“I’m practically crying, and I haven’t even read it.” – Trudi Fraser
It’s almost as if Terry Gilliam believes ignorance is knowledge, or a kind of creative strength. While directing BRAZIL, he insisted on not having read George Orwell’s 1984 and only having heard of it. So, the movie is essentially Gilliam going off tangents on his impression of 1984’s basic concept(from hearsay, articles, movies, etc). Though critics were divided, it had its share of defenders, even being voted Best Film of the Year by Los Angeles Film Critics(though Gilliam enthusiasts dwindled with every new film with the exception of FISHER KING). Gilliam-ism is essentially a pop culture phenom sown with misconceived understanding of Art Cinema — he foolishly drew inspiration from Federico Fellini’s post-8 ½ films, the ones of increasing self-indulgence and blind megalomania — and unjustified self-aggrandizement(as he foolishly follows in the footsteps of giants, each of which could fill a thousand Gilliams; he is to Welles what the dwarfs are to ‘god’ in TIME BANDITS). The sheer discrepancy between his abilities and aspirations has rendered most of his projects moot as film art. It’s too bad because, with a more honest assessment of talent and limitations, he could have been a pretty good director. But then, Gilliam wouldn’t be Gilliam without the over-reaching. As with Ken Russell, he built his reputation of a ‘visionary’ for whom enough is never enough.
Gilliam is worth mentioning in relation to Quentin Tarantino whose imagination also happens to be tangential than integrally linked to the sources of his inspiration. Though stacked with encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and pop culture, his interest seems less that of a pedant than a peddler. He’s essentially a salesman or con-man than an artist; what matters is the deal than what is real. It’s about pulling a fast one, bamboozling the audience with just enough charm and bluff to make the sale. It’s been said a salesman is really selling himself, and this explains why Tarantino’s personality is essential to the success of his movies. He’s as much selling his brand as his movies. He lives the Glengarry-Glen-Ross lifestyle.
In the Sixties, Andrew Sarris and like-minded critics argued(persuasively) that the best of American Hollywood cinema was just as worthy of serious consideration as Art Cinema of Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. (Pauline Kael generally refrained from invoking ‘art’ to defend American Cinema that, in her eyes, required no justification other than their power as pop-mythology, with the added attraction of directness over obscurantism or pretension.) With Tarantino, the aesthetic logic works differently than with Sarris or even Kael. It’s one thing to recognize artistic worth in popular entertainment, which, after all, attracted countless first-rate talents over the years in music, theater, and cinema but quite another to wax obsessively about works that are obviously trash. It’s hard to imagine Andrew Sarris or Pauline Kael getting all excited about SWITCH BLADE SISTERS or exclaiming the ugly-demented Japanese movie BATTLE ROYALE as the best movie of the 1990s. At most, they might be intrigued by such features as socio-cultural phenomenon, as Kael was of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s TOPO, a work she detested on moral and aesthetic terms.
But then, the contrast illustrates the difference between critical acumen and creative attitude. The role of critics is to discriminate and evaluate, divide wheat from chaff. A critic may find something of worth even in a ‘bad’ movie, but he must seek what is good by standards higher than personal appeal. In contrast, creativity springs from inspiration, which can be drawn from just about anything — many artists were sparked by what, to most people, would seem trivial or nonsensical; the artistic eye sees more potential than the average eye, just like a musical talent can pick up few random notes as the basis for amazing variations. The problem with Tarantino is he’s developed both critical and creative outlooks, thereby conflating what inspires him with artistic value. Martin Scorsese shares the predilection though not to the same degree as Tarantino’s junk-addiction. Still, despite eccentricities of taste, the critical side of Scorsese has been sufficiently discerning in favor of works of historical significance and artistic & moral value. In contrast, Quentin Tarantino is a textbook case that there’s no accounting for taste. Tarantino is no dummy and has even exhibited brilliance in his works, but his sensibility is essentially trashy. His Japanese counterpart would be the vile and disgusting Takashi Miike who, like Tarantino, is not without talent but certainly without a soul. Except for his stunning debut RESERVOIR DOGS, his works have been devoid of value despite all the fashionable ‘hipsterics’ and loudmouthed preaching(especially by Samuel L. Jackson); of course, plenty of critics will disagree, especially in regards to PULP FICTION that many consider to be an all-time masterpiece — PULP FICTION generated tons of discussion, not least because its release coincided with rise of internet movie culture, but it was more about trivia than anything resembling truth. Both Tarantino and Kurt Cobain were major cultural icons in the 1990s, and in a way, BOTH blew their brains out. Cobain literally and Tarantino figuratively soon after his first feature that showed great promise that fail to materialize. At least, Fellini began to waste his talent after making several great films culminating in the incredible 8 ½. As for Gilliam, he never had much talent to waste in the first place and made a mess of his career by over-estimating his abilities.
As things turned out, Tarantino did indeed change movie history but for all the wrong reasons. As with Camille Paglia, success went to his head like crack-cocaine, and sober minds have been wondering when his feet will touch ground again. To be sure, for such a high-strung bundle of energy, a Daffy-Duck-Tasmanian-Devil of a man, Tarantino hasn’t made many movies since his debut. After the spectacular success of PULP FICTION — combination of critical and commercial success that eluded Welles with CITIZEN KANE — , it took two years to complete JACKIE BROWN, which might as well have been called PULP FICTION vol. 2. Then it took him six years to finish KILL BILL 1 & 2, inexplicable since they’re so devoid of fresh idea and inspiration. It took five years for his next major movie, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, a big-budgeted glossy, even arty, rendition(or something-like-a-remake) of those ridiculous 70s action movies with little going for them except insane levels of violence made possible by the demise of the Hays Code in the 60s — in the new cultural climate, such movies were to violence what porno movies were to sex, and in a way, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is war-porn about World War II. The movie was, of course, strafed with all sorts of references, allusions, and homages to works popular and obscure. The movie had one great scene — the inflamed movie screen at the end — , but it was mostly a terrible waste of time and torture on the senses. After three years came DJANGO UNCHAINED, one I haven’t seen. Mindless nihilism is bad enough, but mindless nihilism packaged as ‘moral statement’ is insufferable, indeed virtually indistinguishable from the nuttery of Charles Manson and Jim Jones, lunatics as crusaders. Then, three years later came HATEFUL EIGHT, of which what I read — some demented plot and gory violence — didn’t exactly pique my interest. Along with the release, a politicized Tarantino was making noises about ‘police brutality’ in a nation gripped by BLM insanity(and even terror). The guy who’d been peddling grotesque nihilism was bitching and whining about social injustice.
Also, for someone who gained popularity for his relative lack of political correctness, his newfound role as girly-man ‘social justice warrior’ wasn’t a good fit. Or was it just a part of the American ritual of Afro-worship, that is when one isn’t worshiping homos or Jews? After all, the Jew-run media have fixed it so that the so-called ‘police brutality’ problem usually pertains to blacks, all those innocent ‘gentle giants’ and ‘kids armed only with skittles’. Tarantino’s star rose alongside those of Howard Stern and Camille Paglia, and all three banked on their boldness and penchant for outrage. The last thing they should do is serve a poster-child for PC.
Of course, even though all three had plenty of detractors and even haters, they were palatable to the Liberal and/or Jewish establishment because they were either Jewish(Stern) or reliably Philo-Semitic and libertine, the bread-and-butter mode of most Pop Culture(especially as it’s turned more pornographic in sex and violence over the years). All three exemplified safe and approved ways of being ‘politically incorrect’, as opposed to the truly threatening voices on the secular right. They represented a way of having the cake and eating it too: Being promoted as a maverick and saying/doing outrageous things but mostly in matters of sex-and-violence than of who really controls America that controls the world. It was good for the trio, and it was good for Liberals who craved some hipster cred against seeming overly priggish and censorious. Thus, Libs who regard ‘nigger’ as anathema could laugh at its voluminous usage in PULP FICTION with foreknowledge that Tarantino isn’t really a ‘racist’ but using it as a badge of honor, like Eminem. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS had anti-PC vibes despite the PC politics.
But with the release of DJANGO UNCHAINED, Tarantino was pontificating like Ken-Burns-on-steroids(or-crack). Whatever we may accept from Tarantino the nihilo-monster, moralizing shouldn’t be one of them. The only church Tarantino belongs to is that of the hipster-gangster whose sound-and-fury is all noise and no sense.
Watching PULP FICTION in 1995, I couldn’t help feeling, “This is the kind of movie Charles Manson would have made.” In a way, Tarantino’s cultural impact has been far more insidious than Manson’s — both Manson and Tarantino have been Rasputin-Svengali-like creatures — , and by a magnitude many times greater. After all, the loathsome Manson had a small following. Also, the world readily recognized him for the sicko he was, and his followers were rightly seen as imbeciles; they were not celebrated. In contrast, even though Tarantino hasn’t literally killed anyone, his cinema has been one of the most soul-destroying. Even without murdering bodies, you can murder souls. As I recall, the reactions of young audience members in the screening of PULP FICTION were maniacal, demented, and cult-like, a shameless revelry/rapture in hipster nihilism as sermon and orgy(or ‘sermorgy’) spiked with the conceit of ‘getting it’, not unlike the hive-mind buzz among the Manson kids in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD; they believe themselves to be on the same wavelength. Jerry Lewis had his Jerry’s Kids, and one could say countless members of the X-ers and Millennials became Tarry’s Kids, among whom Tarantino’s mindless cinema comprised some of their key influences.
Granted, even without Tarantino, there would have been no end in sight in the rise of cultural degeneracy and lunacy(which could be traced back to the 1970s with the advent of pornography, blood-soaked action movies, and gory horror; one saving grace back then was the bulk of the American Population had experienced their formative years prior to the ‘youthenizing’ 60s; it was really with the boomers that people grew older physically without accepting it psychologically). Also, dominance of Network TV and, as yet, absence of home video & cable(not to mention the internet) ensured that Adult Material, from R-rated movies to pornography, would be restricted to certain segments of the population. By the 1990s, many young people had access to all sorts of lurid stuff via home video and cable(that also changed the tone of Network TV), and the internet was rapidly altering the dynamics of pop culture. Furthermore, especially with the fading of religion & the more puritanical strains of feminism and the concomitant rise of Rap Music & Jungle Fever(what with the top white female pop star ‘madonna’ promoted as the poster-child for young girls across the nation) — and of course, the seismic political transference of power from the ‘greatest generation’ to the ‘boomers’, among whom Jews were most prominent in ascendancy — , the cultural tectonic plates were shifting in profound ways.
Amidst changes all around, Tarantino stood somewhat apart as an agent of the Zeitgeist in much the same way as Trey Parker & Matt Stone(of Southpark) and Mike Judge(of Beavis & Butthead) did. Because of the willingness to join in the conversation and the ‘cool’ factor — as the ugly duckling who spread his wings to become the black swan of Indie cinema, or geek-dork or ‘gork’-turned-culture-jock — , he became to the 90s what Bob Dylan was in the 60s. (And just as Dylan’s politics were, or grew more, ambiguous enough to engage all sides, Tarantino’s movies radiated a certain mystique open to all manners of interpretations. One might say DJANGO UNCHAINED was his “Hurricane”, the Dylan hit that was full of BS, which Dylan himself knew to be untrue.) For members of the so-called Generation X and Millennials, PULP FICTION’s impact was not unlike that of SERGEANT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND on the Boomers. It was a proud badge of their generation, something they could claim as their own, especially gratifying as the boomers had been reminding the world that all the cool, groovy, and original stuff happened in the 60s, or at the latest, the 70s. And yet, PULP FICTION also appealed to the Boomers because Tarantino paid fulsome homage to idols and images of yesteryear. It was like nostalgia minus the sappy sentimentality. The old was refurbished into something fresh and fashionable. (Another appeal to older viewers was Tarantino’s Midas Touch when it came to reviving forgotten actors & actresses, the stars of their youth who’d fallen out of favor or been written off almost permanently, just barely scraping by in bit roles or low-budget movies. Tarantino didn’t merely bring them back for an encore but made them ‘cooler’ than ever. Doc Tarankenstein was like the greatest paramedic in movie history, the opposite of Nicolas Cage in BRINGING OUT THE DEAD who can barely save anyone. The voltage that Travolta got from PULP FICTION was such that he was offered role upon role, and it took some years before his star faded again, especially with the utter monstrosity called BATTLEFIELD EARTH.) If the Beatles album epitomized the synthesis of Pop and Art(between youth culture and adult culture), PULP FICTION was celebrated as a post-modern breakthrough that erased the boundary between Art House and Multiplex; it was also a ‘shared’ experience like no other across generations because young ones punked to its neo-hipster vibes while older viewers had fun with ‘spot the reference’. It seemed both youthfully irreverent and nerdily reverent.
For the young it was a natural extension of MTV while for older viewers it could be an homage to Jean-Luc Godard and the tradition of Film Noir. While there had been breakout hits and works of cross-over appeal in Indie Cinema, there was nothing quite like PULP FICTION that blew the top equally as Indie-Art film and Hollywood movie, not least because its cultural allusions were as much to European as Hollywood cinema. It wasn’t so much a case of Indie doing Hollywood or vice versa but a near-total post-modern fusion of both modes like never realized before. It was so very Hollywood(and MTV) but then so very personal in the European ‘auteur’ sense. It was ‘cool’ and cerebral, ‘experimental’ and accessible, vulgar and sophisticated. It was one of those things that people, high and low, had long been waiting for without knowing what exactly they were waiting for — something they would realize had been missing in the culture only upon its materialization, seemingly out of nowhere; there was this sense with the Beatles as well, i.e. they were so fresh and novel yet so essential, as if to make one wonder how humanity had managed all these years without the Fab Four; and of course, the same could be said of the arrival of Jesus as Christ — before Jesus, people went on with their lives as usual, but after Jesus, the faithful couldn’t conceive of a world without Him. PULP FICTION also spoke to the Clinton 90s, as did AMERICAN BEAUTY but in a more brazen, visceral, and uninhibited manner. If Sam Mendes’ movie pretended to have a point, the allure of PULP FICTION was the point was besides the point. It’s like what the old man says in RESERVOIR DOGS: “You don’t need proof when you have instinct!” The style is where it’s at. (Perhaps, the Tarantino of the 2010s is Lin Manuel-Miranda, the clown who concocted HAMILTON in which pomo has come full circle, indeed to the point where a quasi-aristocratic Alexander Hamilton is re-imagined as a ‘progressive’ groid or ‘progroid’; the farcical charade has been stretched so far that irony, so intrinsic to post-modernism, has warped into earnestness… or is it a put-on-naivete as a wink-and-nod to ‘wokeness’?
But if the tomfoolery of HAMILTON was done with humor and high spirits, the Wakanda-mania of BLACK PANTHER would have us believe it could be or should be all so true. Still, if HAMILTON and BLACK PANTHER have one thing in common, it is the CONVICTION that blacks are nobler. That catechism, above all, is the reason for their spell over so many people, high and low. Despite the hijinks and laughter, what really completes HAMILTON is it made the audience, even the sophisticates, boo-hoo-hoo cry. All said and done, this seemingly ironic pomo-work made them BELIEVE, hallelujah. On that note, it goes to show that, at the end of the day, sincerity beats cynicism. While Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Bill Maher, South Park guys, and Camille Paglia in the 90s were effective slayers of sacred cows, when the dust settled people still gravitated toward sanctity, and in this sense, Oprah and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN beat out Tarantino’s hipsterism. Irreverence can be hip and cool but doesn’t provide meaning, a vision of the sacred. In contrast, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN sacralizes cowboy-sodomy as godly and heaven-sent, hallelujah brother. This may be one reason why, with DJANGO UNCHAINED, Tarantino played moralist for a change to win plaudits as a believer.) While it’d be foolish to blame Tarantino in particular for the cultural-moral rot that befell American culture and sensibility, there is no doubt that he was a key contributor with his brand of hipster nihilism where style is substance and amorality is the basis of reevaluation of values. We will never know what forces were really behind the spate of school shootings(and other demented mayhems in public places) since the Columbine massacre, but what they all have in common is the mentality that can no longer distinguish reality and fantasy — to be sure, Adolf Hitler was a pioneer in having played history as grand Wagnerian opera. To these disturbed souls, reality seems an extension of their video-game & pop-cultural universe and vice versa(not least because video-games become ever more ‘realistic’ in graphics and player-participation), which makes matters even more frustrating because reality doesn’t conform to ‘rules’ that govern games and entertainment. Far more damaging than the violence in Tarantino’s movies has been their attitude, a mix of glibness, sadism, disaffected smugness, and/or mock-righteous indignation. A particularly vile scene is one where DeNiro’s character guns down Bridget Fonda’s in JACKIE BROWN. However adults may process or rationalize such a scene, its impact on young ones can only be deleterious in the worst way.
Another annoying thing about Tarantino is toadying attitude toward his idols, real and imagined. In a way, despite his risque posturing and maverick demeanor, Tarantino isn’t much different from the character of Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS who, from a young age, wanted nothing other than to be one of the ‘wiseguys’ who seemed to have it all. Ostensibly, Henry is one of the crew, a tough guy, but he’s really a servile punk who sucks up to the real tough guys with bigger balls. Likewise, so many of Tarantino’s movies are fanboy love letters to his favorite stars and (anti)heroes. Instead of finding value in life as it is and in people as they are, Tarantino’s personal fantasy has been to gain ‘coolness’ points by making hyper-homages to the icons of cool. In a way, he’s like the court-jester or class clown desperate to curry favor with the big men on the campus. (Perhaps, Linklater is more balanced because he was once a genuine jock in football and baseball.) Instead of Revenge of the Nerds, it’s more like Redemption of a Nerd or Malaka(like in WEIRD SCIENCE) by concocting something so ‘cool’ that even cool kids may come flocking around it. In this, Tarantino is rather like C.W. Moss(Michael J. Pollard)’s character in BONNIE AND CLYDE, a toady who will do just about anything to be in good graces with the beautiful killer-couple.
Anyway, unlike Manson whose cult was limited to a tiny following, Tarantino’s movies have led to formation of hordes upon hordes of Tarry’s Kids given the nature of cinema(and his undeniable talent in pandering to youths). There’s a joke about Jerry’s Kids, “What has a million legs and can’t walk?” One about Tarry’s Kids might go, “What has a million souls and can’t feel?” In a way, Tarantino’s despicable moralizing in interviews about DJANGO UNCHAINED was less a sign of conscience than lack thereof. The soulless, lacking a truly autonomous sense of right-and-wrong, must attach themselves to dogma to feel justified. Their souls are incapable of generating autonomous meaning and sense. And so, they seek ‘spiritual’ fulfillment by joining an outrage mob and chanting in unison. Such types are triggered by truth and honesty. It seems that until DJANGO UNCHAINED, Tarantino regarded himself as too hip and ‘cool’ for ‘commitment’. But soul abhors a vacuum, and Tarantino filled his with Nigga-Worship as have so many Americans whose lives revolve around black sports, black music, and the narratives of Civil Rights. It’s likely that Tarantino is still the dumbass that was fulminating against ‘police brutality’. Or, maybe he’s starting to see things in a different light, not least because he himself became an object of an outrage mob for his close association with Harvey Weinstein. (While it’s all very entertaining to see the likes of Weinstein on the ropes, the ‘morality’ of the #MeToo movement is on level with Tarantino of DJANGO. Many of these shameless, slutty, and/or soulless women have been unscrupulous social-climbers hardly averse to resorting to any wile/guile to get theirs, but all of a sudden, they play poor innocent victims, damsels in distress, who need rescusing from the Monster Jew Weinstein. Ladies, or Skanks, it takes two to tango. Skankrusade is about as valid as nihilist-inquisition. There is something to what Jordan Peterson said: “Clean up your own bedroom first.”)
