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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: A Revisionist’s Approach at History

Tarantino’s films are love letters to genre cinema and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is no exception.

There is so much to unpack in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood that I imagine people will be discussing this one for decades. Whether or not history deems this to be Tarantino’s magnum opus remains to be seen. That said, this is by far Tarantino’s most personal film to date.

The year is 1969 and Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton a male lead in the classic era of Hollywood, alongside his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton, fights to remain relevant as his career in Hollywood starts to dwindle.

Billed as his ninth film, the numbering is only accurate if you count Kill Bill as one film rather than two – Columbia Pictures

Tarantino sets the scene.

Tarantino has always had a passion for the late 60s. It’s clear that he loves the fashion, the music and, of course, the movies of the era. This is Tarantino in his element and the more you know about classic cinema, the more you with get out of this one.

As you would expect, the film is littered with cinematic references but what makes this film especially significant is the way it blends fact with fiction.

1969 was one of the most significant years in history; man walked on the moon, the Beatles made their final performance, the infamous Woodstock concert took place and the Tate murders, but more on that later.

In Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino takes a revisionist alternate history approach to the latter event. It’s certainly a decision that works for the tone of the film, but it’s also one that might not go over well with everyone.

How is the portrayal of Bruce Lee?

once upon a time in hollywood
Whether you like the depiction of Bruce Lee or not, it’s unlikely that it was intended to offend – Columbia Pictures

According to Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, “[her father] comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air, and not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”

Bruce Lee certainly had a reputation for being cocky, though Once Upon A Time In Hollywood strips away much of the complexity of the martial arts legend.

Aside from his roles in the film and TV industry, Lee was also the founder of Jeet Kune Do – a martial arts style fused with his own philosophy. Many also see him as a trail blazer providing one of the few positive Asian role models in the 60s.

Though Bruce Lee is only in the film briefly, his scene has already divided fans by asking the question; could the legendary martial artist, take on a fictional stunt man with military combat training and win?

Tarantino has since doubled down on his depiction of her late father as seen in the following clip.

Speaking to Variety, Shannon Lee responded saying, “He could shut up about it. That would be really nice. Or he could apologise or he could say, ‘I don’t really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.’”

Did Tarantino speak to other non-fictional people that were included in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood?

Sharon Tate, who was a successful model, upcoming actress and wife to director Roman Polanski appears in the film played by Margot Robbie. She was murdered in real life, along with five others by the Manson family cult.

Tarantino is on record for consulting with Debra Tate, the sister of Sharon Tate. She was reported as saying, “Tarantino came to see me and he was extremely respectful.”

Debra Tate seen here with Tarantino, shows that consultation can go a long way to preventing unintentional offence – Indie Wire

Controversial film director Roman Polanski, however, was not consulted. Polanski briefly appears in the film alongside Sharon Tate.

Polanski’s current wife Emmanuelle Seigner has spoken out against the film, quoting “I am just saying that it doesn’t bother them [in Hollywood] to make a film about Roman and his tragic story, and make money with it… while at the same time they have made him a pariah. And all without consulting him of course.” 

Margot Robbie, takes on the role of Sharon Tate. For those who don’t know their Hollywood history, it may be worth reading up on her before the film -Columbia Pictures

Polanski himself remains in exile living in France having fled the US to avoid sentencing after being charged with a few heinous crimes.

Aside from all the controversy, is the film any good?

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, like most Tarantino films, will not appeal to everyone. His movies are slow burns with a strong focus on character. For much of the film it’s the characters who drive the narrative and even then, a great deal of the nuance is shown with subtlety rather than spoon-feeding.

I’m not going to make the claim that this is Tarantino’s best movie to date, I would certainly rate it higher than much of his more recent output, but what I will say is that it warrants attention. It’s essential viewing for anyone that is a fan of the filmmaker or a lover of classic cinema.

The only question you need to ask yourself is whether or not Tarantino’s revisionist approach to history appeals to you within the context of a fictional movie or if it rubs you the wrong way.

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