether this is the case of QT’s latest atrocity. So, I’ve been following the debates with interest but what I have found so disturbing is the gushing fan boy sensibility that deliberately avoids confronting the sexist and racist aspects of the film choosing instead to practice a “denial syndrome” and remove from their sites anybody who dares to raise serous issues concerning this film. David has chosen to do this but I doubt whether anybody else save David E. Chris, and others who may have similar ideas, are worthy of taking up the gauntlet and engaging in further challenges to the fan-boy sensibility that stifles any form of oppositional debate similar to the practices of a Donald Trump rally In this respect, QT is very much a director of this particular hideous moment in history and cuktural representations.

  11. Fiona Watson Says:

    Another problem. At the climax of Leo’s big screen moment, he throws the child actor, Trudi, (brilliantly played by Julia Butters) to the floor. It turns out that this was an improvisation. She’s delighted at being hurled around violently, and proclaims that she always wears protective padding, even at home, because she enjoys throwing herself to the floor. This is utterly bizarre. Are we really supposed to believe that?

    Before this, we see her pontificating on the use of the word ‘actor’ instead of ‘actress’ (which is anachronistic for 1969) and being supportive and understanding to Leo’s off screen emotional outburst while simultaneously standing her own ground about childish nicknames. She reminds me of one of Preston Sturges’ preternaturally wise kid sister roles, like Diana Lynn as Emmy Kockenlocker in The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek.

    Quite possibly it’s one of QT’s many, many, many movie references, but it’s problematic and disturbing when your best , most fully realised female character is a child, rendering them unthreatening sexually and therefore deserving of better dialogue and characterisation than any other woman/girl in the film.

  12. I’m wondering if the idea of the improbably padded child is to do with the fairy-tale aspect: both Leo/Dalton’s triumphs are wildly improbable. But I think maybe one problem with the film is you can invent defenses for apparent flaws like that because nothing is definitely unironic. The “it’s a fairy tale” argument, which we heard from fellow patrons at our screening, is straight from QT’s mentor Harvey Weinstein’s playbook, first trotted out for Life is Beautiful. Too easy, I think, and besides, fairy stories are STORIES.

    I want to defend Jonathan Wertheim here: careful reading should make it clear that his comments are not a gushing defense but a quite critical analysis of Tarantino the filmmaker.

    We do see Tate/Robbie buying Tess of the D’Urbervilles from Clu Gulager, which is a nice moment. I may have more to say about her character in my follow-up post. I would say that the rescue the blonde fantasy is particularly juvenile, even for QT, but giving the end to the Jay Seebring character helped a bit with that.

    But you should both see it. It is actually QT’s least obnoxious film and though I obviously have questions, it’s a cinematic experience.

  13. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    Thank you, David. You’re exactly right.

  14. ehrenstein47 Says:

    A tenth-rate cinematic experience. If you want an insightful film about the murder of a famous and worthwhile person see Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini” (2014) with Willem Dafoe, Adriana Asti and (in a Special Guest Star Role as Himself) Ninetto Davoli.

  15. Ahah, I picked up a copy of that recently. I have never enjoyed anything I’ve seen of Ferrara but it seemed worth a try.

  16. Tony Williams Says:

    Total agreement here, David E. Ferrara’s films are “unpleasant , asking viewers to question their own viewing experiences but he is not a “tenth-rate” pandering to and exploiting his audience but one engaging in provocation.

    Granted that I’ve not seen QT’s film for myself but note the disturbing issues of racism and sexism (that Fiona’s post has expertly raised), I find it amazing that someone goes on about the emotional experience of a film he has not even bothered to see! It is one thing to refer to significant discourses contained in the film and commented on by theirs but quite another to champion the supposed “aesthetic” and other pragmatic aspects of a film that the poster has not actually bothered to see so far!