RESERVOIR DOGS is about 90 min whereas ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD runs over 2 hrs and 30 min, yet the former says so much while the latter says so little. Still, by latter-day Tarantino standards, it’s a rather reflective(and even contemplative) work, one that suggests perhaps a readiness to step into the role of ‘veteran’ or ‘master’ than stick with the enfant-terrible ‘maverick’ shtick. Well, it sure took long enough. Through the 80s and 90s, one wondered if the Coen Brothers would finally drop their smartass film-school antics and settle into roles as master-film-makers, and lo and behold, something I never thought possible actually came to be. Coens did mature into master film-makers. Though I haven’t seen DJANGO UNCHAINED and HATEFUL EIGHT — and wish I hadn’t wasted my time on the movies following RESERVOIR DOGS — , what I read about them doesn’t whet my appetite. In contrast, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD seems like a work by someone who no longer feels he has to prove something, like he has a HIP on his shoulder. It is less about attitude than acceptance, a more honest assessment of life and its limitations. There’s even an element of grace. In a way, it is as counter-Tarantino as it is Tarantino, in the way that Clint Eastwood’s later action movies grew past the rather unblinking(and unthinking) sadism of his earlier works. For those who’ve heard Tarantino drone on(profusely on just about any topic related to movies and pop culture), the most notable aspect of ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD may be that its most admirable character(played by Brad Pitt) is a man of few words while some of the most crazed/demented characters are full of gab. Ghoul-faced Sadie, a Mansonite expounding as to why the crew should go murder Rick Dalton(Leonardo DiCaprio) first, eerily echoes Tarantino-ism(or pothead Slater-ism of DAZED AND CONFUSED). These kids go for ‘trip sessions’ and get pretty talkative or ‘Talmudic’ about their instant-karmic revelations. They rap in the manner of counterculture philosophers teasing out hidden patterns and meanings. It’s like the Tarantino Meme about TOP GUN really being a ‘gay buddy movie.’
If you want to play mind-games, you can connect anything with anything. In contrast, Booth is a man of few words. He is walk than talk. Though he is victorious over the ‘hippies’ in the movie, the sad truth is that the Sadies of the world took over the institutions and eventually won the ‘culture war’ by mastering and monopolizing the power of words, whereas the stoic American Hero type deemed it beneath his dignity to bitch, whine, and emote endlessly about everything under the sun. (The other Tarantino-movie character most like Booth is Mr. Blonde played by Michael Madsen in RESERVOIR DOGS. Neither man says much and both are tainted by the past, though Mr. Blonde is in a business that values psychopathy as an asset than liability. And yet, even though Mr. Blonde is the most demented character in RESERVOIR DOGS, he is also the most loyal and trustworthy, at least to the outfit he belongs to. He can be a cold-hearted murderer or psycho-sadist, but he is resolutely devoted to his boss and his friend, the boss’s son. His loyalty is as psychotic as his cruelty: absolute and total. Likewise, Booth is the sort of guy who keeps his word and sticks by his partner no matter what. He’s like what John Cusack’s character says of the hypothetical buddy ‘Nick’ in THE SURE THING.)
Perhaps, the older Tarantino is somewhat weary(and even regretful) of the kinds of ‘cleverness’ he spouted off throughout his career. What once sounded inspired may now sound rather silly. Worse, while there was only one Tarantino in the mid 90’s — at least prominently — , Tarantino-ism has infected an entire generation that went on Youtube with their own quirky, eccentric, or goofy takes about pop culture and movies. Then perhaps, Tarantino is feeling the pressure to grow beyond himself. Too many millennials may have gotten under his skin to the point of making his skin crawl. He might feel like the famous actor in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH whose mind and body are taken over by others. Youtube and other social platforms multiplied hipster voices by magnitudes unthinkable even in the 90s.
It’s been said of Jews, they are the ruling elites but still act like upstarts. Likewise, Tarantino has been an established star-director for over quarter of a century but hasn’t abandoned the enfant-terrible shtick, which is all the more annoying as he’s been the darling of critics and the industry, which would actually make him an enfant-adorable, a spoiled baby. His maverick-mystique has been an ego-inflating marketing ploy that stunted his growth, all the while obfuscating its drag on him as an artist? One positive sign of ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is Tarantino, like Coens in the late 90s, may finally be ready to step into the shoes of a master who has outgrown childish things. Unlike Gilliam, Tarantino has talent to burn, except he’s burned too much of it in trash bins.
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD or OUTH may be channeling Coen Brothers’ HAIL, CAESAR!, a rather risque move since it was a commercial failure(and didn’t gain much traction with critics either). Also, considering that Tarantino’s last outing, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, was a flop, he was surely under pressure to generate a hit. And in that regard, OUTH plays it both bold and safe. It lacks the daring of RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION(and the sheer lunacy of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS). It hedges its bets in more ways than one, and some might compare it to the crowd-pleasing UNTOUCHABLES, a movie loved even by those who detested Brian DePalma, such as Stanley Kauffmann; others might say it is more comparable to CARLITO’S WAY, DePalma’s richest and most magnificent work. And yet, the scale and scope are grander, albeit ultimately lacking in the kind of insight or depth found in Kubrick films or even Coen movies(as HAIL, CAESAR! was one of the most thought-provoking concept movies in recent years, touching on the profoundest spiritual and historical questions within the framework of light comedy; it was like an impossible blend of George Cukor and Stanley Kubrick, a Cukobrick).
If the Coens fiddled with the Biblical Epic within the context of the Cold War to shed light on historical ramifications stemming from the syncretism of Jewish Prophecy and Roman Might, Tarantino used the Western as metaphor for the American Paradox of justice borne of greed and vice versa. After all, mythology of the American West rests on both the attraction of conspicuous freedom and the awe of heightened terror, with which to extend one’s freedom(at the expense of the competition). Freedom in the West meant more individual liberty but which could be used to rob others of property. Unlike in Old Europe and the East Coast where the winners had already been established in the Age of Aristocracy, the Wild West lay bare for the taking. It promised freedom and opportunity but also the certainty that some men would grab the bigger slices with more guns and guts. Thus, less tyranny actually meant more terror, something we now see in Libya and Syria where the decline of central authority, tyrannical as it may have been, has led to roving bands of cutthroat killers. Unlike the Sicily of THE GODFATHER movies, the world of the American Western is devoid of concentrated tyranny, but this means more individuals trying their luck to be top honcho, leading to copious amounts of bloodshed — indeed, the actual Wild West had a very high murder rate. In contrast, despite the threat of violence that always lingers over Sicilian society in THE GODFATHER saga, the bloodshed is mainly between clans or out of personal vendetta; it’s not about ‘every swinging dick’ flashing a pistol to show he’s numero uno. Though the Wild West was tamed soon enough and policemen & lawyers took the place of hired gunmen & frontier marshals, there persisted the cowboy-gunslinger mindset in US capitalism and social dynamics, the idea that you must make ‘your move’ to be somebody in the winner-takes-all sweepstakes; the core mythos of Americanism says it’s not enough to be just anybody; instead, you gotta be that special somebody, a prize that only comes with an element of risk.
Indeed, the contest of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in American mythos goes far beyond what one might find in Europe or elsewhere. One thing for sure, a director or movie star who makes it in Hollywood outshines everyone else in the cultural constellation. It’s no wonder so many directors prefer to make mediocre movies in Hollywood than more personal or higher-quality films in their nations of origin. Hollywood matters regardless of quality because of its sheer power and wealth. It is to popular culture what Washington D.C is to the global empire. Ironically, the relative functionality of Rule of Law made the cutthroat competition even more extreme. In an absolute state of chaos without any order whatsoever, most individuals would be too cowered to try out their luck. In the US, the rule of law, though far from complete, let alone perfect, emboldened more individuals to take a chance as they could lean on the law as crutch or training wheels. The presidency of Donald Trump showed the mythos is still alive. The Donald strode the stage like a combination of Elvis Presley and John Wayne. The electric gunslinger.
ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD falls short as a concept picture relative to HAIL, CAESAR! because Tarantino isn’t much of a thinker; for all his gab, his forte is instinct and intuition than intellect and ideas. Unlike the Coens, both of whom completed formal education and one of whom has a degree in philosophy, Tarantino is like a hipster version of a used car salesman. It’s all about the pitch, one so persuasive that even the bullshitter falls for the bull. At best, the quality of Tarantino’s thought is Peak Geek. He can dazzle listeners like a Poker Dealer with oddball opinions and shuffled references, but he’s not a Big Idea man. Too ignorant of reality and history, too petulant to take in the big picture, and leading with the mouth than the brains. (Coens are thinker-writer-directors. Tarantino is a talker-writer-director. There are two kinds of people in this world. Those with reason before their emotions, and those with emotions before their reason. This is not a matter of IQ because plenty of smart people lead with emotions, a common feature among Jews and Nicholas Nassim Taleb, where plenty of not-very-smart people lead with reason.) Another reason for OUTH’s relative absence of Big Idea has to do with its theme of chance, or history as a game of roulette than chess, though ‘accidentalism’ could be conceived as a high concept.
If there is an element of grandeur to OUTH, it owes to the blaring contradictions between conception and construction. The title alone makes it sound epic. Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST staged an epic struggle of the Wild West. It comprised everything from railroad tycoons and hired killers to outlaws and avengers. And the woman who, as carrier of water, is caught in a complicated web of conspiracy, ambition, pride, greed, and vendetta. ONCE UPON IN A TIME IN AMERICA was less mythic in presentation — it was even intimate at times — but grander in chronology(made dreamy with shifts in time), spanning from the dawn of a special friendship to its tragic end. And DUCK YOU SUCKER(released in Europe as ONCE UPON A REVOLUTION), though a wild and uneven mix of comedy and tragedy, canvassed the epic struggle of the Mexican revolution(with flashbacks to the Irish Independence movement) as backdrop to an unlikely but ultimately touching friendship between a radical and a bandit. As OUTH is just over 2 ½ hrs, it sounds like a Big Movie about a Big Subject with a Big Message, indeed like a movie that does for Hollywood what THE GODFATHER did for the mafia and CASINO for Las Vegas. But actually, the movie takes place in just two days. Three to be exact, but the opening day(in which Mr. Schwarz[Al Pacino] presses upon Rick Dalton[Leonardo DiCaprio] to star in Spaghetti Westerns, Brad Pitt feeds the dog, and Polanskis attend a party at the Playboy Mansion) merely serves as prelude to second day and third day. Weight of the movie rests on the shoulders of two days separated by 6 months(during which time, we are told by voice-over-narration, Dalton made movies in Italy and got married). Of the two days, the second day is considerably longer & more important(as the centerpiece of the movie) than the third, which is mainly a setup for a ‘shootout’(albeit with knives and a can of dogfood) that every Western(or a tribute to the Westerns) must have. (The arrival of Schwarz to the lunch meeting is a real coup. In a manner of Leone-ism crystallized, Tarantino only shows the close-up of the hood ornament in motion against the blurred background until it comes to a halt by the restaurant. That status symbol is all you need to know about who Schwarz is and what makes Hollywood tick. It’s a world of instant-aristocrats or ‘instacrats’. None other than Polanski is introduced as an ‘instacrat’, a poor boy who grew up in communist Poland now driving around in fancy antique model and donned in aristo-counterculture attire. So, Schwarz insists on a classier pronunciation of ‘Schwarz’ as ‘shoo-war-ze’, which, I suppose is the equivalent of Quarter-Pounder being called Royale with Cheese in France.)
All in all, the concept behind ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD implies grandiosity, but the construction is actually exceedingly modest. This aspect may have been the central challenge on Tarantino’s part. How to make an epic-seeming movie about a huge subject — Hollywood the dream-factory of the world and metaphor for Americanism — over mostly two days where the plot mainly revolves around (1) Dalton as washed-out actor doing a bit-part in a second-rate TV pilot (2) his friend/chauffeur Booth killing time between driving the boss to and from work and (2) ‘Sharon Tate’ watching herself on the big screen at high noon. Now, if someone said material so slim could serve as the basis of an epic-sized movie, you’d surely laugh. Yet, Tarantino overcomes the contradiction of conception & construction and nearly achieves the feat. He does this by yet another contradiction that synthesizes traditional cowboy tropes with counterculture hippie ones. This aspect is reminiscent of LOST IN AMERICA with its yuppie-hippie fusion: Albert Brooks as jilted yuppie careerist goes ‘hippie’ and embarks on an epic journey of self-discovery only to run out of money and scurry back to the big city.
In a way, Tarantino is like the Brooks character. Not because he started out as a well-paid yuppie who gave up his career for the creative pursuit — he was a lowly video-clerk prior to his rise to fame — but because he’s been a poseur than a purist. Just like the ‘hippie’ shtick is a dress-up game for yuppies in LOST IN AMERICA, Tarantino has been a faux-auteur or ‘fauteur’ riffing on the authentic achievements of other artists and mavericks with truer visions. In one scene in OUTH, Rick Dalton insults one of the Manson Youths as ‘Dennis Hopper’, and it’s true enough that if any film-maker came close to being the Manson-of-Hollywood, it was none other than Hopper, a man so crazy that he alienated just about everyone around him. (Even an actor as eccentric as Marlon Brando couldn’t stand him. One wonders what would have happened if Hopper crossed paths with Klaus Kinski.) Yet, crazy as he was, Hopper was the genuine article. Though EASY RIDER soon became dated and THE LAST MOVIE was both a critical and commercial disaster back in the day, they are clearly works of someone who put the pedal to the metal, much like Sam Peckinpah with THE WILD BUNCH, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, & BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA and Francis Ford Coppola with APOCALYPSE NOW. All three were like method-directors, pushing the envelope, making movies with true grit. The danger was it was one hell of a way to burn out, and they did, sooner than later. Peckinpah found it increasingly difficult to find work. Hopper was lost in the wilderness for years before sobering up(somewhat) and making a comeback, mostly as an actor in demented roles. Coppola never fully recovered from APOCALYPSE NOW. He left a piece of himself in the jungle.
In contrast, Tarantino, like some of his peers, is still in one piece and going strong. Though middle-aged, he still seems high-spirited or reasonably good shape: A soldier ready for battle than a weathered veteran. Same could be said of Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Steven Soderbergh, and the rest of them. Yet, with the exception of Richard Linklater(at his best), the crop of film-makers that emerged in the 90s don’t seem as invested in heart-and-soul as the ones who made their names in the 60s and 70s. A certain glibness, smugness, timidity, or pomo irony infects their works. As for directors with a more heartfelt approach, they’ve tended to be sappy, sickly, or sensationalistic. Think of P.T. Anderson, Todd Solondnz(who wears his ‘pathosis’ — the state of being pathetic — on his sleeve), and Darren Aronofsky. (Chris Nolan is all over the map, as is M. Night Shylamalan.) What most directors since the 1990s have in common is the care not to burn out like the mavericks of the late 60s and 70s. (They are also more willing to work on huge commercial projects like comic book and 007 movies.) Even drug-users among them seem to have it more under control. This caution, while laudable, may have had a limiting effect on their imagination and ambition. Ever mindful of the warnings of Nurse Ratched, they fear to go Full McMurphy. P.T. Anderson may be the most ambitious of them with works like THERE WILL BE BLOOD and THE MASTER, but there is in him too much of ‘Ken Burns’ and not enough Peckinpah-Coppola, the stuff of true visionary devil-may-care leap into the unknown. His movies have the look but not the feel. It’s telling that the most shattering movie since 2000 is MULHOLLAND DR. by veteran director David Lynch though, by some devilish fortune, Aronofsky finally hit it out of the ballpark with MOTHER!
Now, this isn’t to suggest that film-makers should risk sanity and ruin their health with mad obsession. However, IF the film-maker fashions himself as a maverick or visionary, he must be willing to fall in with total commitment of heart and soul. It’s what Morgana says to Merlin in EXCALIBUR when he warns that the charm-of-making may burn her. She replies, “Then, burn me.” It’s like a boxer enters the ring with the full knowledge that he may get KO’ed, crippled for life, or even killed. But, that’s the only way to be a true champion. You cannot pull punches nor expect the other side to. (In Rock, some of the best music was made by people who held nothing back. It is one thing they had in common with Beethoven.) Indeed, ‘Bruce Lee’ makes just this point in OUTH as he talks about Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, even though he himself is a showbiz charlatan who avoids real fights with truly tough men — on the other hand, he was an obsessive who pushed his body to the limit. It’s no wonder Stanley Kubrick only completed only twelve films. He needed plenty of recovery-and-preparation time for his uber-ambitious projects. It’s no wonder Sam Peckinpah increasingly turned to drugs to ease the pressure. In EXCALIBUR Merlin says to Uther, “Oh, I have slept… for nine moons. What I did for you wasn’t easy. Now, you must pay me.” and to Arthur, “I once stood exposed to the Dragon’s Breath… It took me nine moons to recover… Never again. Never.” Just like a boxer who fights the fight of his life doesn’t walk away without leaving a big chunk of him in the ring, an artist who gives his all has to give up something.
Now, this isn’t the case with all kinds of creativity. Eric Rohmer had a long distinctive career as a craftsman of modest films. But a director who stakes his reputation on going all in has to risk everything… like a gunfighter who stares at death right in the eye. It’s like what Noodles says to Max in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Max wagered everything and played for keeps. He must know the score and be willing to pay the price. “…a man in your position, with all your power and all your privileges, has to assume a certain amount of responsibility… a certain amount of risk.” Tarantino’s self-promotion as a maverick implied he lived by the motto “my way or the highway” — it’s like Steve Buscemi’s character in RESERVOIR DOGS insists on not paying the tip or on a name less ‘faggoty’ than ‘Mr. Pink’, but when push comes to shove, he folds before the man made of tougher stuff; he remains in the lane than takes the highway — , and yet, except for his great debut, there was always an easy-breezy glibness about his works, even in one as stylistically audacious as PULP FICTION and conceptually crazy(and ludicrous) as INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. His post-RESERVOIR movies didn’t really risk or reveal anything but a penchant for nihilism-for-nerds. It all seemed like one big put-on, a con-man repeating his tricks one too many times.
In contrast, Dennis Hopper was as crazy as the movies he made. He was not a ‘larper’. And Roman Polanski was as twisted and perverse as he billed himself to be: A diseased genius. It’s the difference between Keith Richards and Marilyn Manson. The Richards that composed “Gimme Shelter” had been to hell and back. In contrast, Marilyn Manson’s deviltry was a gimmick. Hardly an original or visionary, he pilfered others and fashioned a Rocky Horror Shtick for himself. Whatever one thinks of Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE — it is a mess — , it is genuine, like Peckinpah’s deranged BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. And with THE TENANT, Polanski revealed a troubled psyche, a sick soul. In contrast, despite all the mayhem, lunacy, and bombast of Tarantino’s post-RESERVOIR movies, his shtick has amounted to little more than Trendy Transgression 101, schematic and programmatic, ‘been there, done that’, repackaged for the South-Park-Slim-Shady-Howard-Stern generation. Furthermore, it came with the seal-of-approval from cultural/critical gatekeepers and thus risked nothing, especially in the age of Official Degeneracy as the New Normal. PULP FICTION, for example, is like an interactive crime-and-noir video game.
On some level, Tarantino must have been aware of his limitations. Most of his works skimmed the surface than broke barriers. They were products of approved ‘subversion’ and feted ‘notoriety’. With ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, was Tarantino trying to resolve some of these creative issues? Consciously or subconsciously, OUTH plays off THE LAST MOVIE, also a film about making films. In Hopper’s work, the locals of a Latin American village, who witnessed gringos making a violent Western, decide to make a movie for real, with real violence and real death, one where there’s no distinction between actor and character, between performer and stuntman. Knowing nothing of film-making and working with mock-equipments, they nevertheless rub the noses of ‘actors’ in their own vomit and shit. In a similar vein, Manson Youths who grew up watching violent TV shows decide to act out the violence for real at the end of OUTH. They are determined to bridge to gap between illusion and reality by taking real violence to those who create the illusion. This has, of course, been a problem with arts & entertainment(especially with the cult of celebrity) where ‘life imitates art’ and art serves as the new religion, further complicated by the rise of ‘Reality TV’. Bob Dylan in his memoir CHRONICLES recalled how hippies and radical types trespassed on his property to behold the ‘prophet’. They’d fallen for the media hype of Dylan as the ‘spokesman of his generation’. Yet, Dylan the image was not Dylan the man. Such adoration played out tragically for John Lennon when a would-be Holden Caulfield gunned him down for his ‘betrayal’ of the dream. Lennon imagined, Chapman insisted.
