“When I make a film, I am hoping to reinvent the genre a little bit. I just do it my way. I make my own little Quentin versions of them… I consider myself a student of cinema. It’s almost like I am going for my professorship in cinema, and the day I die is the day I graduate. It is a lifelong study.”
Once Upon a Time in …
Quentin Tarantino is releasing his new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood soon. He is an odd film maker because he uses ideas and images from other movies, typically in the far past. Think about how the directors in the 50s portrayed gangsters in the 30s as exaggerated characters. Well, Quentin would use those images in his films. That is what he is all about when he tells his stories; the directors from before.
The Kill Bill movies, for example, had very familiar images like the bride in her wedding dress, pregnant and gunned down, the close-up of the actress in a top-down convertible (in black and white) narrating her revenge, a ninja finding a master blade smith, a comic book story, death by snakes in a suitcase and on and on. All scenes and images from other movies, well recognized (almost archetypal, if that can be said) and now used to tell his story.
Because this is how he works, all of his movies take place in the past. This is so we can see the exaggerated characters like the gangster films in the 50s. Got it? He is very loose with history, like in Django Unchained set in the Old West but the lead wears a cool modern pair of sunglasses.
So, in this movie we will see Hollywood in the 1960s because it has to be this way for his film style to work. I’ve not seen it yet but I know that he’ll pluck images and characters from depictions of the 60s by directors in the 1970s.
What is bold as brass about this movie is that there is a kind of Hollywood series called Once Upon a Time.
Beginning with 1968’s excellent film by Sergio Leone; Once Upon a Time in the West. This starred Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson and is a revenge tale with the reveal at the end. Really good stuff.
Then in 1984, Sergio Leone did Once Upon a Time in America. This time it was not about cowboys and the Old West, it was about the mafia.
In the director’s mind (and Sergio was great) he was doing a trilogy. It was the In the West One followed by Duck You Sucker and then In America. His other trilogy is more famous called the Dollars trilogy with the lead actor Clint Eastwood. These were A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.
Now that Sergio Leone has set the style and precedent, other directors want to be like him.
Next up was Robert Rodriguez with his Mariachi (or Mexico) Trilogy. El Mariachi, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The second two were big budgets and so we saw Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek.
Rodriquez pulled out all the stops for this homage type series, if you will. The guitar that is really a gun, all that kind of stuff. Explosions and blood and incredible guns; all experts of course. Good stuff, often funny and quite fun. Exaggerations of movies that we saw with Lee Van Cleef in the 1970s is what he is doing.
Now we have Quentin Tarantino taking on the Once Upon a Time task. We’ll expect multiple story-lines like Pulp Fiction, I suppose. But, mostly, we’ll have a very heavy dose of the 1960s as portrayed by the film makers of the 1970s. We will recognize familiar images from before and that his how he tells his stories.