  17. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    I guess I’ll respond to Tony. Who in the comments is championing Tarantino’s aesthetic? I certainly didn’t. I think I was pretty up-front about my information coming from posts and reviews, as well as my own general knowledge of Tarantino and his work. If you bother to actually read my comment, you’ll see I’m describing Tarantino as a reactionary filmmaker who tricks audiences and critics into approving of work that is sexist/misogynistic and racist, and from what I’ve read OUAT…IH is no exception. I don’t like Tarantino and this film seems to sum up why.

    Perhaps it’s because I tried to actually ground my feelings in analysis of some kind rather than simply writing a knee-jerk screed that you feel I’m pro-Tarantino. Well, sorry for that – I felt that because, as you say, I haven’t seen the film, I should keep a leash on that analysis, not in fairness to Tarantino as much as in fairness to David and other people here who HAVE seen the film, and whose opinions thus carry more weight than mine.

    And as you again say, you haven’t seen the film either. We’re both working with the same stuff – hearsay. You choose to deride and dismiss the film and its maker based on that evidence. I choose to carefully place it in a tradition which I think is deeply problematic and which certainly plays into troubling conservative undertones of American popular culture. If you want to dismiss mine (even though I’m essentially agreeing with you), go ahead. But if you choose to do it on the basis of not having SEEN it, you’re throwing out your own opinion as well.

    Jeez Louise.

  18. Thanks, Jonathan. I was a little surprised by Tony’s vehemence, since you didn’t seem to be disagreeing and neither of you has seen it!

    Though the movie features the making of a TV western and an Italian western, I don’t know if it fits that genre, or any genre. But your comments remind me of Martin Amis’ appreciation of Pulp Fiction: he pointed out that Travolta’s character has been to Europe but all he noticed were differences in fast food franchises. That really nails him as a know-nothing, and Tarantino has skewered his shortcomings, was Amis’s take. Whereas it never occurred to me that QT intended any criticism of the character’s lowbrow response whatsoever. But the cloud of irony makes any reading possible.

  19. Tony Williams Says:

    As mentioned, I will wait to see the film (as I have all his others) since I don’t have the time (or money) at the moment. But, I was referring to specific items of information concerning racism and sexism that other sources and posters have shown. Yes, I will see the film eventually but doubt whether I will change my mind unless it is a JACKIE BROWN.

    Whether Tarantino is engaging in irony or “disguising his sheer love for problematic things about America and Hollywood past…”remains to be seen. Since neither of us have yet seen the film could those who have especially the two Davids and Chris Sharrett respond to this in terms of confirming or denying it? Two many unfounded assertions have been made about QT that David Walsh and others at wsws.org. have exploded from the very beginning. Comments please?

  20. Well, I think it’s closer to Jackie Brown than any previous film QT has made. More of it is laid-back, there’s actually less posturing and grandstanding (even JB has its share of that via the Samuel L Jackson character) and more melancholy.

    But it’s (intentionally?) hard to separate out irony from meaning in any QT film. There’s nothing progressive or helpful about race or gender here, that’s for sure. Nearly everyone is white or male or else they’re a sex object or killer or nagging wife or child.

    And while there’s a tiny bit on class — we see the awkwardness of the two men being close friends but one works for the other and is dependent on his goodwill — the bad guys are hippies (we never meet or even see any hippies who aren’t Mansonites) and the good guys are the Hollywood rich. Which, granted, was very much the case in the Tate-Labianca murders, but that’s not exactly the story QT is telling.

  21. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    “That really nails him as a know-nothing, and Tarantino has skewered his shortcomings, was Amis’s take. Whereas it never occurred to me that QT intended any criticism of the character’s lowbrow response whatsoever. But the cloud of irony makes any reading possible.”

    Excellent analysis, David. The more you write, the more I’m inclined to see this film, which I otherwise would have avoided. I’m very interested in pulling these threads further. I wrote my Master’s thesis on MASH, and a big part of my analysis was exploring a similar ambiguity in Trapper John and Hawkeye in the Altman film. Many reviewers at the time saw the characters as sympathetic rebels; today, it’s hard to see them as anything but sexist bullies. Altman justified the behavior of his doctors by saying it was simply a representation of the gender inequality of the early 1950s, rather than an endorsement – but he was a bit of a sexist bully himself, and greatly expanded the sexism of the source novel when he transferred it to the screen.