The contradiction and the convergence of cowboy and counterculture came to characterize the Zeitgeist(and would also play a role in the rise of country-rock in the 70s). In a way, it was also instructive as to difference between film culture and music culture of the period. As it was far more difficult to get a foot in the movie industry, music culture came to reflect youth culture to a much bigger degree. Despite boomer-youth interest and stake in New Cinema as their thing, the key film-makers of the 1960s were mostly in their 40s and 50s, even 60s and 70s, like Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock; the youngest were in their 30s, though Bernardo Bertolucci made his name in his 20s. Also, the very nature of story-telling made cinema a more mature and ‘conservative’ art. One danced to a three-minute pop song, but one had to sit through a two hour movie with story and character development. Even a shallow movie requires more patience, empathy, and concentration than pop songs that work more like candy, soda, or drugs. While the heroes of 60s Pop Music were themselves youthful(with hardly any connection to older and other forms of music), the heroes of 60s cinephilia were often old masters, and even the relatively youthful members of the French New Wave never ran out of praise for Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, and the like. (French youths may have been more passionate about cinema because Rock music, essentially an English-language phenomenon, had less impact in their country. While young Brits dreamed of becoming the new Beatles and Stones, many French youths had their eyes set on cinema.)
Film Culture was also international, deeply appreciative of non-Western cultures, most of which were far more conservative than the West. We sense this dichotomy between Pop music and movie culture in OUTH. Blasts of music make scenes come alive, much like in EASY RIDER and AMERICAN GRAFFITI, but there are also stretches that rely entirely on the language of cinema. While music was an integral part of cinema from the beginning — the Silents were accompanied by music — , it played an auxiliary role to the image except in the musical. The music followed than led. Almost always, it was composed after the film had been completed and in support of the image. Though not the first of its kind, the Leone/Morricone partnership made the music almost equal to the image. In the case of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the music preceded the filming, and Leone conceived of images to the music. The power of music grew exponentially in the 60s with the rise of Rock and advances in electric/electronic instruments. Earlier, most music was composed with ‘old-fashioned’ traditional instruments. The New Cinema of the 60s combined the electrically projected image with electrically created music. The effect was overwhelming, so much so that it signaled the danger of cinema resorting to musical shortcuts to grab and hold the audience’s attention. It’s a temptation that many film-makers couldn’t resist but one they must overcome if they were to preserve the integrity of storytelling. GOODFELLAS is a prime example of effective use of Pop Music without succumbing to its power, but then Italians are good with sauces.
(Some people think the use of music, especially the infectious pop variety, in movies is a form of cheating. As long as the music is on, the movie feels alive even if nothing of substance is happening.) 1969 was both the year of LET IT BLEED and TRUE GRIT, arguably John Wayne’s last hurrah. In it, he was led by the nose by a girl, rather like Dalton’s situation with a precocious girl. But apart from TRUE GRIT, the big Westerns of the year were THE WILD BUNCH, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and MIDNIGHT COWBOY(though not technically a Western and more an Eastern in which a ‘cowboy’ dishwasher ‘immigrates’ to Big Apple to hustle women than rustle cows). The violence in THE WILD BUNCH was as intense as any rock concert, BUTCH CASSIDY AND SUNDANCE KID was marketed as hipster Western — a sunnier BONNIE AND CLYDE on the saddle and indelibly associated with the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” — , and MIDNIGHT COWBOY was a fish-out-of-water adventures of a Texan in seedy New York that culminates in a drug-fueled party — its use of “Everybody’s Talkin’” was one of the most effective in movie history, so much so that the movie wouldn’t be the same without it. 1969 was, of course, also the year of EASY RIDER that epitomized cowboy-counterculture fusion; in the film, a Western rancher is portrayed favorably while villainy is ascribed to Southern Rednecks who seem antithetical to movement and adventure.
But if movement = freedom/progress whereas staying-put = stagnation/reaction, what is to be said about Western Imperialism? Were its adventurers, discoverers, conquerors, and colonizers essentially forces of openness and liberation? They certainly were on the move. And yet, imperialism came to be denounced in association with wars, genocide, and slavery. After all, it was Europeans-on-the-move who committed all those ‘historical crimes’, not the ones who stayed behind in their homelands. And yet, marvels of innovation and progress mostly sprung from the moving-and-conquering nations. In contrast, peoples who stayed put in their homelands, though having played no part in the ‘crimes’ of imperialism and its attendant horrors, remained relatively backward as something like the ‘rednecks’ of Europe. How does one square this moral conundrum where the forces of conquest were also forces of progress while keepers of homeland were mired in backwardness? Even though non-whites suffered at the hands of white movers-and-shakers, they also owe their progress to the imperialists. Now, one might argue that Western Imperialism would have been okay if whites had gone to other lands in the spirit of mutual peace and tolerance, but what of the fact that non-whites were often hostile to foreigners, could only be opened up by brute force, and would have accepted liberal values only at gunpoint? History is complicated in that way.) On the one hand, EASY RIDER was meant as a myth-buster, a middle finger to Middle America(and the Deep South), but the (anti)hero duo were also mythologized as neo-cowboys on bikes as horses-on-wheels. And even though men like Sam Peckinpah didn’t exactly see eye to eye with counterculture types, they were nevertheless affected by the changes afoot(and committed to bringing authenticity to the Western), evinced in works like MCCABE & MRS. MILLER(dir. Robert Altman) and PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, which, by the way, featured two Counterculture icons Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan. And then, there was the impact of Italian Westerns that dynamited all inhibitions. Though Sergio Leone was the most famous(and the greatest by far), the ones that did more to affect the Zeitgeist were ‘Marxist’ directors who inverted the generally ‘conservative’ and pro-Anglo mythos of American Westerns by favoring browns, outlaws, and Indians as symbols of rebellion against White Imperialism. Whereas Leone was essentially apolitical, directors like Sergio Corbucci and Damiano Daminani loaded the innate nihilism of Spaghettis with the politics of commitment. Movies like A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL were like Che-Guevara-Westerns. But how could leftists square nihilism with idealism? They found it useful in depicting how utterly cruel & depraved the gringos really are and in reiterating how ruthless & bloodthirsty the rebellion must be in order to win. It’s like Strelnikov in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO fuses nihilism with commitment.
Around the same time, there was also the emergence of what came to be known as Country-Rock, the fusion of an intractably conservative musical genre with the libertine personalism of 60s Rock. In the tug-and-chug between cowboy and counterculture, a bit of each spilled into the other, just like two wrestlers, even in opposition, walk away with the other’s bodily fluids. Indeed, this accounts for the strange dreamlike quality of Rick Dalton as a ‘hippie heavy’ in a TV Western pilot. Dalton as straight shooter could only be a run-of-the-mill ‘cowboy’, but as a ‘hippie-cowboy’, things get kinda surreal, indeed as if he walked off the set of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO the psychedelic Western. In playing against type of the conventional hero/heavy, Dalton plunges deeper within to drudge up something that had never seen the light of day. Though disdainful of hippies, Dalton reignites his career with a bit of ‘hippie’(or Hell’s Angel) charm. As further irony, he finally nails the scene after pledging to cut down his alcohol intake. He must, at once, become more straight/sober and more surreal/hippie to produce a once-in-a-lifetime performance, a kind of pop-hamlet. It is this inner-transformation that lends the moment an epic quality. It’s like Dalton has to emerge from a cocoon as butterfly and reveal a new self; and it took a film-director with counterculture aspirations to bring about this metamorphosis. Even though Dalton sticks to alcohol(or abstinence-on-set), his inspired role as heavy couldn’t have been possible without the cultural changes brought about by youth/drug culture.
Furthermore, even though the final showdown pits ‘cowboys’(Booth and Dalton) against the ‘hippies’(the Manson Youths), it is the latter whose lifestyle reminds us of the Old West; their approach to the Dalton ‘ranch’ even resembles the climactic buildups in so many Westerns; the only thing missing are spurs and a six-shooter on each hip. Manson youths have taken over the Spahn Ranch and lead a primitive existence. Like pioneers of the Wild West, they’ve taken leave of civilization. One of the members named Tex(who later leads the kill raid) rides a horse as a tourist guide(and in the most Western-like moment, he hurries on horseback to come to the aid of a fallen comrade). Also, the owner of the Spahn ranch(Bruce Dern), though older than Dalton and Booth, appears to have a rapport with Squeaky(Dakota Fanning), the mother-hen to the Youths when Manson isn’t around. (And she is one tough cookie. The mental ‘showdown’ between Booth and Squeaky ends in stalemate. While Booth prevails upon Squeaky to enter the house and check on George Spahn, she holds her own by proving not only that Spahn is alive-and-well, therefore no cause to alert the authorities, but soul-owned by her. Booth gets his way, but it’s clear Spahn belongs to Squeaky, and there is nothing Booth can do about it as the Mansion minions seem to be on the ranch legally with Spahn’s permission. The scene shows why Squeaky is the Queen Bee around the place. While the guys are much bigger, they lack her steely nerves and icy cool. She knew well enough to gain control of Spahn and handles Booth all on her own. In contrast, one big tall hippy’s idea of being tough is puncturing Booth’s tire and laughing like a tard. Muscle to muscle, he crumples and whimpers like a baby.) As disturbed as the Youths are, they seem to be after a kind of authenticity, touching base with nature(though much of their spare time seems devoted to TV-watching like the rest of America) and attempting to break free of fantasy by acts of real-life violence… even though their plan seems inspired by escapism from which they seek to escape.
After all, if there is ONE THING everyone in the movie has in common, it’s non-stop addiction to TV. (But then, both Albert Brooks’ character and the ‘Terminator’ cop in LOST IN AMERICA were inspired by EASY RIDER.) People of all backgrounds, classes, ages, and dispositions tune into the same programs though with counter-perspectives. We are constantly reminded of the discrepancy between Dalton the man and Dalton the persona. Dalton the man is a mildly stuttering crybaby who rarely has it all together. He relies on Booth like Michael Corleone relies on Al Neri, albeit for different reasons. If Corleone is super-capable and needs a true pro to back him in high-stakes rivalry, Dalton is barely hanging together and needs Booth as a crutch. Booth is also like Luca Brasi to Dalton. Because of his notoriety as ‘wife-killer’(or maybe ‘wife-murderer’), many in the industry keep a distance from him. In contrast, Dalton sees him as a friend — friendship absolves a lot of sins — , and in turn, Booth knows that, as long as he works for Dalton, he has a foot in the industry. Though an independent spirit, Booth likes to be where the action is, even if only around the periphery. Booth is the backdoor pass that gets him inside now and then. Even as bit player, hanger-on, or servant, better to be a ‘house nigger’ than a ‘field nigger’. Consider Anthony Hopkins’ character in REMAINS OF THE DAY(whose ticket into the elite world is as a servant) and the aspiring family in PARASITE the Korean film.
That said, Booth is more admirable than most of his ilk because he’s not clinging or opportunistic(like the leeches around Elvis Presley who turned on him the second they were dismissed from the entourage). Booth has something of old-school honor, which is so rare these days, especially as American ethos went from Anglo to Jewish. There is something dog-like about Booth, and not surprisingly, he is closest to his own dog(even more than to Dalton). Like his well-trained dog, Booth seems in control of his drives and appetites. We know nothing of his upbringing and formative experiences. Still, despite the slovenliness of his trailer-home(and dirtiness of the dog bowl), he performs an arch ritual with his dog at feeding time, the first of which takes up five minutes of screen-time, perhaps the longest dog-feeding scene in cinema. He has something of the characters played to perfection by Scott Glenn: Outsider, Rebel, Honcho, or Maverick who nevertheless lives by a personal code. (There’s also something of Charles Bronson, whose greatest role was in a Leone movie.) Booth also embodies the ruthless and unrelenting nature of reality. Unlike Dalton who starred in a war movie but never saw combat, we learn Booth is a ‘war hero’. He’d seen plenty of killing and dying, and he knows it’s not like in the movies. It is then fitting that he’s a stuntman who jumps and falls and gets all the lumps and bruises to make actors look good and shiny. Booth has no illusions about power in the raw. There is something of the ‘fight club’ in him, the instinct of sizing up others. Just as he surely knows he can crush certain opponents, he knows there is no way he can take on someone like Cassius Clay or Sonny Liston.
Booth tells Squeaky that the flimsy screen door and her small frame is no obstacle between him and George Spahn. Later, when a ‘hippie’ who slashed the tire of Dalton’s car laughs at him, Booth delivers a blow that makes the ‘hippie’ get a bitter taste of reality. Reality says the tougher man always beats the weaker man, unlike in the movies. In this, the violence in OUTH is closer to the gripping/harrowing kind in RESERVOIR DOGS. The laughing ‘hippie’ is reduced to groveling at Booth’s feet, like a hyena destroyed by a lion. In a way, OUTH is anti-KILL-BILL, Tarantino’s most outlandish movie inspired by Asian action cinema, the most preposterous in the world. (The most KILL-BILL-ish moment is when ‘Sharon Tate’ watches herself do silly kung fu with Nancy Kwan on the big screen.) Though all genre movies are escapist fantasy, the classic American action movie was nevertheless more reality-based than Asian Action cinema. Compare the brawl in SHANE with any samurai or Kung Fu movie. Also, gun-fights in Westerns got truly over-the-top with the Spaghettis where one guy could outdraw three or four men at a time. It’s as if the weaker nations had to over-compensate with greater fantasy.
John Wayne almost always won but only because he was big, strong, and skilled with guns and fists. Even so, he got punched plenty and knocked on his behind many times by the likes of Lee Marvin. In contrast, Asian action cinema had a blind swordsman(Zatoichi) slashing countless samurai to death, small woman(like Angela Mao) dispatching an army of men with chopsocky blows, and of course Bruce Lee beating up just about everyone without batting an eye; it was like watching a cat beat up a pack of pitbulls. This was all very fun, and the young Tarantino ate it up, and KILL BILL was an homage to that kind of cinema.
In contrast, OUTH is an homage to American action cinema, especially before the violence got increasingly outlandish in the 1980s with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger(though one could argue that the trend really began with 007 movies that got increasingly ludicrous, albeit with tongue-in-cheek charm, as they went from Sean Connery to Roger Moore, whose MOONRAKER was almost self-parody). The classic Hollywood action movie, though not exactly realistic, was more mindful of the brute laws of violence. There is much angst and anxiety in HIGH NOON and SHANE because the good guys know it won’t be easy. The final shootout in THE WILD BUNCH was hyperbolic, but at least one could say the Mexicans were drunk or hung-over(and the ‘gringos’ didn’t cry in front of them). Perhaps, Tarantino in OUTH wanted to make up for the excessive outlandish violence he’s thrown at the audience over the years. The scene with ‘Bruce Lee’ is a textbook illustration of why Asian Cinema is bullshit(as anything but entertainment). ‘Bruce Lee’ talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. Some people found the ‘disrespect’ of Lee’s memory offensive, but it was consistent with the theme of the movie.
Reality has no tolerance for BS, and Booth represents a man who’s seen and lived a lot of reality. He appreciates entertainment as escapism from reality but doesn’t mistake one for the other. Some may argue that the movie’s final showdown is outlandish, but Tarantino made it seem plausible enough through meticulousness of setup worthy of Larry David. All things fall into place. We realize why the first dog-feeding scene was crucial. Though the discipline may have seemed excessive(and even a bit heartless), Booth is the kind of man who understands one’s got to be ready for the Moment when it happens(and no one knows when); it’s like an athlete keeps in shape at all times to be ready when the moment arrives; it’s like a boxer has to be ready throughout the fight for that flashing window of opportunity to throw the knockout blow. And despite his hallucinogenic state, he remains firmly in control of his body and senses. He isn’t fazed even by a strong dosage of LSD, albeit inhaled along with traditional tobacco smoke — out of curiosity, he’d purchased an acid-dipped cigarette from a street hippie girl. The conception of Booth is almost ‘Hillian’: Walter Hill said in an interview with FILM COMMENT magazine – he’d directed THE WARRIORS and just finished THE LONG RIDERS — that he isn’t into psychology as his heroes and anti-heroes are about resolve, ruthlessness, and action. You do it or you don’t. You can or you can’t. And, you don’t bitch or whine about it. And you pay the price when you bite off more than you can chew, as the men in THE LONG RIDERS find out: “we played a rough game and we lost.” “We did it for Dixie and nothing else.” (Incidentally, Scorsese is like both a member of the James Gang and the Pinkerton man. He couldn’t have survived for so long without one foot firmly planted on the side of the System.)
Likewise, Booth isn’t interested in dog psychology. It’s what the dog does that counts. He trained the dog to sit still while waiting for food to be served. The dog better not whine or it doesn’t eat. Likewise, a man acts or doesn’t. He’s ready or not. He wins or loses, and that’s that. Booth’s ‘Hillian’ characterization is in stark contrast to Dalton’s, a bundle of anxieties and doubts. As contrasts, they are more like Starsky and Hutch than the Dukes of Hazzard. Despite Dalton’s tough-guy persona, he is prone to mood swings and tears up often(like John Boehner). It’s fitting that the director of the TV pilot instructs him to be like ‘Sexy Hamlet’, a pop rendition of the Shakespearean hero who could barely make up his mind. For Dalton, playing DeCouteau is a showdown with himself. It’s Dalton the budding actor(artist) vs Dalton the TV persona. Tarantino, a non-stop gabber and Rubik’s Cuber about everything under the sun and on the screen, might consider himself a pop-shakespeare. He surely identifies more with Dalton with all his contradictions — bipolar mood-swings in every direction and ever eager for attention/approval — and, on that note, perhaps OUTH is a tribute to Booths of the world who, though no saints or angels, have inner strength lacking in men like Dalton, Tarantino, and Roman Polanski. The ambiguity about Booth’s dead wife — accidental manslaughter, premeditated murder, murder of passion, or murder disguised as manslaughter, we don’t know — may, in some viewers’ minds, place him in the same category as O.J. Simpson, Charles Manson, and Roman Polanski(who, though no murderer, allegedly committed a vile act that has been disputed by some), but even if Booth had been judged guilty, he would likely have accepted his fate calmly and remained the same person in body and soul. He’s not a complainer. Face to face with a gun-wielding psycho at the end, he stands his ground with unflinching acceptance of the roll of dice. In a way, Pitt does a better Achilles in OUTH than in TROY where HE was too much of a ‘sexy hamlet’.
Even though OUTH culminates in something resembling a Western shootout, how apt that the outcome is decided more by fists, knives, and dog than with pistols. The sheer physicality of violence demonstrates Booth’s toughness. He prevails with something more than a flick of the wrist, the fast draw of the Western. Also, it adds to the factor of chance, one of the movie’s main themes. After all, even the toughest guy is no match for a gun or would have difficulty with three assailants with knives(even if two are female). The confrontation soon devolves into something like the ape brawl in the opening of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY than a classic Western showdown. If Booth had a gun, his odds would have been much greater. Unarmed, he prevails with combination of nerves, toughness, canine companion & can of dog-food as projectile, Dalton’s Italian wife, and, oddly enough, LSD. It was precisely because he was ‘tripping’ that he was slow to open the cans of dog food than usual and kept the lights turned low. Therefore, the dog still sat on the couch in relative darkness, and Booth’s hand held a full can. Had he not been tripping, he might have fed the dog sooner, and the dog might not have been on the couch, the perfect spot from which to ambush the gun-wielding Manson Youth named Tex. Dalton’s Italian wife, by punching the ‘ginger-haired’ girl(Katie of Irish origin?), slowed her down some. And the can of dog-food came in handy against the Manson girl with a ghoulish ‘white face’ named Sadie(played by Mikey Madison who delivers a pitch-perfect rendition of a psycho-geek-cultist spouting off on Pop Culture in a way eerily similar to Tarantino-ism; perhaps, as an older man, Tarantino feels trepidation about having culturally fathered a brood of bastards & bitches who think and talk just like him; at any rate, her performance, along with that of ‘Pussycat’ by Margaret Qualley, another minor character as Manson Youth, is the most amazing in the movie. It has that perfect-tuning of vivid realism and vibes, which distinguished Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED as the most authentic youth film in look and feel, from within and without, where the personal and sociological meld into one. Pussycat and Sadie’s every inflection rings true to what they are, fallen angels of the street. Both are so unnerving for their strobe-light flashes of innocence and corruption, naivete and worldliness. Sadie’s darting expressions switch maddeningly between funny and furious. Pussycat is girl-as-harlot, and Sadie is girl-as-guru. It’s as if they ‘matured’ in the heartbeat of a pop song.)
