Film Discussion

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – 2019 Preview

When news broke of Quentin Tarantino’s decision to point his lens at late-1960s Hollywood for his ninth and (allegedly) penultimate feature, it made complete sense. Once a starry-eyed video store clerk, the director dreamt of making it in the town he had studied so profoundly and lusted after so badly. 25 years later, he is the filmmaker who redefined it by doing things his own way from behind the camera. His first three flicks, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997) were all based in the city surrounding it, and with his longtime cinematic mentor Harvey Weinstein now out of the picture, it is fitting that Tarantino has come full circle to revisit Hollywood at its darkest, albeit once upon a time…

A year on from that announcement and things are starting to come together. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be a fictional tale set in 1969 against the real world backdrop of flower power and Charles Manson, with the main story following a washed up television actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt) as they seek to make a name for themselves in the movie business. Oh, and said television actor just happens to live next door to Manson Family victim Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie)…

Further details of the plot thankfully remain scarce, but what we do know is that a collection of the era’s most colourful waxworks will have the “honour” of being brought back to life by Tarantino, including real life chums Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis – top casting) and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Indeed, the cast itself is a who’s who of Hollywood spanning multiple generations, with Tarantino newcomers Al Pacino and Dakota Fanning joining veterans Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Bruce Dern (the latter replaces Burt Reynolds, whose recent death unfortunately came too soon for principle photography). One Tarantino stalwart who will not be returning is Samuel L. Jackson, though not a single cinephile will be surprised if that statement turns out to be a healthy dose of misdirection on the part of the duo.

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With an extensive cast and the potential for intertwining story threads, there’s a good chance Tarantino will employ his trademark non-linear structure as a means of guiding us through what should be a rich narrative. While violent scenes and visual homages are a certainty, it remains to be seen how much the title will link thematically to Sergio Leone’s sprawling epics Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Given that the Italian director is a favourite of Tarantino, one can assume the connections will be there.

One aspect Tarantino has decided to leave out is a 70mm cinematic presentation, apparently due the production’s 100+ sets taking up a significant portion of the budget. This was not an issue on the primarily one-room picture The Hateful Eight (2015), which was shot on 65mm and released in the style of an old school 70mm roadshow. With cinematographer and frequent collaborator Robert Richardson by Tarantino’s side and shooting on anamorphic 35, however, the nature of the reels should not be a concern. The same can be said for how it will sound, with Tarantino likely to plump for a good ol’ fashioned soundtrack populated with contemporary hits and hidden gems in lieu of a traditional score.

READ MORE: Eight Down, Two to Go – Looking Forward to 1969, the Manson Family and Quentin Tarantino’s Big Finale

Following a decade of period pieces, including two westerns that drifted into bloated territory, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a an exhilarating change of pace for Tarantino, and potentially a return to the sort of form he exhibited while shooting on location in the streets of 90s Los Angeles. With so many fascinating strands of history ripe for a QT-style plucking, a time and place that could not be more suited to his obsessive attention to detail, and a rock solid cast topped by DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie, all that’s left is for Tarantino to produce the goods on the page. Will he pull it off? Might as well ask if Brett speaks English…

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is scheduled for release on 26 July 2019.

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