    So the same question remains – is the outlaw hero actually the sheriff; is the rebel actually the establishment? It’s an essential contradiction of two core American film genres, the Western and the war film. Tarantino has the edge on Altman in that he’s defended himself, as you say, with irony. Altman is more easily pinned down in his contradictions.

    The biggest issue for me is, I guess, that a film like this is getting so much visibility, press, and hype. How has Tarantino escaped the reckoning so many others have been felled by? Not necessarily specific accusations of any sort, but just that he’s a white guy making, and seemingly reveling in, white guy stories. Sure, the irony is the secret sauce that lets audiences and critics off the hook – as you say, “the cloud of irony makes any reading possible” – but aren’t there people out there making movies that provide a definitively underrepresented reading? Why are we still bending over backwards to find the good reading in Tarantino (or not, as your post astutely points out re: racism) when we could save ourselves the trouble by watching a less problematic story instead?

    That Dave Chappelle anecdote comes to mind – performing a satire of racism that involved enacting that same racism, he looked over to see a white crew member cracking up. He wondered, does that guy actually get the satire here? Or is he laughing WITH my character? Satire is getting trickier these days – it’s getting far too easy to make toxic stuff and then invoke the old “It’s satire, man” to get off the hook.

    Again, since it seems to matter so much, I haven’t seen the movie. I think Tony may feel that my statement about Tarantino disguising his sincere (not sheer) love for American genre films and other aspects of American pop culture was a defense – that same invocation of irony and satire that I’m actually trying to criticize. Hopefully this clears things up. Your posts are always thought-provoking, David, so I blame you for the absurd length of this comment…

  22. ehrenstein47 Says:

  23. Tony Williams Says:

    Another newspaper photo I remember is of Polanski being led to the plane obviously drugged up to his eyeballs with noticeable grief on his face.

    When asked by the British press why there was so much blood in MACBETH, the director calmly responded, “Have you ever seen my house in California?”

    I obviously took your post in the wrong way, Jonathan, for which I apologize. But I very much go for specifics and allusiveness never works for me especially as I had a meeting last Thursday with my Chair and Director of Undergraduate Studies wanting me to do something “popular” to attract students and they suggested Tarantino! Naturally, neither knew anything about Film but they regard themselves as “experts” in the area. I’m also angered by the fan-boy denial of important detail which the two Davids and Chris have supplied so when I hear the defense of “alternate universe” used for IB and this film, I think, “C’mon, now. This is not Michael Moorcock’s concept of a “multiverse” that is much more serious than QT’s evasive strategies. So my comments were heavily colored by recent events especially the loss of an H.G. Wells class in University (Dis)honors whose students had “never heard of H.G. Wells” according to its Director.

    I’m getting so fed up of institutional “dumbing down”, value outside criticism all the more, and see my time here as limited. But, thanks for the comments. I often provoke to stimulate debate and this thread has been very rewarding to read.

  24. Thanks, Jonathan! I appreciate a good meaty comment.

    I guess one could argue that Altman was trying to make us question the sexism in MASH by amping it up so much. Certainly the shower prank never struck me as anything other than ugly cruelty. But, as with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it’s awkward when women are used to embody the bad side of authority, while girls who submit to male demands are celebrated.
    Tarantino has made movies with prominent black characters, of course, which is why this one’s overwhelming whiteness surprised me.

    Tony, I’m sorry you’ve faced such philistinism at your university. I think a Tarantino class could be quite interesting, but you’d have to be able to ask tough questions about meaning, seriousness, and whether Tarantino deserves his reputation, questions the average student might not be willing to entertain. So it might not be the popular class imagined.

  25. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    Tony, no harm, no foul. Glad I could clear things up. I was puzzled by your responses to my comment but in the end figured I hadn’t made myself clear enough. In these current times it can be hard to remember that these discussions don’t always start at zero – everyone is often coming in with context that ups the ante in unexpected ways. You certainly gave me an opportunity to think through some connections which were just nebulous before, so thank you!