Booth’s problems with them — along with ginger-haired Katie and ball-busting Janet Miller — implies a certain problem with the opposite sex. Indeed, his favorite female seems to be his dog, Brandy, but then, following the melee, even the dog runs off to Dalton’s wife. In the brief flashback(or more accurately a flashback within a flashback, like a dream within a dream) to the moment just prior to his wife’s death, we see him sitting with beer and spear-gun while his bitchy wife nags about his ‘shitty’ ‘loser’ self and the shitty boat. Did the spear accidentally go off? Did he intend to kill her? We’ll never know, but the double-flashback suggests a strong possibility that his wounded pride snapped and pulled the trigger almost unconsciously. Booth is not the beta-male type who could stand being henpecked — like the weakling husband in THE KILLING — and was bound to feel rage when his manhood was impugned.
However, even though the wife was a bitch, she had a point. After all, Booth chose the movie business(as stuntman), and Hollywood has always been about glamour and pecking order. The most democratic art is really a closed shop. Besides, the boat outing — an allusion to KNIFE IN THE WATER? — suggests he too hankers for the lifestyles of the rich. It’s just that his ilk is stuck at the periphery of the industry. No yacht for him. Stuntmen are dogs hired to make the stars look good. They are like the offensive linemen who absorb most of the brunt to protect the quarterback who gets all the accolades. It wasn’t in the cards for him to be a star, but as stuntman and aid to Dalton, he gets to hang around the ‘coolest’ happenings in the world. As the movie begins, Dalton is washed out but not quite hung out to dry, a sideshow but still part of the show, through whom Booth gets to be where the action is. One wonders if Booth is the kind of person who wanted to be a star or just someone who likes to be around stars. By nature, some people would rather play a supporting role, and Booth, for all his toughness, appears too laid-back for movie star ambition; in that, he’s like the typical Western hero who doesn’t ask too much from life; he only wants to ‘enter his house justified’, like Joel McCrea’s character in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY.
Tom Hagen(Robert Duvall) in THE GODFATHER was born to serve than lead. In contrast, Dalton, though physically less tough, craves the spotlight. In a way, one might say Booth is to Dalton what Carraway is to Gatsby, but OUTH is ultimately more fairy-tale than tragedy, one where we are invited to take part in the American Dream.
The figure of Booth also reminds us of how often the action-hero-archetype is the fantasy of loser-as-winner(made possible by extreme circumstances). It is the crisis that allows the ‘loser’ to rise above his station and become the winner, hero, savior, or lion, if only for a day. In a safe and normal world, the winner has no need to prove himself by some daring feat. He has status and money, and his whole life is a success story. In contrast, the loser has little or nothing to show for himself. But movies often take place in a world of crisis where the loser overcomes extraordinary obstacles to prove his mettle as super-winner. The crisis doesn’t call for a hero of particular brilliance or business-smarts. Rather, it calls for a man of courage, toughness, and resolve, qualities appreciated only in times of great physical duress — such qualities, though uncommon, are nevertheless far less rare than genius or super-wit; even an average man can exhibit courage-beyond-the-call-of-duty. Consider how some ordinary guy becomes a romantic hero in CLOVERFIELD in NY under attack by mega-monsters. In extreme crisis, the lowly neighborhood plumber, with guns and glory, can become top dog over all the lawyers, doctors, and managers. This is surely the case with Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS and the Liam Neeson movie TAKEN. Prole-ish nobodies who lost their wives to richer-winner men suddenly spring into action in crises and save the day and prove their worth that would have gone unnoticed without the crisis.
Steve McQueen played many such characters in movies, the type who would have mounted to a plate of beans IF NOT for the crisis. In the Playboy Mansion scene in OUTH, ‘Steve McQueen’ bemoans the fact that some of the best-looking women(such as ‘Sharon Tate’) seem to go with short brainy men than with guys like him. Of course, movie stars like Steve McQueen never had problems with attracting women, but there’s a kernel of truth to what he says. No matter how good-looking or manly Steve McQueen may have been, his luck with women would have been much diminished without stardom. (It’s understandable why Dalton hopes to hook up with Polanski. The most memorable roles are in films directed by great directors. In the end, actors are immortalized by immortal films, most of which are made by great directors though, on occasion, a middling director can make an all-time classic — in the case of Sean Connery and 007, it was the Ian Fleming brand and the ‘franchise’. Most Charles Bronson movies have been forgotten, but his role in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is forever. Where would Harrison Ford be if he hadn’t been chosen for Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER, a box-office failure but an instant cult-classic with uber-‘cool’ factor? What would Kyle MacLachlan be without David Lynch? Toshiro Mifune said he felt as a true actor only in the films of Akira Kurosawa. To be a star isn’t just about current hits but about longevity, what the Replicants seek in BLADE RUNNER. Here-today-gone-tomorrow isn’t enough for stars in movies and music. It’s like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger are stars forever whereas Peter Noone of the Herman’s Hermits is a total nonentity despite his band’s super-popularity in the mid-60s. Indeed, Dalton’s problem is that, as successful as his TV show was, it wasn’t memorable enough to have elevated him to immortal status. It’s like someone who becomes champ is champ forever, even if he loses the belt and retires. It’s for the record books. For an actor to gain immortality, the champ status, he needs a great or very good director just like a boxer needs a good trainer. Polanski made Mia Farrow and Natasha Kinski into stars.)
Winner-takes-all dynamics governs the movie world and sports. The champ gets the pie, rest get crumbs. Also, chance goes a long way to decide who becomes a movie star. In contrast, the brainy types have many ways of making the climb with combinations of wit, savvy, cleverness, creativity, talent, and trickery. For every star who made it with looks and charisma, there are many more brainy players in the industry, often with greater durability as their worth isn’t dependent on their image. Indeed, it seems incredible that a beauty like Tate ended up with a schmork like Roman Polanski — who was funny-looking and short — , but something within the female psyche may sense that a man of inner-talent is a surer bet and more impressive than a man of outer-looks and ‘superficial’ talent. (Granted, such mindset among women may be less prevalent in the current culture that has little use for respectability.) McQueen was a pretty decent actor but would have been nothing without the looks(which isn’t done justice by the actor who plays him in OUTH). Even if it may be true that movie stars get hotter chicks than, say, movie producers, directors, executives, and etc., the fact remains that there are many more behind-the-scenes players than performers on the screen. Also, the game among the players is more rational and rule-bound than among the stars. There’s far greater likelihood that a man of intelligence and drive will find a place in Hollywood than a man of looks and charisma. So many coulda-been-stars never made it, not even close. World of brain power is more like astronomy, world of star-power is more like astrology.
Anyway, on the Booth-Women issue, it’s not so much that Booth has problems with women per se as the fact that Hollywood attracts the kind of women for whom enough isn’t enough. Mary Lou in Tennessee might be content with her man taking her out on a boat to catch some bullheads and crawfish, but in La La Land where the buzz is all about where the stars live, what they drive, what they wear, and what yacht they own, a mere boat doesn’t cut it. Indeed, this star-mentality seems to affect just about every woman in the movie, even the ‘hippie’ girls – after all, the drug culture was about feeling ‘cool’, ‘groovy’, and ‘far out’, as if one were a cosmic-celebrity, and it was closely linked to Rock Culture which, back then, was ‘cooler’ than even Hollywood(where the likes of Dean Martin were still around). Then, it’s only natural that the Counterculture and Hollywood seem to share a certain rapport in OUTH, at least among younger generation of writers, directors, and producers. Many young people in the Sixties ‘dropped out’ to be hippies or ‘freaks’(their favored term), not so much to struggle for peace, truth, and harmony but to have it easy, indeed as if everyone ‘cool’ was deserving of manna from heaven. The dream promised that if you cut yourself from the stultifying materialist America and took some drugs, walked barefoot in the morning dew, grooved to psychedelic music, and spouted mantras about ‘love’ and ‘peace, then everything will magically work out for you, the child of Aquarius. One could behold the New Eden. Go touch Indians, and you shall be blessed by heaven with material goodies to live as flower children. Ostensibly the message was anti-materialist but premised on guarantee of easy life for the believers. No wonder then that so many arrived at Woodstock concert without provisions. They expected manna from heaven just by coming to a ‘cool’ place. The ‘hippies’ in OUTH may claim to despise the materialistic values of Hollywood, but their worldview has been shaped by TV and movies. Even in their attack on Hollywood, they act out the Hollywood formula as heavies. In a way, what they made of Spahn’s Ranch looks like a junkyard imitation of Hollywood. In the public imagination, movie stars and celebrities have it easy with leisure and luxury. As big shots and stars, they are entitled divas.
Though lowly, luckless, and grubby, the ‘hippies’ or Manson Youths on the ranch seem to harbor the mentality of movie stars. Just by hanging out and having fun, they think they’re special. And some of them are glued to the TV as if their lives would be devoid of meaning without distractions. Deluded as they are, their expectations do tell us something about the cult of deception that is mass entertainment. While one may marvel at ‘Sharon Tate’ as a beauty married to a superstar director and living the high life, what is her talent really? She looks fantastic, but what does she possess as a human being, a sentient creature, that makes her more entitled than others? She is high-spirited and bubbly but also bubble-headed. If not for her looks(genetic roll of the dice) and lucky career breaks, she would have been no more special than any of the Manson Youths. Pussycat is pretty and has a personality not unlike Tate’s. One may even say she’s a Poor Man’s Tate. Indeed, Tarantino suggests as much by showing both characters with their bare feet perched over objects: Over theater seat with ‘Tate’, on car dashboard with ‘Pussycat’. Also, both females are attached to some crazy guy, Manson or Polanski, as if to suggest Polanski was a smart Manson while Manson was a stupid Polanski. (Especially beginning with REPULSION, Polanski exhibited an alarming perversity along with a prodigious talent.)
But apart from the divergence in talent and luck — child Polanski miraculously survived the Shoah — , was there a real difference between Manson/Pussycat and Polanski/Tate? Polanski could act out his perversity through the medium of movies(and be celebrated for it, as was later the case with Tarantino), whereas the only outlet for Manson’s sickness was the real world(and the only fame availed to him was notoriety); the talented commit murder in art, the untalented commit murder in life. In Atom Egoyan’s FELICIA’S JOURNEY, it’s as if Hitchcock’s doppelganger in the form of Bob Hoskins is actually living out the obsessions of the Master of Suspense. A movie like PSYCHO and many others play on the duality of the movie audience’s feelings about movie stars: Reverence and Resentment, the identification with a glamorous star and the delight of watching the object of one’s envy destroyed. Hitchcock himself loved beautiful women but also hated them because he could never win their love. In a way, cinema turns all of us into a Norman Bates. It subverts our sense of identity because we are invited to identify with larger-than-life movie stars. We become like the bald-headed fatso in the horror IDENTITY who imagines himself to be other people. It’s no wonder that identity politics went from specified identities — black, brown, red, yellow, Jewish, etc. — to fantastic ones, like man-as-woman, woman-as-man, fat-woman as fashion model, ugly as the new beautiful, illegals as ‘dreamers’, dumb as genius, and so-many-‘genders’.
(Both the Manson youths and today’s SJW-Antifa crazies give credence to the notion of the Banality of Evil as conceived by Hannah Arendt. Their behaviors and deeds demonstrate that stupidity and conformity can be shallow accomplices of evil. And yet, can banality really be evil? Can true evil be shallow? Is it more a case of banality FOR evil than OF evil? It’s often been asked, how could the entire German nation join in Hitler’s madness? Surely, not every German between 1933 to 1945 was a little Hitler. There is a deepness to true madness and evil as darkness isn’t possible without depth. Most people aren’t deep enough to be the devil incarnate or a saint, another creature of depth. Most people are shallow. But as shallowness lacks gravitational pull, shallow souls tend to gravitate toward deeper souls, which could be good[Jesus Christ] or evil[George Soros]. Then, as more and more shallow souls join in with the deeper soul, it creates the greater force to attract even more shallow souls until the unity reaches critical mass. Paradoxically, Nazi Germany wouldn’t have been possible if every German were indeed a Hitler. Hitler had a deep dark soul, one with tremendous gravitational pull. It was evil but powerful. If Hitler had been surrounded by other Hitlers, each Hitler would have refused to give himself to the will of another Hitler. Each Hitler would have insisted on ‘doing it my way’. Hitler was dangerous precisely because most Germans were shallow-souled. Thus, it was less a case of Germany going mad in unison than a case of shallow German souls being pulled into the Hitler’s black hole. Of course, Hitler didn’t think himself evil and believed he was 100% right about everything, but then, there is no greater evil than the radical certainty that one knows everything, be it ‘leftist’ or ‘rightist’. The same dynamics played out in Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It begs the question, why did so many Chinese youths act so crazy? Because each and every one was as nutty as Mao? No, it was because most of them were shallow, neither saintly nor evil in their own right. But as shallows, they couldn’t think on their own and were swept along by the greater will. If it weren’t for the crazy leadership of Charles Manson or Jim Jones, the chances are that most of their flock would have been okay people. If Manson told them to kill, they killed. If Manson had told them not to kill, they wouldn’t have hurt a fly. Still, one may argue that most of us would not go and kill just because someone told us to. But we’d be overlooking one crucial factor. If someone we hardly knew told us to kill, no, we wouldn’t kill and, if anything, would be appalled by the suggestion. Indeed, even the Manson youths wouldn’t have obeyed the kill-order of just anyone. They did as Manson ordered because they trusted and revered him. There is something to be learned from Pussycat’s commentary about the mass ‘murder’ in Vietnam. As she isn’t under the spell of the US government, her ilk would not take orders to go and kill the ‘gooks’. Yet, her ilk will take orders from Master Charlie. Similarly, the very people who were totally appalled by the Manson murders felt it was their duty to go halfway around the world and kill tons of ‘gooks’ for ‘freedom’. So, what do both sides have in common? They are shallow and will obey the Deep Power that they trust and revere. All those German soldiers who obeyed orders in World War II were no different. While most of us will not commit murder, look all around and there is no lack of banality-for-evil. It’s all a matter of whom you trust and revere. So, while progs who saw Donald Trump as evil incarnate assured themselves that they would resist and NEVER do as The Donald orders them to, they mindlessly support the policies, no matter how demented, of those they trust and revere. It is that TRUST that blinds people to evil. The TRUST makes them take to heart the narrative pushed on them by the Power. As progs have been brainwashed by the Jew-run media and academia, they’ve been instilled with trust and reverence for Globo-Homo-Shlomo supremacism. So, if globalists say ‘gay marriage is holy’ and ‘trannies are women’, all those progs just go along, just like Germans in WWII and Mansons who killed Tate. But then, we see much the same among MAGA people. While they found nothing good about Obama, they saw goodness and righteousness in whatever Trump did. So, even though the assassination of Iranian general Soleimani was a sheer act of dastardly evil, the MAGA idiots cheer because, in their shallow eyes, The Donald was being a Proud and Tough American. Despite their fancy credentials and urbane ways, the kind of people who control most of the commanding heights of the US empire are morally on the level of Hitler and Manson. They are deranged and depraved Jewish supremacists with deep wells of evil in their souls. Of course, like Hitler, they don’t consider themselves as evil but totally justified in the right to rule as the master race over inferior goyim. And because they control media and everything else, all the shallow people in government and progs in the streets go along with the agenda. The globalists have the trust and respect of the managerial class and the proglodytes. So, if they’re told that Jews have a right to crush the Palestinians, hurrah. If they’re told the US must remain in Syria and wreak havoc against Iran and use Ukraine against Russia, they are 100% with the program. And if these globalist masters, whom the shallow progs admire and trust, said that Donald Trump or Tulsi Gabbard was EVIL for wanting to bring US troops home, the prog masses nodded in agreement and bark like dogs. One antidote to falling under the spell of people like Hitler, George Soros, or Charles Manson is to cultivate a bit of Hitler-Soros-Manson within oneself as a kind of ‘spiritual’ antibiotic. Hitler wouldn’t have obeyed Hitler, Manson wouldn’t have obeyed Manson. No, it’s the weaker and shallow types who are most eager to obey. This is why it’s fitting that Tarantino didn’t introduce the Manson girls as inherently evil. No, they are just shallow kids with both a bit of sunshine and a bit of darkness who could have gone either way depending on whom they came to trust and admire.)
One thing for sure, both Pussycat and ‘Tate’ carry with them a sense of entitlement wherever they go. One may glimpse a generous side to them as Pussycat seems a peppy trooper among the Manson Youths while ‘Tate’ gives free rides to hitchhiking hippies. And yet, Pussycat is also a moocher and takes advantage of tourists who pick her up for her looks. All she has to do is wave her hand, smile, and move her hips. And ‘Tate’ feels entitled to a red-carpet treatment at a movie theater because she is the star on the screen. She pays top dollars for a first edition of TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES for her superstar husband, but she walks in free to a matinee of THE WRECKING CREW. The issue is not the money, of course, as she could have paid the ticket price many times over. It’s really her vanity. She is a pop princess for whom peons exist to greet and praise her, but then, so many people are more than eager and delighted to do so. Even in a democracy with endless talk of equality, so many people are infatuated with fairy-tale romances of princes and princesses, roles commanded by movie/music stars and athletes especially since the advent of mass media. ‘Polanski’, who grew up under communism, is attired like an aristocrat and drives a fancy antique car. The princess’ kiss didn’t turn the frog into a handsome prince, but being a frog-prince is the next best thing. ‘Tate’ walks on sunshine and seems a kindly person who can brighten anyone’s day(though her mood darkens when ‘Manson’ comes hovering around the house), and everything about her is predicated on the whole world being dazzled by her looks and spinning around her like an LP. (That said, some people blessed with looks radiate warmth while others throw daggers, the difference between Michelle Burke’s character and Parker Posey’s character in DAZED AND CONFUSED.) Indeed, her idea of a good day is waking up late, charging her batteries with pop music, going shopping, watching a movie, and partying with friends back home. She visits a bookstore but what really matters is the movies, the theater on the other side of the street.
What was it about Polanski that drew Sharon Tate to him? Now, there’s been plenty of cases of pretty ‘shikses’ going with nerdy or nebbish Jewish men — consider the sexual/romantic history of Woody Allen, a man even less physically appealing than Polanski — , but still, why Polanski? After all, a woman of her beauty and promising career as a model could have latched onto any number of men richer(and certainly handsomer) than Polanski. Was there something about him beyond success and stardom? Are certain women turned on by the mysterious ‘sex appeal’ of creativity, something they fetishize like some men fetishize women’s feet. (While some dim women are simply incapable of noticing and appreciating intelligence, others are drawn to it like cold-blooded reptiles to a sun-baked road. It’s as if they suffer from brilliance-deficiency-syndrome and want to be with and have children with partners with high intelligence. Before Tate and Polanski, it was Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller.) Or, is it a perverse element of danger? There have been many cases of women writing love letters to serial killers and other vermin in prison. This type of women seem particularly attracted to men who signal danger. (But then, there are men who are attracted to femme fatales despite the risks. Indeed, risk factor can be a turn-on.) Science has shown that women are turned on by humor, and Polanski, being a clever Jew, certainly had that. But perhaps his perversity, or the horror-factor, was a bigger turn-on for Tate. Polanski was a contradiction, both tyrant and libertine. He was like a sharp-toothed weasel(as in the cameo in CHINATOWN).
