Or: How I learned to stop worrying and focus on how prominent feet are in this film
There are a lot of feet. There’s already been a decent amount of ink spilled discussing Tarantino’s foot fixation. I recall mentioning the fetish on an episode of the podcast to our guest Monika Smith, who hadn’t ever heard the theory but needed to give it only 2 seconds of thought before agreeing (consider: a major plot/character point in Kill Bill revolves around Uma Thurman’s feet).
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (OUTH) takes that fixation to the logical conclusion of a man with essentially a blank check to make his swan song (though there’s susurrus that Tarantino may have one or two more films in the can before he actually retires). However, this presented as a swan song, people are lauding Tarantino’s character driven epic about a turning point in Hollywood history- the Manson Family murder of Sharon Tate. Here’s your warning, I’m going to spoil the hell out of this movie.
My gut reaction to the movie was that I had fun with it: Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as stuntman Cliff Booth are absolute charmers, but after giving it any thought at all I realized it’s got some glaring issues that soured me on the film and its message. Tarantino has Booth accomplish a similar rewriting of history that the Inglourious Basterds did when Booth not only averts the Manson Family murders, but- in his down to earth, folksy way- fucks up the infamous quote about being “the devil, here to do the devil’s business,” thus saving Hollywood from the “loss of innocence” that the Manson family murders and Tate’s gruesome death represented.
I’m offering a prediction: give it two months and people rewatching the film when it gets released for ownership and the takes will turn around. They’re already starting to. There’s been plenty said already even before the film’s release about Margot Robbie’s minimal impact in the film as the central symbolic figure, Sharon Tate.
She’s given no agency, hardly any real lines that aren’t questions she’s asking of men, and is described more by men than she is allowed to define herself in any way throughout the film. Because her invitation to DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton to join her circle of friends up the hill at the end is the “hero’s reward,” what is she? She’s essentially the briefcase from Pulp Fiction turned into a human. She’s nothing more than a mcguffin.
The issue deepens when that mcguffin of a person is meant to be symbol of the idyllic Hollywood Tarantino wishes were preserved by this terrible crime never having been committed. What is this Hollywood?
It’s very, very white.
Not just in the, “wow, I hardly saw any non-white people,” way- which is absolutely an issue. There are only 3 people of color in the entire film, and only one has lines- more on that in a minute. It’s white in the way that the only person of color- Bruce Lee- is in the film to get beaten up for being full of himself by a white guy. (The other people of color I recall are Mexican valets who fetch Dalton’s car in the early scenes.) Before you think I’m reaching, Brad Pitt actually said the original fight between his character and Lee was supposed to be longer, but he felt uncomfortable with it. Bruce Lee’s daughter also decried the film’s depiction of her father.
Even putting all that aside, the odd thing to me is that I recall discussing Captain Marvel with friends earlier this year and them bringing issue to the fact that the LA Metro had so many white people on it but who are willing to give Tarantino a pass for a 2.5 hours sweeping Los Angeles epic with only 3 people of color in the entire thing?
The issue is what OUTH culminates to in terms of a message and moral. Certainly, Inglourious Basterds culminates to a message we can all agree on: Nazis fucking suck. What does OUTH culminate to? That the ideal Hollywood which Tarantino wished preserved was largely white male dominated. Never mind that in 1969 when this film was set Sidney Poitier had won an Academy Award years earlier, Captain Kirk was making out with Uhura on Star Trek– the Hollywood we see as an industry and city that is “saved” is white, through and through.
You want my advice for what to see at the cinema this weekend? Go see Hobbs and Shaw instead. Idris Elba makes for a delightful cyborg villain and the entire movie is made all the more incredible when you consider they started this franchise as a cop-sting trying to break up a gang of VCR thieves. That’s what I call progress.