    David – I guess one could. I’m skeptical (and it sounds like you may be as well). You can read the original screenplay for MASH online, and the differences between it and the finished film are revealing – Altman really pushed Gould and Sutherland to improvise, which they hated – the on-set atmosphere sounded very sour. I don’t know much abut Sutherland but I somehow doubt Gould at least was any kind of liberal, Alan Alda feminist back in 1970, and Altman’s films do reveal somewhat of a pattern when it comes to misogyny. However, Altman did really tamp down the novel’s racism.

    RE: a Tarantino class – Whether or not your administration knew anything about Tarantino, they hit the nail on the head – the class would fill up. But the issue seems to me to be similar to an Austen class. In other words, it will fill up, but then you have to fight against the mindset of students who have a fixed idea of Emma Thompson’s lip quivering, or Colin Firth rising up out of the water like a Regency Daniel Craig. If students are willing, as David says, to discard their own enthusiasms for the subject material and replace them with questions, the class could be valuable, but for anyone but diehards, this usually feels like drudgery (“Why can’t we just ENJOY it?”).

    I think many students could get past this and entertain the questions David raises, but it takes a particular ability to frame the material, one that I suspect differs greatly from how material has traditionally been framed for success in the past. I do think this presents a new challenge that frustrates older teachers, which is too bad because they (usually) know the most. I’m a high school teacher, so I work with even more limited awareness in my students. I’m showing my juniors and seniors Jacques Tati’s PLAYTIME this semester for a class on technology. We’ll see how that goes!

  26. Tony Williams Says:

    Jonathan, The least I could do was to fill you in with my version of a scripted backstory since I’m in my Sergeant Oleonowski mood (see GO TELL THE SPARTANS) at the moment. Yes, the class would fill up along possibly with my subversive JACK THE RIPPER IN FILM & TV that would attract all the psychos on campus. Still I could give the final paper of how would Jack deal with campus administrators with his “tools of the trade”?

    As for Jane Austen, unless it was “Jane Austen and zombies” , I doubt whether any of them have heard of the author let alone darling Emma. It is all superheroes at the moment despite William Klein and Alan Moore’s critiques.

    David, I accept your premises about a QT class but as for framing a challenging class, I can only quote you Richard Jaeckel’s line from TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING – “They just don’t want to know.” I am also no General Dell!

    38 uses of the “N” word in PULP FICTION. That New School professor is on suspension after using James Baldwin’s quotation just once!

    How rare it is to find an internet thread where everyone resolves differences positively. You won’t find this on FB!

  27. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Elliot Gould is very much a liberal. He’s highly supportive of is gay son Jason and accompanied him to the cast and crew screening of Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” I see him from time to time on the street in Beverly Hills and when we do we sing “The Long Goodbye” to each other https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dG0ykzh47q8

  28. Tony Williams Says:

    How Sweet!

  29. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    David E. – I phrased that very sloppily, and I appreciate the input of your firsthand experience of Gould. He’s certainly always struck me as liberal and a good guy. Altman, not so much. The fascinating contradiction of bth Tarantino and Altman’s public image (in my opinion) is that they made/make reactionary movies yet are still seen as progressive. My wondering about Gould was more about how much his liberalism, in 1970, lined up with the somewhat selective liberalism espoused by MASH – which, of course, doesn’t necessarily also mean he also would have endorsed that particular movie’s conservative undertones. Again, I should have been more precise.

    Eastwood is the king of the reactionary rebel, of course, but he at least is up front about his politics. I still think that him being allowed to make BIRD was a travesty.

    And I also think it’s a travesty that I still see Mike Nichols’ CATCH-22 being dismissed as a failed adaptation and a lesser MASH. CATCH-22 actually is what MASH passed itself off as. If CATCH-22 had come out first I think we’d have a very different image of MASH today – although perhaps the preference of critics like Kael and Ebert for Altman’s (and the source novel’s) reduction of the complexity and ambiguity of war to easily digestible yucks over the messiness of CATCH-22 speaks to something sad about how American audiences want media to represent sadness, fear, vulnerability, anger, etc. Full circle to OUAT…IH again!