Male tyranny can pressure a woman to be traditional & respectable(like in Bunuel’s EL) or to be trashy & reckless. After all, both the Muslim patriarch and the Negro pimp(or Jewish pornographer) exercise male tyranny over women. Sharia is about keeping women in their traditional roles as mothers/wives, and ‘Shakira’ is about turning women into skank-ass whores. The Pakistani/Muslim practice of ‘grooming’ white girls in the UK is closer to ‘Shakira’ than Sharia as the men aren’t interested in white females as good girls but easy-whores. Though feminism and pop culture usually associate female oppression with conservatism, traditionalism, and sexual repression, there’s been far worse male tyranny in ‘liberating’ and ‘animalizing’ female sexuality. When Jewish pudkins like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein urged on white girls to be ‘liberated’ and ‘uninhibited’, they were turning the girls into sex toys of powerful men. And Polanski the libertine ‘sexually liberated’ a white girl by drugging her and fecal-penetrating her. If BITTER MOON is indicative of Polanski’s sexual history, it’s surely a lesson on the pitfalls of ‘sexual liberation’. As in LAST TANGO IN PARIS, male tyranny can just as easily push a woman to be a whore as a wife. Conservative male tyranny prefers woman as faithful wife while the liberal male tyranny prefers woman as wild whore. Most certainly, liberal male tyranny is more problematic because of the contradiction of forcing a woman to be out-of-control. After all, who’s to say an unscrupulous whore will remain true to her pimp? Who’s to say a woman may not ditch her man IF he insists she be a swinging whore? In LAST TANGO IN PARIS, the woman eventually runs out on the male tyrant who pushed her to sexual excess. (Indeed, she runs to a room with her late father’s portrait and uses his gun to kill her lover-cum-stalker.)
Or the sensation-obsessed liberal male tyranny may lose interest in the woman once the thrill is gone. It’s like the orange rind is tossed once the juice is squeezed. That’s precisely what happens in BITTER MOON after the man has had his fun with the woman and grew tired. If TESS is somewhat odd in this regard, it’s because the contemptible yet all-too-human male tyrant wants both the wife and the whore in Tess.
According to Wikipedia, Polanski wanted Tate to be a ‘hippie’ than a ‘housewife’. But he married her and was planning a family with her, so he must have appreciated her as wife as well. At any rate, liberal male tyranny is problematic not only for its whore-preference but its pressure on women to be whore-ish. In other words, it’s not content that some women are whores; it demands even Good Girls be whores. The Good Girl is mocked, belittled, humiliated, and yes, tyrannized. Consider our current Jew-run culture. It’s liberal male tyranny gone wild, indeed to the point where girls feel something’s the matter with them if they don’t out all the time and even do gross stuff like fecal-penetration(aka anal penetration). In a way, pop-saturated American Culture is like National Grooming by Jewish men of Hollywood, TV, Pop Music, and public opinion. Disney Palace might as well be a brothel. The tyrannical and intolerant message says SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU, GIRL if you remain a virgin until marriage or choose to be a loving wife/mother, or if you prefer white men over non-white men, especially the Negroes. But because Jewish liberal male tyranny lurks under the label of ‘liberation’, so many white whores think themselves ‘free’ and ‘independent’, as if their choice of ugly tattoos, piercings, and trashy behavior was chosen freely than foisted on them by the Jew-run media-mafia. Jews turned all of US into one big casino-brothel where cucky-wuck white dads allow their girls to grow up to talk, dress, and act like celebrity-prostitutes pushed by the Industry.
Polanski has been a beguiling figure for embodying so many contradictory sensibilities and impulses. He’s been a true artist but also a con-artist. Indeed, it hasn’t been easy to call on which side his self-indulgent proclivities will fall next. After all, vulgarity and shamelessness can be in service to artistic courage, honesty, and daring OR in service to commercial appeal, exploitation, and sensationalism. Explicit sexuality can lead to powerful art like LAST TANGO IN PARIS & MULHOLLAND DR. or stupid porny garbage like PORKY’S & DEEP THROAT. Graphic violence can result in great films like THE WILD BUNCH and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE or utter garbage like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and FRIDAY THE 13TH series. With artists like Luis Bunuel, Shohei Imamura, Emir Kusturica, and even the loathsome R.W. Fassbinder, you knew what side they were on: Art. Unfortunately, most depictions of sexuality and violence have been for the lowest common denominator of commercialism. And then, there are figures like Brian De Palma and even Oliver Stone who tend to indulge in cheap sensationalism but have, in their best moments, risen to complex artistry. Same goes for John Carpenter, essentially a commercial sensationalist who, on rare occasions, has exhibited a kind of pop genius, as in THE THING, his only true masterpiece. Ingenuity is an odd thing. The ingenuous often have no idea what they’re doing, but this seeming ‘innocence’ can be more inspired than the contributions of knowing individuals. It’s common among creatives, not so much among the criticals.
But, what of someone like David Cronenberg who has often been both totally immersed in trash and totally committed to art? Certainly a far more intellectual film-maker than Carpenter. Still, Cronenberg has created a unified style that can aptly be called ‘Cronenbergian’, like ‘Bergmanesque’ or ‘Lynchian’. His conceptualizations function within a closed box, a personal universe unto itself. Same goes for Stanley Kubrick, especially as he went about transforming genre material into full-blown visionary art. After Kubrick laid his hands on science fiction and horror, the results were unlike anything prior. THE SHINING is an overwhelming and imposing work that owes little if anything to the history of horror movies, just like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, though part of the sci-fi genre, sprung anew from Kubrick’s mind like Athena from the head of Zeus.
But Polanski has been a different animal, bewilderingly all over the map as a personal artist, professional hack, arch-moralist, demonic nihilist, highbrow film-maker, lowbrow prankster, obsessive perfectionist, and sloppy improviser. While numerous film-makers have straddled the fence between art and commerce, it’s difficult to think of another who was so insistent on art and so yielding to ‘trash’. In this regard, Polanski may be the most promiscuous artist in film history. It’d be as if Ingmar Bergman also made cheapie horrors and throwaway thrillers. How does one square the man who crafted KNIFE IN THE WATER with the one responsible for FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS(which brought Polanski and Tate together)? Or the one who made the sober Shoah-film THE PIANIST, preceded by THE NINTH GATE, a work that seems Kubrickian in ambition but (Dario)Argentoan in delivery. Polanski directed one of the best Shakespearean adaptations, MACBETH, but also the inexplicable mess PIRATES. It’s like tragedy and comedy gone haywire in a bipolar mind. When Polanski has his mad-mental-circus under control, he can deliver something as dark and powerful as CHINATOWN and THE TENANT, both of which are black-comedy-tragedy. The tragi-comic mode is commonplace in art, and Polanski-on-fire can do it as well as anyone, but sometimes, his take on tragedy and comedy isn’t so much balanced or complementary as chaotic and arbitrary, less a carefully measured vision of the human condition than a product of impetuous whim.
In terms of public persona, Polanski has been like a restless child who won’t sit still for a meal or to tie the shoelaces. Or like a college student who won’t settle on a major. He refuses to be nailed down to a methodology, worldview, or set of expectations, let alone a set of obligations or a sense of calling. He’s been Zeligishly ready to pick up or drop anything whenever he pleases. In contrast, Spielberg has stuck true to two modes of film-making: mainstream popcorn entertainment and serious middlebrow fare, his chosen callings in life, and despite their differences, all his movies have that Spielberg Magic and sentimentality. And we know more-or-less what to expect from Clint Eastwood, Brian DePalma, and Martin Scorsese. They know of their reputations/expectations and, despite few calculated deviations here and there, stick to their delivery routes. Jean-Luc Godard gained a reputation as the enfant-terrible of French Cinema, and he’s kept at it as provocateur, contrarian, or dissident constantly at odds with most of cinema, commercial and artistic. In contrast, Polanski has disdained any single province lest it trap him in a cul-de-sac or tenement.
Perhaps, his childhood experience in the Warsaw Ghetto was enough. He feels ‘safe’ only when unbound and mobile. Even when he devotes considerable time and energy to a particular project, as with TESS, he then goes off to do something entirely different. David Lean settled into the role of epic-director, Francois Truffaut honed his reputation as a romantic-humanist, Nagisa Oshima relished being a radical film-maker, and etc. They became defined and distinguishable. But for someone like Polanski, they might have seemed ‘trapped’ in their own reputations. Reputations breed obligations — It is too ‘bourgeois’. Polanski wanted the radical freedom to reinvent or redirect himself as he chose at any given moment. Like Peter Sellers, he has felt most alive with many masks than a fixed face. It’s like every round of Poker starts anew.
Tarantino, whose enthusiasm wanders all over the map — when excited with something, it’s the greatest thing in the world, that is until he finds the next greatest thing ever — , may identify with this re-inventive side of Polanski, though his cinematic signature is far more obvious. Despite superficial similarities between them, Polanski’s lack of compass is stranger because he’s shown himself capable of being a serious artist with a high degree of self-awareness comparable to that of the great European masters. Even Woody Allen, who was unsure of himself from late 70s to late 80s — he emulated to varying degrees of success the European masters he admired most — , eventually settled on a style and voice he felt most comfortable with. In films like KNIFE IN THE WATER, CUL-DE-SAC, and THE TENANT, whether one likes them or not, Polanski was the dedicated artist whose expressions flowed from his innermost thoughts and anxieties. Why then didn’t he stick with this mode? Perhaps, he was disadvantaged as a film artist because, unlike Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, or Andrej Wajda, he didn’t feel an affinity with or wasn’t identified with a particular national cinema. Such might have been possible had he remained in Poland and secured his reputation as a Polish ‘auteur’, but he didn’t feel very Polish. Outside Poland, he was a nomad and drifter. Bergman could at least rely on Sweden to support him as a national brand. Fellini could lean on the Italian national cinema. Despite their personalism and even irreverence/ingratitude, they benefited greatly from national support, as were the cases with Nagisa Oshima in Japan and Satyajit Ray in India. In contrast, Polanski had no claim to a national cinema that might support him as its cultural envoy. He was more like a door-to-door salesman without a nation. His talent attracted interested parties in London, Paris, and other European cities, but could he weather box-office failures like Fellini, Godard, and Bergman who, despite setbacks, were prized as national treasures and might secure future funding?
For Polanski, the only place to call home outside Poland was Hollywood, the empire of the Jews, the place where his fellow Tribesmen had made their fortunes by choosing commerce over art. Hollywood was certainly not about ‘art’, a dirty word in the industry. And yet, Polanski had made his name as an artist. (In a way, knee-jerk Anti-Americanism later saved him as the French were more than willing to offer him sanctuary as an important artist and ‘French Citizen’ presumably hounded and persecuted by ‘puritanical’ American philistines. He became the darling of French Anti-Americanism if not of French Nationalism. Still, despite the success of TESS, he had a rather rocky career in Europe and made most of his films in English despite being effectively banned from UK and US. A case of, “You can take the Jew out of Hollywood, but you can’t take Hollywood out of the Jew?” On the other hand, the vain and hedonistic side of Polanski wanted the good life. He wanted to be Hugh Hefner or a Rock Star, and besides, the deprivations of his formative years in Poland made him over-compensate with fruits of the West. He was like a hungry coyote. And once he got a taste of worldwide stardom with ROSEMARY’S BABY, could he slink back to making personal art films of limited appeal for a limited audience? Fellini loved the good life as well, the la dolce vita, and was quite a party animal, but a residue of Catholic upbringing remained — no matter how much he tried to purge it — and kept him resolutely in the mode of Art Cinema, his new church. No matter how much sex and frivolity he added to his films, it was in the spirit of Truth, even if packed with lies. In contrast, Polanski had far fewer inhibitions about bouncing between Art and Genre and everything in between. In works like ROSEMARY’S BABY and CHINATOWN, this peculiarity was a key advantage, but as the title of one of his films suggests, he sometimes got lost in the WHAT?)
The range of identities/personalities manifested in Polanski’s role in THE TENANT was quite revealing. The viewer might venture to guess Polanski has always been mentally ill(than merely mentally sick) but managed to get by in the real world with sheer force of will and intelligence(rather like Keir Dullea’s character in BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING). For the sake of psychological health, no sane person would want to stand in the shoes of the man who directed and acted in THE TENANT. Its pathology goes beyond melancholy or morbidity one might find with Bergman or Lynch; it goes over the cliff into sheer madness, all the more unsettling because Polanski chose to play the lead himself; it’d be as if Bertolucci played Brando’s role in LAST TANGO IN PARIS. When Truffaut played himself in DAY FOR NIGHT, aka AMERICAN NIGHT, it was to make himself charming and respectable. Even Woody Allen, despite the self-deprecatory winks and nods in his films, made himself funny and lovable, also true of Albert Brooks whose characters are rather endearing despite the annoying personalities. As for Fellini, he used Marcello Mastroianni as his alter ego in 8 ½. It’s difficult to think of another director of Polanski’s caliber who bared himself so nakedly in film, which may be why he didn’t do it ever again; one may mention Chantal Ackerman in JE TU IL EL and F.W. Fassbinder in some of his works, but Ackerman was completely without talent and Fassbinder’s grubbiness was worn on his sleeve; it was about as interesting as watching a man eat his own booger. Of course, Polanski could insist he was just playing a character and it had nothing to do with himself, but he ain’t fooling anyone.
There is obviously a psycho-tribal angle to all this, one that fits the larger pattern of Jewish involvement in the arts, literature, and cinema with profound consequences. In Polanski, even more than in other Jewish artist-entertainers, we see the combination of the rabbinical mind and the ravenous merchant, not least because of the wild swings between them. Polanski’s shamelessness, manifested in life and art throughout his career, is indicative of the nature of Jewish prowess, prestige, and power in the 20th century. Shamelessness could be used to reveal hidden truth or revel in open desire. On the one hand, few groups have been as accomplished as Jews in employing shamelessness as an artistic advantage and expressive arsenal. Philip Roths’ PORTONY’S COMPLAINT wouldn’t have been possible without its abject shamelessness. Norman Mailer, by some estimates the greatest American writer of the second half of 20th century, was nothing if not shameless. As if channeling Sigmund Freud on Viagra, Jewish prestige in arts & letters gained tremendously by the greater will-to-shamelessness(or the swill-to-power), the will to push and probe deeper into the human condition. And Roman Polanski was one of its most notable practitioners.
On the other hand, Jews also got fabulously rich and made key gains in pop culture and vice industries precisely because they were more shameless than Wasps and Catholics, who were more anxious about matters of morality and reputation(which is precisely what made them so vulnerable to blackmail). Christian morality was based on self-denial and repression whereas Jewish personality favored self-expression and actualization. Christianity and Anglo dignity were about saying NO to unfettered urges, whereas Jewishness and Semitic obsessiveness were about saying YES to one’s desires. Thus, in some respects, 20th century culture has been one of the Jewish Serpent tempting the White Adam & Eve with the forbidden fruit. In a way, even the Jewish support of Civil Rights Movement was a way to push Jungle Fever on the white race, i.e. with white boys worshiping black athletes and white girls drooling over black studs, the white race would be cuck-slaved to blacks as physical proxies of Jewish brain power. Jews sensed shamelessness would be a huge boon to their power & wealth and would ensure the psycho-sensual enslavement of whites to Jews as merchants of pleasure. It also came to define medicine as Jewish Pharma got fabulously rich by addicting countless whites to the ‘easy’ fix of opioids.
More than Jews, white Protestants and Catholics tended to regard cinema as ‘sinema’, thus lowering their competitive heat vis-a-vis Jews for pop culture dominance. And of course, Jewish shamelessness also won them lots of women, especially at a time when Wasp and Catholic men were raised to be more gentlemanly. Under such circumstances, even a nebbish Jew could gain an edge with more willingness to make a passe/move, crack dirty jokes, fondle the ladies, and pull out his schlong, as recent #MeToo scandal has made it all too clear. While many women react badly to such behavior, some either relent under pressure or are turned on by it, like the toy Druish princess by the toy Dark Helmet in SPACEBALLS, directed of course by none other than Mel “It’s good to be the King” Brooks. The Jewish subconscious may admire Polanski as the ultimate embodiment of Jewish gains in both art and commerce by the way of higher levels of shamelessness. Polanski has been like an artist and a pornographer, poet and pimp.
Even Polanski’s ever-shifting trajectory of residency and citizenship has been a contradiction within a contradiction(as well as an absurdist tale of ending up where he was born, France, after a whirlwind tour through war, communism, fame, scandal, and escape). His ‘exile’ from Poland to the West was, at once, a departure from home and a movement toward home, or the truer home. Jews in Poland never quite felt at home, especially after World War II and the Shoah; and, even communism, once heavily Jewish, became considerably less so once ‘Zionists’ were purged from the ranks. In a way, Polanski’s move to Hollywood was like a homecoming, as had been even truer of Jewish emigres prior to WWII. At least there was Israel as the Jewish Homeland when Polanski arrived in Hollywood, but for the earlier Jewish emigres(especially from Germany, once a movie capital teeming with talent) who made their way to Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s, it was like a homecoming. Indeed, prior to Israel’s creation, was there anything in the world as Jewishy as Hollywood? It was like fantasy Zion(or Zionic Imperium) before Jews established Israel and gained dominance in New York. Whereas Jews in the East Coast had to contend with the entrenched power structures of Anglo-Americans and others, Jews created Hollywood as their baby nearly from scratch. It was their meta-nation or even meta-empire before they could found Israel and gain hegemony over America. So, in a way, Polanski’s move to Hollywood, as had been the case with so many European Jewish emigres, was more like a homecoming than an ‘exile’/departure from home despite having grown up in Poland and Europe. Hollywood was created by Jews as the New Jerusalem(and also Babylon), a theme of the Coens’ HAIL, CAESAR!, whereas Poland, despite all the Jewish wealth and influence at certain periods, was the civilization of the ‘Dumb Polacks’. In that sense, Polanski’s flight from Hollywood was more like an exile as he couldn’t return to the Jewish Babylon of Hollywood. And yet, there’s another layer of contradiction because his move to Europe was also a genuine homecoming in the sense that he’d originally made his name as an artist(than entertainer), a stature of greater significance in Europe than in the US. And at his core, he is more artist than entertainer.
Anyway, considering how Hollywood marketed its ‘values’ and vanities as what America is(or should be) about, is it any wonder that so many people weaned on TV, movies, and pop culture grew up to feel entitled to be ‘cool’, ‘beautiful’, ‘badass’, or ‘awesome’? Notice that the current tenor of ‘leftism’ has largely been shaped by celebrities, stars, and movers-and-shakers in entertainment, many of whom are homos, divas, narcissists, and egotists whose minds, in turn, have been molded by Jewish supremacist trend-setters in academia, media, and ‘think-tanks’. In other words, Jews lead, goyim follow. If Jews say ‘climate change’, that’s where most goyim go. If Jews push Holy Homo, goyim kneel and do the pray-to-gay.
If Sharon Tate(the real person) and ‘Sharon Tate’(in OUTH) have something worth being narcissistic about, what about all the grunks who lack the look and luck? They would have to make do with their plainness or even ugliness. But then, if Universal Narcissism has been elevated to ‘human right’, doesn’t everyone have the ‘right’ to be ‘beautiful’ and ‘glamorous’? To uphold such ‘rights’, shouldn’t all of us pretend that men-who-wanna-be-women are such darlings and a gross black woman ‘twerking’ her fat booty is the greatest thing since sliced watermelon?
In a way, Roman Polanski was himself a man haunted by the Mansion/Manson Complex. REPULSION suggests a dark obsession with feminine beauty. Francois Truffaut worshiped beautiful women, even to the point where male characters were sacrificed on their altar. Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character in MISSISSIPPI MERMAID swallows poison despite knowing his grifter wife is plotting to murder him. Jean-Luc Godard’s view of women was more cynical/sardonic, but it didn’t reach the level of cruelty found in Polanski’s films. REPULSION puts Catherine Deneuve, the beauty of UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, through a ringer that makes Hitchcock’s PSYCHO look like a picnic. There are reminders of Luis Bunuel, but Bunuel’s mockery was aimed not so much at men or women in particular but at the system of hypocrisy and self-deception perpetuated by the Catholic Church and the bourgeoisie. The real focus was on the social-sexual repression that idolizes women as madonnas but are lusted after as whores.
In contrast, Polanski’s sadism is directed at feminine beauty itself. Perhaps, Jewish men were more likely to be afflicted with the Mansion/Manson Complex. After all, Jews had the means(of intelligence and ability) to become rich and buy mansions-as-nests for their shikse wives as stepford goddesses. (When Polanski made REPULSION, he was not yet an international superstar. It was his success with ROSEMARY’S BABY that pushed him over the top as a big-time director, so much so that he was sought after by women despite being married to Tate at the time. The irony! He makes a movie that torments and degrades a female character to no end, but it becomes the basis for attracting so many hot chicks. Women are funny that way.) Yet, the fact that they rejected Jewish women for the ‘Aryan’ goddess only reminded them of their own ‘ugliness’ and Portnoic desperation(or Portnoia), and this made them hate and revile the very thing they lusted after. (There is an element of desecration as well as desperation. The Jew is enthralled with ‘Aryan’ beauty and wants to possess it. He wants to plant his seed in the womb of the shikse princess, but it would be the ‘ugly’ seed in the beautiful womb — indeed, look at the product of mating between Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel. The Jew chooses the ‘shikse’ for her beauty but fears the child will be ‘ugly’ like his Semitic self. Thus, the desperation of lust turns into a desecration of beauty. In a way, it’s a kind of ‘murder’, of beauty if not of life. And yet, it’s also revenge for the Nazi humiliation of the Ugly Jew as unworthy of co-existing and marrying the Aryan.)
REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY want to simultaneously make love to ‘Aryan’ beauty and murder it. It’s a paradoxical repulsion resulting from an all-too-powerful attraction. Is it any wonder that Jewish men, who are so obsessed with ‘Aryan’ female beauty, are also most eager to murder and destroy it by promoting jungle-fever and interracism? They want the Beast within them(or in the form of the ghastly negro) to violate and desecrate the very genetics of white beauty. The white womb is colonized in ROSEMARY’S BABY by Jewish Devil seed by way of ‘ethnic’ John Cassavetes. And in life, one might say Sharon Tate was figuratively ‘murdered’ in her womb by Polanski’s genetics, the kind that made him resemble a male Ruth Gordon(a character in ROSEMARY’S BABY). Thus, Tate’s case could be considered a double desecration: ‘Aryan’ Womb colonized by squeamish Nibelung Mischling-baby and then mutilated by batshit-crazy Manson Minions. Mansion met Manson in her life and death. But in the movie, the Mansion Youths set their sights on another house, that of Rick Dalton who floats on water and owns a flamethrower. Fire and water are essential elements. (Is the water an allusion to Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, which also happened in 1969?)
Why is Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST grander and more epic than most Westerns? Time-span isn’t particularly long, and its themes were featured in countless American Westerns. At 165 minutes, it is longer than most American Westerns, but there have been plenty of long Hollywood movies that didn’t particularly feel epic. (Also, if length is synonymous with epic, shows like BREAKING BAD and SOPRANOS would be most epic, but they’re not. It seems epic-ness has more to do with feel than length, with volume than size. While time is a crucial factor, so is the treatment of themes. Even if a story takes place over a short period, it can feel epic if the themes loom larger-than-life. An opera based on a dramatic work with the same characters and plot feels more epic due to the sheer volume of its passion. While length is essential to epic narrative, excessive of it has a thinning effect. Key to epic scale is to pack as much volume into finite space. Thus, the characters turn into archetypes; the themes grow larger; the plot gains mythic overtones, all within a contained universe. A full bottle of wine and an empty bottle are same in size, but one has volume while the other does not. Epic must be a full bottle. An epic painting is exactly that which incorporates so much within the finite frame. This isn’t to be confused with clutter of details, which alone won’t be epic. Rather, every detail has to reverberate as metaphor or symbol with larger meaning and suggestion. Thus, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO isn’t just about love but LOVE, a universal and timeless theme of Romance and Tragedy struggling against all odds in the vastness of Russian history and nature. It has both space and volume. [RYAN’S DAUGHTER failed as epic because it had the volume but not the space. Try as one might, it’s a stretch to pretend an Irish village could be the setting of an epic tale. Bertolucci’s THE CONFORMIST found just the right balance between the intimate and the epic, the psychological and the historical.] If DOCTOR ZHIVAGO were a TV series with a much higher degree of intimacy with characters and story, the mythic proportions would diminish; they’d be like characters in a serial, as opposed to larger-than-life figures in a self-contained epic universe. This is one reason why Charles Dickens’ stories don’t feel epic despite the length. It’s about accumulation of momentary details than the larger canvas.)
Leone’s ‘Cosmic Western’ owes its epic feel in part to ritual orchestrations of violence. They heave to crescendo, eternity in the moment. Unlike the faster-paced ‘Dollars Trilogy’, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST moves like an ominous ocean wave unfurling its full power as it nears shore. It’s almost as if Leone conceived it to be the Western to end all Westerns; indeed, following THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, his plan was to bid farewell to the Western and work on a gangster epic based on the novel THE HOODS(that would later become ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA), but he couldn’t pass up the offer to make a Western on the grandest scale, especially as its hoped-for success might finance his gangster movie; alas, the epic Western failed commercially in the US, and there was no interest to fund his dream project until more than a decade later.
If Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and Jacques Tati’s PLAYTIME have something in common with ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, it’s the sense of having all the time in the world. They aren’t so much slow as unhurried. Slow movies feel slow, whereas unhurried films move at their own chosen pace. Momentum commands the moments. It’s like basking in the sun and taking in the scenery. We are allowed to luxuriate in the richness and fullness of details, mood, and texture. Of the three, only 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was a commercial hit(though it took several years to turn a profit), largely due to its mind-blowing special effects that were utterly novel at the time. While the unhurried pace is essential to creating an hypnotic sense of grandeur & wonderment, the epic vision would be incomplete without its share of iconic images. Most images are ordinary or ‘boring’ no matter for how long we look at them, whereas certain images leap out, leaving lasting impressions even if glimpsed for a second. (While some things are intrinsically more interesting to the eye — a dragonfly more than a fly, Grand Canyon more than a hill — , it’s also a matter of representation. TV commercials and the horror genre are especially adept at making the ordinary seem extraordinary with manipulation of lighting & sound and montage. Hair is made ‘silky’, a kitchen knife becomes the most sinister object in the world. An image is also made special by its impression of perfection, culmination, or incongruity. The perfect cube leaps out among imperfect cubes. The crescendo moment rises above all other moments. The strikingly/shockingly different image jumps out from the rest, like the penis-frame in THE FIGHT CLUB or the split-second flashback of the Monolith aligned with the Moon in the ape’s mind before it embarks on a new path, as if to suggest that the key to advancement is finding hidden relations/patterns between seemingly incongruous things.)
Is it any wonder that so many images in Kubrick’s films leap to mind even though seen many years ago? More than anything, Kubrick’s main cinematic approach was to follow up one iconic image with another, each serving as a wall within an ever intriguing maze. This isn’t to be confused with mere pictorialism as any keen photographic eye could assemble a series of striking or wondrous images. The images, of course, must be linked by theme and time. Duration is of the essence as too-short won’t stick while too-long will stain. Element of time is like brush on canvas or fingers on keyboard — just the right touch for just the right duration on just the right space, all the more amazing because the process has to be as unconscious as conscious because no one can paint or make music with one stroke or note at a time; there has to be a sense of flow, the spirit that takes over the artist, which is why Orson Welles said film-making is more like music than anything else, i.e. it’s not a matter of stitching together a series of images but turning them into a seamless whole. It’s like the art of coffee in David Lynch films. It has to be the right blend in the right amount at the right temperature. In this regard, it’s interesting how creativity is the intersection between near-infinite possibility and near-invisible perfection. Artists like the idea of freedom and exploration in every which way, but all said and done, it’s all about finding that razor-thin edge on the scale that feels most right. It’s like the focal point on the lens. It’s like a miner digs and digs but ultimately for a few nuggets of gold. This discernment process is far more difficult than the discovery phase. A film has failed if a minute feels like an hour; it has succeeded if a minute says as much as an hour; and it has succeeded beyond all expectations if a minute evokes eternity.
Kubrick’s use of time, like Andrei Tarkovsky’s, tends toward the contemplative and speculative. The apparent stasis is but a ruse. There is flow, an imperceptible but very real movement toward climax. In the first part of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the apes seem trapped in an unchanging world. Day after day, they awaken, forage for food or become food, go to sleep, and the cycle begins all over again, almost like Bill Murray in GROUNDHOG DAY… that is until the apes are altered in an imperceptible but profound way that sets them on the journey from hapless inhabitants to masters of the world; one might also say they go from creatures of consciousness to creatures of creation(and even creatures of soul). The ape’s bone goes from an object to a tool to a symbol, like the Freudian cigar can be anything from a stogy to a key to deeper realms of the mind. The pattern with the apes later repeats with the astronauts. The crew inhabits a seemingly static environment as the spaceship makes its way to Jupiter. Except for two American astronauts, the rest are in hibernation. As the mission appears to proceed smoothly under the control of the Hal Computer, the two astronauts have little to do but kill time. Yet, all these ‘static’ moments gradually build toward crisis that culminates in Bowman’s singular encounter with Mystery, aka ‘Beyond the Infinite’. He appears to enter a dimension where time runs parallel than linear — his younger and older selves co-exist — , and his death becomes synonymous with birth, indeed as if the deathbed scene in CITIZEN KANE got sucked into a wormhole. When one is under hypnosis, in deep meditation, or spellbound, he is said to be in a suspended state of mind, as if every instance is infinite. (One problem between creativity and ‘meditativity’ is their ‘foundational’ differences. ‘Meditativity’ is about detachment, disassociation not only from the rational and pragmatic but the sensual, expressive, and colorful. It is about calming the demands of intellect, instinct, and individual ego to reach into the depths of the soul. It can only be done alone and in quietude. In contrast, art is about the combined engagement of intellect, sensuality, imaginative expression, and big fat ego. After all, an artist is nothing without the audience, applause, accolades. A Buddhist disassociates from the world and seeks his own truth, but a Buddhist ARTIST can’t do without artistic materials, creative associates, and economic/political patrons to make things for the audience. Thus, the dichotomy between the artist who insists on doing everything his way without compromise & regardless of what the audience thinks AND his total reliance on financiers, collaborators, & the public can never be resolved. The solitary ritual with the flame that closes Andrei Tarkovsky’s NOSTALGHIA is a textbook example of this. It’s about a soul who no longer cares what the world thinks and seeks his own truth. And yet, Tarkovsky went through the trouble of setting up elaborate tracking shots and lighting — via multiple takes probably — to complete the scene. Likewise, if Ingmar Bergman was so obsessed with personal truth on an isolated island community, why the eagerness to present it as cinema for the public? That said, there is a common factor between meditation and creation. Though some people do shut off their minds and senses to meditate on the soul, it is ultimately to attain higher/deeper truth to be used in the real world. It’s like Jesus and Muhammad went off to pray and meditate over many days but to return to the world with the message. Likewise, a creative person thinks and imagines long and hard all by himself to attain a vision and only then returns to reality to embark on the application process of creating art. Still, the ultimate point of meditation is detachment whereas the ultimate goal of art is engagement.)
There are similarities between ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and the ‘Dollars Trilogy’, but apart from the ritualized shootouts, Leone’s Eastwood Westerns move at brisk pace, especially true of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY that, despite its 3 hr running time, rolled on right along. In contrast, the entirety of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is like one long hazy daydream, a dirge swelling to opera. As blend of elegy and myth, it is Leone’s most epic film even though THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and especially ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA are longer. Even when characters just sit around and kill time, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST proceeds as if it has all the time in the world, as if its time is All-Time. It’s mythic time, not human time. Man in the movie isn’t just man but an avatar of the Ancient Race destroyed by progress that accelerates time into economic units. Its time is that of the sundial(or the Stonehenge) than the ticking clock. It is a ghost story of the gods, a Western equivalent of the Tale of Heike resurrected in the “Hoichi the Earless” segment in KWAIDAN(dir. Masaki Kobayashi), where a blind Buddhist acolyte conjures in song the tragic battle.
With the taming of the Wild West, the tales became legends that became the formula of Western genre, which, by the 1960s, was in terminal decline and could be revitalized only few more times by the power of myth. (Even though the Western had long been regarded as the quintessential American Myth, it mostly operated on the human scale with a heavy dose of realism. It was about grit than the grail.) Arguably, Sergio Leone and, to a lesser degree, Sam Peckinpah were the first and last true mythicists of the American West. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and THE WILD BUNCH took the Western to the edge of visionary imagination beyond which perhaps lay only the abyss. Leone did it with sweep and Peckinpah with swing with the potency of the final word. They were both ‘resurrectors’ and eulogists of the genre. It was as if the Western was so great that it couldn’t just be allowed to fade away. It had to go out with a bang heard around the world just one more time. Of course, Westerns continued to be made, and some even won Oscars — DANCES WITH WOLVES and UNFORGIVEN — , but they no longer mattered as a living and breathing art-form. DJANGO UNCHAINED was probably a big hit more for its ‘nasty nigga’ swagger than its Western themes. On occasions when Westerns are made in the classic mode, they look more like a fossil in a museum than an animal in a zoo.
In our time, the Sixties have also become heavily shrouded in mythology — forty more years, and it will be 2060. The first boomers who were born in 1946 are now where the Greatest Generation was in 1999. Many of the Greatest Generation folks have passed on since then, and the boomers are now the elders. For them, the 60s era fills them with nostalgia for lost Eden. For young people, the 60s era is an endlessly fascinating source of pop culture and political references. Of course, unlike the Wild West, there is more than ample documentation of the Sixties in film, video, and audio to make it come alive before our eyes. Furthermore, due to youth culture, hip styles & fashions, libertine values, and advances in color technology, the Sixties don’t look and feel ‘old-fashioned’ like the eras before it. It’s likely that the 60s seem less old to people today than the 1940s or even 1950s seemed to people in the 60s. And yet, the Sixties also look strange and alien to many people who came of age in the 2000s as America back then was a far whiter country with a greater degree of generational pluralism, i.e. older folks and younger folks had their own values, attitudes, and cultures whereas, since the 60s, youth culture has come to define the tastes and outlook of both old and young; take a look at Tina Turner, Mick Jagger, and the fast-aging madonna. Though romanticized as the Counterculture decade of rebellion and liberation, many looking back to the Sixties may now feel nostalgia for a nation that was still solidly white, middle class in values, and culturally conservative(relatively speaking to today), especially with old folks born in the 19th century still around — a World War I veteran in 1967 would have been 70 yrs old. If not nostalgia, then nausea is felt by those who are ‘triggered’ by whiteness as the fount of all wickedness. (Thanks, Jews.)
If people in the Sixties were transported to current America, they’d see an alien nation, and the vice versa would also be true as an entire generation of Americans have been raised on the proposition that Diversity and demographic browning are what the Founders really had in mind. Indeed, some film critics excoriated ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD for what they took to be its overt nostalgia for an insufficiently browned America. The Sixties could also be characterized as the last of the Frontier Decades, and in that sense, it served as a ‘spiritual’ coda to the American Western narrative. The rise of youth culture, push for Civil Rights, passing of the Immigration Act, unprecedented levels of hedonism, acceleration of the Space Program, and neo-Cowboys-and-Indians bloodbath in Vietnam(one where the ‘Indians’ seemed to be winning), and the power of the pistol/rifle to change the course of history — assassinations of JFK, MLK, Malcolm X, and RFK — all made it seem as though America was indeed pushing through the final frontier. Perhaps, the period’s most emblematic TV show was STAR TREK(better called Star Dreck) that combined the spirit of the New Frontier of JFK with the Great Society of LBJ.
With the inverse concurrence of rise in technology/prosperity and decrease in inhibitions/manners, it was as if the nation was growing more modern and primitive all at once — boomers simultaneously turning into Ape-Man and David Bowman — , not least because Afro-musical influences had grown stronger and the Jewish push for pornography was nearing victory. Though America underwent great changes since then, the Sixties were, in many ways, the last Frontier Decade because the changes it wrought served as the template for all that followed(as Christopher Caldwell suggests in his book AGE OF ENTITLEMENT: AMERICA SINCE THE SIXTIES, which I haven’t read). Most of what happened since has been an extension, perversion, or parody of the New Frontier/Great Society/Aquarius template. Then, it’s fitting that Tarantino’s exercise in nostalgia dwells on the Western genre, as if to draw parallels(and contrasts) between the Frontier of the 1860s and the New Frontier of the 1960s. Very pomo of him. (Even though OUTH views Americanism through prism of the Western, there are Southern overtones as well. In a way, Dalton-and-Booth is a Master-Slave Narrative. Norman Mailer’s notorious essay “The White Negro” would have been more aptly titled as “The White Nigger”. Mailer’s idea was to draw inspiration from the black hipster-hoodlum. ‘Negro’ carried the connotation of being a “credit to one’s race”, the want of respectability or approval of the white community. Booth is a better embodiment of the proper definition of ‘White Negro’. Though proud and manly, he is above all loyal and reliable. He’s always there to carry the load and catch the fall. Not only is he a chauffeur to Dalton but the baggage-man at the airport. If he were a Negro in the Old South, he would have been prized as an ideal slave. He might even be let into the master’s chamber as the House Negro. Booth is a very good White Negro or White House Negro. His sturdy shoulders are for carrying the load and for crying on when Massuh Dalton feels sad and blue… I haven’t seen DJANGO UNCHAINED, but I heard DiCaprio-as-Massuh has a loyal House Negro played by Samuel Jackson. In OUTH, DiCaprio’s House Negro is a white man. Booth is a good buck because he never complains and accepts his place in the world. He doesn’t mind that his boss lives up in the fancy hills while he returns every night to his dinky trailer that might as well be a slave cabin. And in a way, Booth vs Mansion Youths is like House Negro vs the Field Niggers. At the Spahn ranch, White Negro Booth is shocked to discover that the once-proud Massuh George done let his plantation be taken over by a gang of crazy ‘field niggers’. And there was no way he was gonna let that happen to Massuh Dalton’s house. He gonna defend the Massuh’s home and wife from them ‘field niggers’ who be barging in like they be crazy or something. And even the gentle words between Booth and Dalton at the end are like a master and slave talking. “Massuh Dalton, doncha worry ‘bout me. I’s fine, sho is. Dey’s hurt me some but I be up in no time. You jes go on ahead and check up on da missus while dey free da knife from ma hip.” You’d almost think OUTH is GONE WITH THE WIND with Dalton and Booth as male versions of Scarlett and Mammy. In a way, both the Western and the Southern[once a popular and important piece of the American Narrative before Jews and others reduced it to KKK and lynching] are instructive as both myth and anti-myth. Despite all the romanticism surrounding both, they are also reminders that the American Way hasn’t really been about equality and justice. After all, victory in the Western is decided by the fast draw or ruthless violence. Even if good guys almost always win, it is because they are tougher and faster than the bad guys. In other words, might may side with right, but it is might that decides and chooses. Being good matters less than being strong. In the classic Western, the toughest guy invariably sides with the good, unlike in gangster movies where the toughest fellas choose criminality and greed, but the only reason the Western hero prevails is because he has steelier nerves and kills better than the other guy. Thus, justice is built on power than other way around. As for the Southern element in the US narrative, the dirty secret is that America, like all nations, has always been about masters and slaves, north-south-east-and-west. Sure, technically, we are free under the law and not chattel owned by others. Still, the basic structure and dynamics of power in every corner of the US have always been about meta-masters and meta-slaves. In politics, Jews are masters, goy politicians are slaves. Hollywood has often been compared to a plantation and not only by blacks. US military men do the bidding of Zionists, the overlords of America. People with money can get away with just about anything, like the Wall Street banksters who ran off with bailouts. But if you’re a lowly nobody like James Fields who plowed into a car at Charlottesville in a state of panic under assault by mobs of Antifa scum, you get sentenced for 400 yrs and they throw away the key. Too bad, slave! And even the West, though mythologized as the frontier of freedom, was more like the Old South than anyone would like to admit. In the end, the West wasn’t made by lone individuals but by big ranchers and their henchmen, the ‘masters’ and ‘slaves’. The noble lone gunslinger of the Western genre had no chance in the Real West. The ‘Shanes’ of the world didn’t make a difference. The big bosses won, the theme of Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, and the little guys just did as told.)