  30. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Altman doesn’t strike me as reactionary. No reactionary would have made “Nashville” — or “Quintet” for that matter. I ran into him once at a press screening of Mike Hodges’ undeservedly obscure “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” He was just about to make “The Company” and told me “I know nothing at all about ballet — but all those pretty girls in tights, how can I resist?” He did quite well with it casting Malcolm McDowell (the star of the Hodges film) in a very unusual role for him as a ballet impresario. Here’s one of the highlights (the musical arrangement is by Van Dyke Parks)

  31. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Abel Ferrara is a really fascinating character. He lives and breathes the edginess that Tarantino tries his best to fake. “Ms. 45” is still after all these years remarkable as is “Bad Lieutenant,” “The Addiction” and “New Rose Hotel” He lives and works in Rome.

  32. This is an interesting thread, in as much as its dominated by people that haven’t seen the film but are nonetheless throwing around charges of racism and misogyny as if they come from a perspective of genuine authority. Also, in a thread that invokes Roman Polanski, Tarantino is being called out as an “asshole” for having little empathy for the fictional characters he creates, versus Polanski? Apparently so full of human empathy that he drugged and raped an actual thirteen year-old and has similar accusations against him from countless other women. Let’s not start on the fact that the sexual politics of Polanski’s work is probably far less liberal than that of Tarantino’s, and his work is also far less racially diverse.

    Either way “Once Upon a Time…” is an odd one. I must admit the charges of racism and misogyny seem a bit off to me, although his female characters have never been more transparent as they are here. It’s rare for a Tarantino film to be this lacking in non-white representation, but not unprecedented. Reservoir Dogs has only one black character, and Inglourious Basterds, despite historical revisionism, is still a largely “white” film. And while the violence at the end of “Once Upon a Time…” is certainly gratuitous, its aimed at both sexes. Tarantino’s violence has never had a gender bias.

    I had bigger problems with the more conventional aspects of the film, chiefly its narrative structure. Tarantino has always been wildly indulgent as a screenwriter, but it’s difficult to think of another film of his that is this undisciplined. For a good 90-minutes “Once Upon a Time…” has a relaxed, observational quality that evokes filmmakers like Eric Rohmer and Richard Linklater; positively luxuriating in its painstakingly recreated late ’60s milieu, as his characters go about odd-jobs that barely progress the narrative but suggest something of a life being lived. At one point Tarantino throws in a flashback within a flashback, both of which function mostly as covert exposition (essentially to establish Cliff’s almost superhuman abilities and ease around death – which pay off in the final act) before jumping eight months ahead for a final act, which for some reason now has a storybook narrator.

    I wonder if Tarantino has become so accustomed to dividing his films into chapters that he’s now incapable to telling a straight story? Unlike the unconventional narratives of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, et al, “Once Upon a Time…” just felt like bad plotting.

    After seeing the film, I wrote on Facebook that it was, for the most part: ” Tarantino’s most restrained and mature film since Jackie Brown; finding an emphasis on leisurely observation, period detail and genuine melancholy. A film that at first seems to be preoccupied with a feeling of finality; its disparate strands of plot and the collisions between real-life and fantasy always arriving at the end of things; the end of the Hollywood studio system, the state of innocence, the American “West”, a life, the friendship that exists between men, etc. Then all of a sudden it isn’t; erupting into an orgy of cartoon violence in its final scenes.

    The title however is the clue. “Once Upon a Time…”, like in a fairy-story? Here Tarantino wants to show the triumph of Hollywood escapism over brutal reality; re-writing history to provide the closure, catharsis (even vengeance) that real life denies us, but which the cinema is more than capable to indulge. As Carleton Young said in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – “This is the West, sir. When the truth becomes legend, print the legend.” But is this enough?