On one level, OUTH is a period film of Los Angeles circa 1969, and viewers who lived through the time-and-place have attested to the accuracy of the re-creation. The result is so vivid and lucid that the experience is more like time-travel than gold-tinged memory(the feel of THE GODFATHER and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, which however offered three layers of nostalgia for viewers in the 1980s: 1900s, 1930s, and 1960s). There is also an element of critique, especially pertaining to the intersection of ‘business’ and the ‘personal’ in Hollywood. But, most memorable is the mythic component, all the more so because the story unfolds around the periphery of the industry. The easiest way of mythologizing 60s Hollywood would have been in the style of LA DOLCE VITA, and indeed, the party at the Playboy Mansion suggests as much. But, Tarantino takes a different turn and, oddly enough, builds up epic credentials from throwaway elements, what Hyman Roth would call ‘small potatoes’. It’s like a chef trying to make something special out of scraps of left-over meat & vegetables and call it steak.
One could see OUTH as a story of three days, with the second one being the longest(90 min) and most important, while the first and third day are around 35 minutes each. And yet, it feels more like the first day is the prelude for the two other days loaded with epic cargo. Besides, the only epic thing on the first day is the plopping of the dog food on the bowl, a reverse of the bone toss in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The party at the Playboy mansion is splashy and colorful but a mere sampling, a taste of what Dalton and Booth are missing out on as second or third-tier acts just barely hanging on. It’s also a deceptive doggy snack, an appetizer, tossed at the audience to make it hanker for more, only to be denied and taken in another direction, a risky move on Tarantino’s part but not without rewards. The business between Schwarz and Dalton is like the ritual between Booth and his dog. Like the dog, Dalton has to be admonished and guided. He must be made to heel to the truth. Life is an hierarchy. There is certainly a special bond between Booth and the dog, like between a cowboy and his horse. Indeed, right after Booth drops off Dalton at his house, he speeds down the road, making some risque turns all the way. We might think he’s just being cool or ‘badass’ hotrodding down the road, but we soon realize he was eager to greet and feed his dog. Now, that is dedication. As he goes out on a limb for the dog, the dog in turn must show appreciation with patience.
Still, it is on the second day that the movie builds to something like epic grandeur though it would have been barely discernible in the script. After all, what does ‘Sharon Tate’ do but wake up, prance around, go shopping, and drop by a movie theater? And Dalton weeps in front of a little girl, does his bit as heavy on a TV pilot, and hurries home to watch a TV show called ‘FBI’ like an eight yr old. And Booth mostly kills time between dropping off and picking up his boss by fixing the TV antennae, picking up a hitchhiker, and visiting an old friend. And even though Booth comes to violence with a ‘hippie’, the crisis is quickly defused, and he drives off before things get out of control. And yet, Tarantino took pains(and pleasures) to turn the day into A Special Day(possibly inspired by a film of that title with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni). Dalton’s day is made intense, Tate’s day is made ecstatic, and Booth’s day is made suspenseful — even the comic bit with ‘Bruce Lee’ serves as foil to the later violence with the ‘hippie’, from laughing matter to no-laughing matter. In a way, Tarantino did something similar with RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION. The former takes place over a single day, albeit with strategic flashbacks(which, as in OUTH, amplify the present), but the situational intensity and battle of egos lend it an element of epic exaltation, a hipster rendition of Greek Drama. PULP FICTION also unwinds(and rewinds) over a single day, but the shuffled card-trick chronology makes the events seem more significant and revelatory; minus the temporal trickery(and the strategic flashback with Christopher Walken), it would have been just another day in the life of gangsters than a most extraordinary day where even apparently random or throwaway instances are revealed to contain karmic significance. Accidents coalesce into fate, moments stumble into miracles. It’s like a palm-reader can turn a hand into a map of one’s life destiny.
Perhaps, Tarantino was tempted to manipulate chronology with OUTH as well, but it progresses linearly, though the one flashback with Randy(Kurt Russell) and ‘Bruce Lee’ slips in and out so deftly that it almost feels as part of the day. Flashbacks mainly come in two flavors: Nostalgic and Strategic. Nostalgic flashbacks mean to emotionally deepen the present with reminders of a lost, forgotten, or special time. It can be done effectively or sink into sentimentality. Strategic flashback inserts a key element to amplify the significance of the current crisis. (The French film AMELIE amazingly managed to employ both nostalgic and strategic flashbacks.)
In OUTH, the flashback casts a shadow over Booth’s eruption of violence, making it darker, even epic. It takes on an aspect of rumbling volcano, sudden release of rage that’s been building up over many years beneath his stoic dormant exterior. Thus, the ‘hippie’ he punches isn’t just a hippie but the snide smirking mask of all the people who’d done him wrong and got away with it because of the pecking order. Without the flashback, the punch wouldn’t have the same impact. This is why Sam Peckinpah agonized over the excising of the flashback sequences in THE WILD BUNCH that he felt added another dimension to the tension between Pike Bishop(William Holden) and Deke Thorton(Robert Ryan) as well as between Pike Bishop and womankind in general. (In a way, it’s pitiful that Booth, tough as he is, never strikes out against the powerful and connected; rather, he takes out all the slings and arrows he suffered on a lowly ‘hippie’ and, before that, on his wife, a nobody bitching about another nobody. When the higher-ups insult him, demean him, fire him, or blacklist him, he just takes it and walks away. In a way, he’s a dog at the bottom of the totem pole who fights with other dogs to protect his master. It’s just his nature, though there is something of the wolf in him, as is also the case with Manson Youths who are like stray dogs. The Power relies on trained dogs to protect it from wild dogs, though of late, Jewish Power has been relying on Antifa stray dogs to attack those whites who are insufficiently dog-like before Jews-as-masters.) Because of the flashback(and flashback within the flashback), Booth’s punching of the ‘hippie’ is more than a momentary macho act. Furthermore, the tension between Booth and the Manson Girls becomes all the more disturbing, even epic, because of the lingering image of Booth’s troubled state-of-mind on the boat before he killed his wife. The growing unease between Booth and the Manson Girls as he approaches Spahn’s house is like Father Merrin(Max von Sydow) facing off against the statue of Pazuzu in THE EXORCIST. It’s not just a boy vs girl thing but Man an Ancient Race vs the Harpies, an eternal mythic conflict between archetypes.
And, the comic aspect of Booth vs ‘Bruce Lee’ contest makes for striking contrast with the pitiless brutality of the Booth vs ‘hippie’ encounter. With ‘Bruce Lee’, Booth made his point only halfway in the spirit of fun. With the ‘hippie’, the full weight of ruthless reality is delivered.
Booth vs ‘Bruce Lee’ scene also has larger implications about reality vs fantasy, also about West vs East. As such, it’s a pithy reminder as to why the pompous East lost in the epic struggle with the pragmatic West in the Age of Empire. Americanism has a lot of deficits, but its no-nonsense meat-and-potatoes view of reality served as better gauge of actual power than the flowery rhetoric of China and mythic delusions of Japan. OUTH doesn’t so much mock the real Bruce Lee as ‘Bruce Lee’ as symbol of Eastern Mystical mumbo-jumbo that is all very fine in fantasy but irrelevant in reality. Why did small UK defeat big China so easily? What was Japan thinking when it picked a fight with the US, a nation of far superior manpower and resources? Of course, East Asians eventually wised up and began to modernize and learn Western methods of economics and warfare to build up better defenses, but the mystical mindset is still alive and well in China, e.g. all those Wing Chun fighters who get their asses handed to them by MMA fighters and all those ridiculous ‘cures’ with outlandish claims made from exotic animals.
The Booth vs ‘Bruce Lee’ contest might also be Tarantino’s way of hinting at HBD. After all, one of the big racial themes of the 20th century has been the black domination of sports, e.g. the victory of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Muhammad Ali over white fighters. Indeed, Ali and Sonny Liston are mentioned(though inexplicably, ‘Bruce Lee’ and Booth refer to him as ‘Cassius Clay’ than ‘Muhammad Ali’; in OUTH’s alternative history of the 60s, did Ali remain the Christian Clay than convert to Muslim Ali?). So, Booth’s primary toughness is with the truth, not that he’s the toughest guy in the world, a real-life Achilles or Hercules. He knows talk isn’t walk. He can crush those weaker than him, but he can be crushed by tougher guys. In contrast, there is too much talk in ‘Lee’.
Tarantino, though a big talker himself and bigger fan of fantasy-violence, once seemed acutely aware of realistic violence in RESERVOIR DOGS before the violence became increasingly outlandish beginning with PULP FICTION. He was also a tough moralist with RESERVOIR DOGS, someone who understood the challenging art of the moral gaze. It’s easy to be moralistic about violence with preachy results. It’s also easy to be nihilistic with violence with trashy results. Far more challenging is to balance veracity with perspective, a fine-tuning that rings true of the contradiction between animal and angel in the human condition. It’s like mixing a drink with just the right portions at the right temperature. Martin Scorsese did it best with GOODFELLAS but faltered with CASINO where the moral dial veered to often into comic effect, what with Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro acting like a Looney Tunes character. In GOODFELLAS, we hang with Tommy(Joe Pesci) on his turf but also hover over him with bemused fascination and of course horror that a man could be like this. RESERVOIR DOGS was Scorsese-like in the best way, whereas the violence in subsequent movies ranged from nihilo-sadistic to downright retarded. Also, for all the sound and fury, they were passionless at the core and, as such, lacked even the saving grace of mad conviction.
In contrast to his post-RESERVOIR movies, OUTH takes a more thoughtful turn on the role of violence in American mythos and life. Furthermore, much of the violence is as psychological as physical(as in the best Polanski films), which is why the eruptions of violence carry added weight. The factor of sexual politics adds yet another layer of tension to the violence. Perhaps, Tarantino is channeling a bit of Jordan Peterson here. In conversation with Camille Paglia, the Canadian scholar said one of the problems of female sexual ‘empowerment’ is that the male mind isn’t hardwired to deal with women as equal competitors. After all, even as feminists demand equality with men, they also plead for protective privileges. If a man seriously offended another man, both instinctively understand it may come to blows. It’s the code of manhood where every party understands that talk can turn into walk. ‘Bruce Lee’ offers talk, and Booth counters with walk. In FULL METAL JACKET, a character called ‘Animal Mother’ asks ‘Joker’, “You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?” The code of manhood says talk isn’t enough. If you keep talking the talk, you better know how to walk. In contrast, feminists talk the talk and bitch the bitch, but they are the first ones to shriek when the talk turns into walk. While a man may feel it’s okay to rumble with another when talk turns into walk, he will have second thoughts with a woman no matter how bitchy she may be. Especially in the West, men have been taught to ‘never hit a woman’, an attitude both humane and condescending. Furthermore, feminism, for all its anti-patriarchal hysterics, couldn’t exist without the male condescension toward women as the weaker, fairer, and gentler sex. If Western values of equality really decreed that both sexes be treated alike in every respect, there would be lots of fists thrown at bitches. (Of course, this sexual dynamics also exists between whites and Jews. Jews, male and female, tend to be more bitchy, pushy, and nasty, but when talk threatens to turn into walk — like in the physical altercation in LOST IN AMERICA — , Jews whimper and demand protection from the ‘antisemitic’ meany. Jews lack manhood honor. They use Antifa thugs against white patriots, but when the latter fights back, Jews groan and whine about ‘muh holocaust’ and the ‘nazis’. There is a saying, “A Jew cries out in pain as he punches you.” Jewish men are passive/aggressive, or pushy and pussy, and as they rule America, the power has gotten bitchier and hissier, at once nastier and more craven, made all the worse by the ascendancy of homos and trannies who possess a perverse combination of male flagrance and female fragility. This is also true of Negroes. While Negroes are a physical race given to machismo and violence-as-answer, the narrative of ‘racist’ oppression has them bleating like poor helpless victims at every turn. So, blacks act the thug, then demand a hug.) At Spahn’s ranch, Booth senses trouble but would rather avoid physical confrontation with the girls. However, when the tall male ‘hippie’ who punctured the tire laughs at him, his pent-up fury literally knocks the son-of-a-bitch off the ground like the Apollo launch. He hits a fella, yet the fury seems ignited in part by Booth’s rage about women.
From the feminist point-of-view, OUTH could easily be construed as ‘misogynist’ for its sympathetic portrayal of Booth who clearly has women-issues; but, terms like ‘misogyny’, like ‘racism’-‘antisemitism’-‘homophobia’, simplifies a complicated web of informal rules and emotions that govern male/female dynamics. In other words, it takes two to tango, and women have their own arsenal of wit, charm, and chicanery(or ‘chickanery’) of exploiting, wounding, or destroying male egos. And most likely, Booth, especially in his younger days, crossed paths and locked horns with many such women whom a man isn’t supposed to punch despite all their heartless duplicity. Then, it shouldn’t surprise that when Booth gets a chance to vent full fury on a woman, the ginger-haired ‘Katie’, the violence is truly frightening. Some might call out the ugliness as gratuitous cruelty, but it is justified on grounds of genuine rage. It isn’t campy laughing violence but grim disturbing violence. And even though some men may find it appealing as catharsis, art isn’t so much about right-and-wrong as about the truth of the human condition. The fact remains there are dark recesses within sexual politics, and if women want to play the men’s game of hard-hitting(than the women’s game of hard-to-get), they will be shocked by the violence that comes their way.
The final showdown thematically expands on Booth’s earlier encounters with ‘Bruce Lee’ and the ‘hippie’. The feline ‘Bruce Lee’, as the star, couldn’t be mauled too badly by big dog Booth. Still, Booth was fired, booted off the set, and humiliated in front of the crew, made worse by the fact that it was a woman(Janet) who ordered him gone(and semi-blacklisted). And though he punched the ‘hippie’, he held himself back from harming the girls who, one way or another, did a number on George Spahn(Bruce Dern); George has obviously lost his senses, like the lobotomized Randall McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. But in the final fight of the movie, Booth holds nothing back and not only destroys Tex but manhandles Katie(after busting Sadie’s face with a can of dog-food) like a rag doll and literally bashes her face in. The violence is shocking but also ‘liberating’ for Booth, much like McMurphy’s strangling of Nurse Ratched. And yet, the violence conveys something more than sexual politics and survival instinct. It serves to demonstrate the ruthlessness of reality. Contrary to popular fantasy, a woman cannot beat a man in hand-to-hand combat, and yet the rise of feminism demands that women be treated just like the men(while, of course, also crying ‘victim’ of male oppression). Ruthless Reality of Violence not only favors men against women but blacks against whites. Booth and other such white men, tough as they are, would be no match against ‘Cassius Clay’ and Sonny Liston. What Booth did to the ‘hippie’, a tough Negro could do to him. So, even though the Ruthless Reality of Violence favors Booth over weaker men and women, it favors Tough Negroes over guys like him. Though the movie has virtually no Negroes, its brutal conception of violence carries racial and sexual overtones that do point to larger, even epic, themes of history. (There’s a Deleted Scene following the one where Charles Manson trespasses into the blissful arcadia of ‘Sharon Tate’ accompanied by ‘Jay Sebring’ who is compelled to play the role of protector. It’s the equivalent of a stranger riding into where he doesn’t belong in a Western and, furthermore, anticipates the full-blown Mansonite invasion at the end. Manson arrives in an old ice-cream truck, indeed as if he’s the leader of a children’s crusade, the Joker before The Joker. Anyway, in the Deleted Scene, just before getting back in the truck, Manson spots Booth on the roof and makes funny noises and gestures that look like kung-fu clowning. If Booth was amused by the antics of ‘Bruce Lee’, he looks genuinely unnerved by Manson’s mock threats. Whereas Booth sensed an all-too-human inflated narcissism in ‘Bruce Lee’, he intuits something darker and sicker about Manson right away. Physically, Manson would be even easier for Booth to demolish, and yet, there’s a certain element of ‘will’ about Manson that is truly creepy. All said and done, ‘Bruce Lee’ is a social climber, whereas Manson has a messiah-complex. It’s like a cowboy meeting something out of a horror movie and realizing that the evil before him is ‘spiritual’ than physical and can’t be vanquished with bang-bang. Cowboy and Monster play by different rules. It’s too bad this scene was excised because it makes for good contrast with the Booth-vs-‘Lee’ confrontation and lays the groundwork for the eventual cowboy-monster face-to-face at Spahn’s Ranch. And yet, Tarantino doesn’t deny these monsters their humanity, however fallen it may be. The bloodied ‘hippie’ at Booth’s feet is made to look a bit christ-like, and he sees one of the girls doing a ‘I love you’ pantomime to ease his humiliation. They are outcasts and have found in each other something like a family.)
The fact that Booth is on LSD adds yet another epic dimension to the clash — ironically, it’s the ‘hippies’ who are sober in the moment. Perhaps, Tarantino was tempted to go for psychedelic effects for the violence(as seen through the drug-warped mind of Booth), not unlike the splashy Pop-Art-style fight scenes in the BATMAN TV show, but the violence is hard and brutal in keeping with the Ruthless Reality. Perhaps, the violence here is also a metaphor for creativity, i.e. success depends on the real muscle of talent and effort, not fatuous flailing around with pointless gestures and distractions. In other words, victory cannot be hallucinated. It can only be fought and won. Then, it’s fitting that Tarantino didn’t add subjective-psychedelic effects to the fight scene. Despite Booth’s altered state, the outcome is to be decided by the cold facts of reality though, to be sure, his druggy-state does give him an edge in psyching out the enemy. Also, it is enough for us to know that he’s on drugs to appreciate the epic craziness of the moment. It is both scared-straight and far-out. (Interesting that home invasions featured prominently in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, STRAW DOGS, and DEATH WISH, all very controversial and much-discussed movies of the period.) At once ‘cowboy’ in physique and ‘hippie’ in ‘raised consciousness’, Booth becomes like the Zarathustrean ape in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: Animal Warrior and Visionary. Reality is amplified many times over in his altered state of mind.
Films like NATURAL BORN KILLERS and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS made it clear that, more often than not, overt approximations of altered mental states actually diminish the strangeness as the subjective has been ‘objectified’. In other words, the essence of strangeness, say, in a dream has less to do with what we see than the state we are in as we see it. Dreams possess us because we are in a state-of-mind that accepts as real what cannot be real. The real strangeness of dreams is that the utterly strange doesn’t seem at all strange while we are dreaming. In contrast, a woke person who looks at dream imagery will see the strangeness as mere strangeness, which is actually far less strange and unsettling. Likewise, being drunk is more than seeing as a drunk does. Rather, it’s the very state of being inebriated from head to toe that can only be felt subjectively through the entirety of body and mood. A sober mind that is shown the visuals of a drunkard will see but not feel, and it’s the feeling that is crucial. So, unless one is an eccentric master like David Lynch(or Darren Aronofsky and Richard Linklater at their most inspired), just forget about toying with altered consciousness. It’s a better bet to artfully employ conventional means than resort to over-the-top visual gizmo that only makes strangeness seem ludicrous. NATURAL BORN KILLERS is a textbook example of what not to do, and the same goes for just about everything by Alan Parker, Terry Gillian, Joel Schumacher, and Adrian Lyne. (That said, Lyne did make it work in JACOB’S LADDER, and Schumacher did score some points, however cheap, in FLATLINERS.)
Anyway, if not for Booth’s altered state, the violence would lack the epic(and darkly comic) punch that the scene delivers. We know the moment is totally ‘far out’ for Booth who, hitherto, had kept free of ‘hippie’ junk. He feels as a freaking Space-Cowboy-Indian-fighter-cum-David-Bowman blasting a can of dog-food to a hippie’s face as surely as NASA launched rockets into space. Even as he is fighting the damned dirty ‘hippies’, it is his own glorious ‘hippie’ moment, just like playing the heavy on LANCER six months earlier was Dalton’s far-out ‘hippie’ moment. But it’s also epic because Booth has to summon all his strength to suppress the psychedelic turmoil within. He has to overcome the Manson Youths around him and the warped spirits within him. It’s like how Buliwyf(Vladimir Kulich) battles on two fronts in the final showdown in THE 13th Warrior: The venom surging in his veins and the enemy charging towards him. A kind of toughness beyond toughness. In a way, it’s fitting that the final part or third day is dominated by Booth for it is his moment of riding off into the sunset. His time has come. And unlike Woody Allen’s character in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE who takes it badly when he’s dumped by the people he helped so much, Booth is made of tougher stuff. And though the night was frightful, he finally got to play the role of hero that eluded him in the movies. And yet, even to the very end, he is the stunt-man. When the news get around, it’ll likely be more about Dalton and the flamethrower than Booth and a can of dog-food. One might say that Dalton’s use of the flame-thrower adds a fantasy-comic element to an otherwise taut and frightening scene, but it could also be argued that it makes for a neat contrast between the real and the fantastic. Though the odds were against Booth, his survival and victory were still in the realm of the possible, whereas Dalton emerging from the woodshed with a flamethrower was pure ludicrousness. But when ludicrousness becomes fantasy, print the ludicrousness.