    If I have a complaint about the film it’s this: I wish Tarantino had shown enough courage to follow the story through to its historical conclusion. Throughout so much of the film there’s a sick-inducing sense of tension and inevitability developing around the expectation of the real-life horrors to come. In this sense, the characterisation of Sharon Tate is the film’s representation of American innocence – primed as she is to be lost in a bloodbath of counter-cultural decadence – and the often observational scenes of her character gong about her daily life have a beautiful sadness to them, which is powerful. But by subverting the reality of Tate’s eventual fate, Tarantino betrays those scenes and reduces the characterisation to nothing. A shame.”

    I liked “Once Upon a Time…” a lot better than Django Unchained (my least favourite of his work), where the extended third act descent into cartoon violence felt more egregious, but as much as I found a lot to appreciate here, it still ranks as one of the weaker Tarantino efforts. It forms an odd little triptych with two other recent auteurist films: The House That Jack Built by Lars von Trier and Glass by M. Night Shyamalan; in the sense that the films function both as a kind of final statement or meta-commentary on their makers’ respective careers (each film feels like a final chapter, but probably isn’t), but also a provocation to the audiences that have both derided and defended them; “doubling down” as it were on the more contentious aspects of their aesthetic and ideological concerns to the extent that the films both define and obfuscate (intentionally?) their actual intentions.

  33. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Other Ferrara films of note: “Mary,” “The Blackout,” “The Funeral” and “Welcome to New York”

  34. Tony Williams Says:

    When M.A.S,H. appeared in England I remember a round table discussion on BBC TV with Mary McCarthy present. Whereas the two other critics praised the film she countered by arguing that there was nothing new about it since it fell into the tradition of a military comedy and dismissed the Viet Nam associations.

    However, like David E. I don’t think Altman is reactionary.
    The treatment of Hotlips in that film is very problematic – to say the least. – and I’m glad to see that he also likes “‘ l’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”. It was dismissed in England by those who preferred Guy Richie’s awful “mockney” gangster films but took pride and place at the end of my British Gangster movie course when we had better enrollments a decade ago.

  35. Christopher Sharrett Says:

    Ferrara is consistently interesting; however, his Catholicism can be irksome.

  36. I don’t find the Catholicism irksome so much as alien: in Bad Lieutenant, the anti-hero’s “redemptive” act is pretty well incomprehensible to me.

    Altman, like many of us, is a mixed-up case. There’s this would-be humorous humiliation of women cropping up from MASH through The Player and Pret a Porter which is never funny and I can’t work out if maybe it isn’t meant to be. Reducing the racism while increasing the sexism in MASH only makes sense if we accept the man had contradictions: like a lot of the left in that era, he was progressive on everything but gender.

    Richard Lester called MASH “an extraordinarily PRO-war movie.” Always meant to ask him what he meant by that.

    I’m lucky — though many of my students don’t know much of film history, they all seem curious and capable of good insights and questions. I don’t usually push to find out the depths of their ignorance, I just try to throw stimulating stuff at them and hope they’ll investigate further.

  37. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    Richard Hornberger, the author of the source novel for MASH, was pro-Korea and Vietnam and leaned right generally. He loved Altman’s film but detested the series for its progressive politics. Worth noting, I feel.

  38. Adrian, sorry your post was hidden for so long.

    I do refer to Polanski’s assholery when I remark on his ability to detect the quality in McQueen.

    Obviously, Tarantino has never done anything we know of as bad as Polanski’s statutory rape. And Polanski’s films are very white. Like Chaplin, whom he resembles in various aspects, he’s avoided racial problems by avoiding racial representation, outside of Chinatown. Whereas QT just kind of blunders in there. The whiteness of his new film would just be a matter to note and then pass on were it not for the anti-Mexican lines.

    So, QT is a better citizen than RP. I probably still wouldn’t let him babysit. I think the key difference as far as films are concerned is that Polanski goes more deeply into whatever he looks at, is more intelligent and more fundamentally serious. He doesn’t disguise his intent with irony, though he can certainly use the dramatic kind.

  39. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Abel has just announced that he has become a Buddhist (!)
    Stay tuned!

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