The second day, the heart of the movie, is equally divided between the three characters, and as the day progresses, their activities are leisurely and laxly juxtaposed or ‘laxtaposed’ as complement and contrast. By equal doses of coincidence and karma, it’s as if the three ‘adventures’ culminate in a consummation despite their physical separations. Dalton is before a camera, ‘Tate’ is before a movie screen, and Booth finds himself on a movie set turned into ‘ghost-town’ by the ‘hippies’. In one respect, the ‘hippie’ presence on Spahn’s ranch seems a transgression against what the Western symbolizes: Heroic virtues of Old America. And yet, Spahn’s place was never a real ranch but a fake location for Tinsel Town. Also, the ‘hippies’, in their ramshackle way, made the place more Wild-West-like, albeit one filled only with whores and outlaws. (Part of the Western’s appeal has been the unkempt-ness of rough men too taken with adventure and fighting to be concerned with niceties and manners. For 20th century man, watching a Western was like joining in a virtual camping trip where anything goes. The ‘hippies’ certainly brought some of that atmosphere to the ranch.) On that day, the eyes of the film crew are on Dalton, and the eyes of ‘Tate’ are on her movie-star self. In contrast, the eyes of Booth are on reality, on lookout for a ‘missing’ friend who turns out to be present in body but absent in mind(though there’s just enough of the original person to feel grateful for the visit), a victim of senility, mind-frying drugs, or both. The meeting between Booth and Spahn could be an homage to the scene where Manco(Clint Eastwood) visits an old man for information on the ‘colonel’(Lee Van Cleef). Homage or not, it works on its own terms.
All three threads vibrate with epic charge despite none of them being particularly eventful, but this quality may owe to a certain retro-hippie conception behind OUTH. I know nothing of Tarantino’s lifestyle and indulgences. PULP FICTION has a long scene involving heroin, and TRUE ROMANCE(written by Tarantino) has Brad Pitt as a pothead stoned 24/7 and its plot revolves around a suitcase filled with cocaine. Are all these drug references merely generic to the genre, or is Tarantino a serious druggy(like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger), though perhaps a more cautious one like Richard Linklater who, contra Peckinpah and others, seems to have it under control(and restricted to maybe just marijuana). If drugs like opium, acid, heroin, crack, meth, or whatever have a way of magnifying, amplifying, and intensifying consciousness or sensations, then one supposes a minute can seem like an hour and an hour like a day and a day like an era(akin to the exponential dream-within-dream logic of INCEPTION and, of course, of cinema in general that can make 2 hrs seem the equivalent of 20 years or more, e.g. CITIZEN KANE conveys the sweep of a man’s life, and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY captures infinity in the instant). Indio(Gian Maria Volonte) in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and Noodles(Robert DeNiro) in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA retreat into, respectively, pot-fueled and opium-soaked reveries of dreams or memories. And for Sean/John(James Coburn) in DUCK, YOU SUCKER, daydreams of happier days in the Emerald Isle were his ‘drug’ of choice, especially as alcohol only drowned him in misery.
Does Tarantino use drugs or does he possess a knack for seeing things in a peculiar way, as Camille Paglia said of herself? Morricone electrified Leone’s Westerns with one of the first, if not the first, use of electric guitars in the genre. It’s amazing what a little electricity can do to an instrument. In OUTH, Tarantino plays a day like an electric guitar. In certain respects, electricity, like drugs, spoiled and ruined the sensory life of entire generations. Before drugs made euphoria, ecstasy, or ‘profundity’ so easy and instantaneous, people embarked on journeys of body and/or spirit to attain higher/deeper consciousness. But for the boomer generation, it only took a hit of pot or acid, soon followed by snort of cocaine. Prior to electricity, it took an elaborate and well-coordinated orchestra and/or chorus to create music of the heavens. But equipped with an electric guitar, one guy could make heaven-and-earth tremble in a three-minute pop tune. The era of instant-epic had arrived. And of course, the movies had the power to instantly transport the audience to new worlds and other eras in the blink of an eye. To a large extent, OUTH is a celebration of this insta-epic aspect of pop culture(that reached new heights of delirium in the 60s), albeit with a certain anxiety over its impact on mass psychology — omnipresence of TV as Big Hustler if not Big Brother.
The duality of the Western as paean to stoicism and toast to anarchy encapsulates this anxiety, which has been at the heart of storytelling from very beginning. Stories are appealing as escapist fantasies where anything goes, but the unnerving nihilism calls for a hero who, while participating in the ecstatic orgy of mayhem, ultimately sets things right. We want both the nihilism and its antidote, both the bacchanalia of the Golden Calf and Moses back from the mountain. The Western morality tale is the icing on the cake of immorality. Confronted with temptation, the Western hero represents rejection while the Western outlaw/heavy represents acceptance. Traditionally, the Western lionized the stoic and vilified the indulgent. In some of the later Westerns(sometimes called Anti-Westerns), such as those of Peckinpah, the law-abiding & righteous were often presented as repressed stuff-shirts whereas the outlaw types who shamelessly revel in wine and women were romanticized as men of virility. The heavies finally got their due in a kind of inversion of values. Indeed, in PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, it is the near-impotent and aging lawman Garrett who kills the youthful Billy who just made love to a woman. Electric Rock culture essentially made the heavy the new favored archetype for masses of youths. Guitar Hero was really the Guitar Heavy. Rock stars didn’t get bad press for sex, drugs, and scandals but by being too goody and respectable. John Lennon resented the ‘clean’ image of the Beatles as the ‘bad boys’ seemed to be having more fun and getting respect from people who really mattered. Morality requires reflection whereas thrill is an instant sensation, and electricity, especially in music, favored the ‘bad’ over the ‘good’. In time, even good guys had to have a ‘bad side’, like 007 who did outrageous things with women and violence to get his way. Leone certainly picked up on this right away when he made the first of the Eastwood Spaghettis. Tarantino has reveled in nihilism, and OUTH is no different, and yet, being older and perhaps somewhat wiser, one senses a certain trepidation about where this all began to head in the 60s.
The ‘heavy’ is the destructive but also creative force while the hero is the preserving and stabilizing force. The hero is Vishnu, while the heavy is Shiva. Also, there is a difference between creation and creativity. Creation is the function of reality, like the birth of a child or growth of a tree. In contrast, creativity is the play of the mind, one that mimics, exaggerates, and distorts reality. Mother giving birth is creation. God forming the world is creation. A homo painting a picture is creativity. Creativity is Faustian in defying the natural order with the boldness or conceit of being equal to or even superior to creation itself. Art, as an expression of pure creativity, is closer to the spirit of the ‘heavy’ than the ‘hero’. And this Faustian Bargain has turned into the Faustian Bargain Sale that informs modern life from top to bottom. Indeed, what is the first thing ‘Tate’ does in the morning? She puts on a pop song that bursts with good vibe-flavors as the essence of life itself. Timothy Leary’s dictum of ‘Turn on, tune in, and drop out’ could have been said of electronic pop culture. And yet, all this turn-on culture is not real but an illusion fed to us via the modern grid. Indeed, the contrast between ‘Tate’ dancing to a hit song and Booth fixing the antennae is instructive of the gulf between fantasy and reality. When we tune into movies or music, we hardly think of all the work and effort involved in building and sustaining the infrastructure that let’s us lose ourselves in fantasy. If Booths of the world did not fix roads and antennas, no escapist fantasy for anybody.
As the second day begins, Dalton faces the most daunting challenge — it is only as the day progresses that Booth finds himself with a challenge of his own at the Spahn ranch. Still, it’s a minor part in a run-of-the-mill TV Western and one of the many TV productions taking place on any given day. As Pacino’s Schwarz explained to him, the networks are just squeezing whatever’s left of him as a known brand to make the newer ‘stars’ look good — in a way, the heavy is to the hero what the stuntman is to the actor: the fall guy. (Dalton’s challenge is to take a dive as the ‘heavy’ but to rise to the occasion by out-acting the hero. He loses as character but wins as actor.) And yet, the director’s insistence that Dalton be authentic — almost like a Method Actor — and true to his character makes it a ‘Shakespearean’ moment for him. As if the day hadn’t started out weird enough with the demands of the ‘zeitgeist’ director, there’s a remarkably precocious eight-year old girl. While he reads a third-rate Western novel(about a character named Easy Breezy) to kill time, the girl is soaking up the genius of Walt Disney from a biographical tome. The way things are going, Dalton might even be outclassed by a little girl on the movie set. And instead of the girl as the jittery one needing reassurance, Dalton loses his nerves and is comforted and then admonished by the girl(for calling her ‘pumpkin-puss’).
The day couldn’t have started off worse. Though Dalton has good rapport with the girl — the two are like Jack Elam and the fly in the opening scene of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST — , he must also feel humiliated. Things are made worse when the star of the TV show comes over to chat and mentions a rumor that Dalton almost had McQueen’s part in THE GREAT ESCAPE. Dalton’s Forrest-Gumpish fantasy of himself in the prized role suggests how he’d been agonizing over it despite his cool exterior. In a way, the fantasy hypothesis of Dalton-than-McQueen echoes the theme of OUTH, which closes with the hypothetical Tates-lives-and-Mansons-die. Think of all the could-have-beens, might-have-beens, and should-have-beens of history and culture. When we look back at the movies and the stars, they seem etched in stone. Who can imagine Hollywood without John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart? It’s as if they were destined for stardom: Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, and the rest of them. And yet, so much of it owed to accidents of being at the right place at the right time. After all, what might have happened if Eastwood hadn’t decided to take part in some cheapie Italian Western called A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS by a totally unknown director? When an established star signs a contract with a major studio, it is big news with obvious implications. When Elizabeth Taylor did CLEOPATRA, it was exactly as everyone expected. But who could have known that Eastwood’s chance decision to star in an Italian Western(an idea ridiculous in and of itself at the time) would not only change his career but movie history?
Of course, it’s possible Eastwood might have become a star regardless, but the ‘Dollars Trilogy’ catapulted just another handsome face into an international star on par with Sean Connery of 007 movies. Eastwood said he signed up mainly as an opportunity to visit Italy and Spain. He had no expectations for the role and the movie. Also, Leone had wanted several other actors before finally resigning himself to Eastwood who just happened to be affordable and available; then a virtual nobody, Leone had as much difficulty finding willing movie stars as peasants in SEVEN SAMURAI in recruiting willing warriors. Actor after actor turned it down, and of course, NO ONE at the time had any idea of what Leone was about to unleash on the world.
Such are the accidents or slips of pop cultural history. And it may have been to lend that very impression that Tarantino chose not to make direct allusions to the big news and events of 1969. His version of ‘1969′ is, at once, the actual year and the year-that-might-have-been under a different astrology. And so, Sergio Corbucci is mentioned as the second biggest Spaghetti Western director but the #1, the founder of the genre Sergio Leone, goes unmentioned. The cover song of “California Dreaming” by Jose Feliciano is used(in perfect measure at the perfect moment) than the original by the Mamas and the Papas. There is no mention of Woodstock or the Moon Landing. Instead of Woodstock(which, to be sure, took place on the East Coast), we get a lot of ‘hippies’(which I put in quotes because most hippies were nothing like the crazed members of the ‘Manson family’).
And if Woodstock was billed as “An Aquarian Experience: 3 Days of Peace and Music”, OUTH is about 3 days of music and movies. And instead of mentioning the Moon mission, OUTH obliquely alludes to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, the movie wonder that captured the spirit of the age when the Cold War was synonymous with the race to the Moon. The Pan Am flight that brings ‘Roman Polanski’ and ‘Sharon Tate’ to Los Angeles is reminiscent of the vessel that takes Dr. Floyd and others to the space station in Kubrick’s sci-fi epic. OUTH is also structured somewhat like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which, following parts one and two, takes up the narrative with part three 18 months later — even though parts one and two are separated by over a million years, they are made seamless through the bone/spaceship montage and visionary uplift; in contrast, the somber mission to Jupiter of part three feels like another movie in mood and tenor, rather like APOCALYPSE NOW following the air cavalry attack on the Viet Cong village, the difference being, whereas the ending of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is really a blast, ending of APOCALYPSE NOW is like wet gunpowder. After day one and day two, OUTH takes up after 6 months as Dalton and Booth return from their Italian venture.
Booth’s combination of cowboy and military has the feel of THE RIGHT STUFF, the movie about astronaut-pioneers of the New Frontier. Also, all the driving around is redolent of Benjamin Braddock’s manic cruising around in THE GRADUATE, the 1967 film that loosed a new sensibility — while Hollywood had made plenty of youth movies, they were in the manner of the Ed Sullivan Show that pandered to youth without understanding them, whereas THE GRADUATE clicked with youth as something they felt in their bones, though it also clicked with adults as evidence of American cinema’s maturation into art on par with European cinema. In OUTH, there is no mention of the Beatles(who were to Sixties Rock Music what Leone was to Italian Westerns), but the movie is wall-to-wall Rock.
In a way, OUTH does for the twilight of the 1960s what the Western, esp ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, did for the closing of the Wild West: A bygone era rendered into myth. Intrinsic to both the Western Frontier and the New Frontier was that something so exciting couldn’t go on forever — it’s like what Colonel Kilgore says rather ruefully of Vietnam War in APOCALYPSE NOW, “Some day, this war’s gonna end.” The fictional treatment of the Sixties hasn’t been easy because no period in American(and perhaps World) History so thoroughly mythologized itself as things were happening. One might say the same of the French Revolution, Bolshevik Revolution, and National Socialist Revolution. The French witnessed History changing before their eyes by the sheer force of revolutionary will. Bolsheviks saw themselves as the engineers of the train of history, and it was full-speed ahead. Hitler’s renewed vision of Germany was self-consciously myth, declaration of the first giant leap in the creation of the 1000 Yr Reich. One might mention 19th century Romanticism as precursor to the Sixties, but the Movement was limited to a close-knit community of rather privileged literati, bohemians, and artists. In contrast, due to the virtually universal reach of mass electronic media, the Sixties profoundly affected entire populations, even those in small towns and villages.
The Sixties mania of self-mythologizing encompassed everything from politics to social movements to avant-garde culture to pop culture to fashions to youth culture to technology. It was also accompanied by unprecedented levels of vanity and narcissism; the Greatest Generation may have saved the world but were modest and even selfless about it. In contrast, so many young ones who bought a Beatles record, smoked pot for the first time, joined a protest, or went to a ‘Happening’ felt as though they’d taken part in something momentous and earthshaking — and as the Boomers grew older, they had to remind the world that they were now 30, 40, 50, etc., indeed as if the 60s were Year Zero of New History. Everything, big and small, high and low, seemed to be part of a New Consciousness. If it wasn’t Camelot and the Civil Rights Movement, it was the British Invasion, the French New Wave, or Folk Rock. 007 stylistics and the mini-skirt fashion altered social mores. It was as if Something was Always Happening Somewhere, and it too was of far-out significance and revelation. There was the Summer of Love and the great youth migration to the West Coast, a repeat of the gold rush as drug rush. Go West Young Man… and get Stoned. And half way around the world, there was Mao’s Cultural Revolution that, in part, came to inspire the May 68 Movement in France, an uprising of what Godard called “Marx and Coca-Cola”. Hippies were into Mick Jagger and Che Guevara, and the Third World, led by Vietnam and Cuba, seemed to be on the precipice of great change. There was faith in mind-altering drugs as instant-karma to unlock mysteries and uplift humanity; there was ‘spiritual’ adoration of cinema as total art, collective consciousness(of the mind-screen), and a force for change. There was the new licentiousness in art and culture. Anyone at the time could be forgiven for feeling a bit like Cool Hand Luke, a ‘natural born world-shaker’.
For many viewers(especially Jews), Benjamin Braddock’s ‘rescuing’ of Elaine from the tall blond beast wasn’t merely a case of making off with the girl but making a statement, a shout heard around the world, swelling loud and clear as the lamentation of a mutant trailblazer clearing the path for the following year’s mischling Rosemary’s Baby and Starchild(who, however, as played by Keir Dullea, is very ‘Aryan’). Though Braddock isn’t ostensibly Jewish, his wailing seems the full vocalization of the Jew’s muted cry in THE PAWNBROKER — all the pent-up fears, anxieties, frustrations, and rage of the Tribe through the ages finally erupting with the force of childbirth, the power of Jewish Word being delivered to the world. How odd that the Jewish Holocaust angst of THE PAWNBROKER and the ‘Jewishy’ shikse-obsession in THE GRADUATE unleash comparable levels of pain and desperation. You’d almost think Braddock is losing his shit inside a gas chamber. Perhaps, there is a connection between Jewish obsession and Jewish obliteration, and the Nazis weren’t entirely delusional about Jewish neurosis, i.e. Jewish sex-and-power-lust is such that it demands total domination and ownership of the Aryan and goyim, implying that the only way to solve the Jewish Question is total erasure of Jewry. Norman Mailer in his piece on Marilyn Monroe drew parallels between six million Jewish sperms and six million Jewish dead. Braddock’s manic outburst is more than a little unnerving, like Anthony Perkin’s freakout moment in FEAR STRIKES OUT(though maybe it should have been called ‘Queer Strikes Out’) and the blinded Sadie’s Trilogy-of-Terror holler fest before she gets scorched by Dalton; it appears what the tall blond beast needed in THE GRADUATE was an acme flame-thrower.
Anyway, how does one mythologize an era that more than amply(and even obnoxiously) billed itself as the twilight of history and the dawn of the future? Was there a generation as self-consciously ‘significant’ as the boomers? But then, even older people, everyone from Herbert Marcuse to Timothy Leary, were infused with the Sixties spirit and regarded themselves as proud progenitors of The Happening. Because the Sixties self-aggrandizement became such a fixture in the Grand Narrative, those looking back tended either to accept the official mythology on its own terms or attempt to debunk it, a self-defeating endeavor as it compels one to focus on the said myth above all else. Woodstock or Altamont? The dream lives on or the dream is over. Summer of Love or the Summer of Manson. Is it Myth or Anti-Myth. But then, even the Anti-Myth became part of 60s mystique of “We Blew It”, Tragic Chic of EASY RIDER. After all, the Counterculture prided itself as much for its cynicism and irreverence as for its hopes and dreams. Even debunkers becomes so focused on the mythology that they become subsumed by it.
Consider movies like Julie Taymor’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Arthur Penn’s FOUR FRIENDS, Oliver Stones’ THE DOORS, Robert Zemeckis’ FORREST GUMP, and so on. What flaw do they all have in common? They are too busy highlighting the ‘iconic’ moments(too many of them) to get down to the business of developing story and characters. It’s like getting to know a country by visiting the most famous/popular tourist spots at the expense of all else.
While mythologization is a part of remembrance and recreation, it’s almost too much to mythologize the self-mythologized. It’s like baking an already baked cake. Because the Sixties era has been so hyped with ‘big’ themes(and childish self-aggrandizement, as in The Who’s TOMMY and Pink Floyd’s THE WALL, two albums separated by a decade in conception), re-creation of the period in fiction risks reduction of story and characters into mere props of the official mythology and narrative. (TOMMY and THE WALL are wall-to-wall great Rock music but stupid stories. You’d think Pete Townshend and Roger Water’s childhood traumas were the worst-things-ever and that mankind’s only means of redemption is to change their figurative diapers. This is what happens when creative types have the talent of Mozart and the mentality of Greta Thunberg.) To get a sense of 60s self-mythologizing, consider the music video “Your Wildest Dreams” by the Moody Blues. Though made in slick 80s style, it swoons over the 60s as a time when all was possible.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE pours on the mythic syrup or ‘mythrup’ thick & heavy and drowns in its own juices; it’s simply unwatchable. Though Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS isn’t without merit, it’s about Jim Morrison as 60s icon than an person we might care to know. His vaunted self is made to carry the psychedelic era as an electric cross on his shoulders. (Later, when Stone made ALEXANDER, it was essentially 60s Rock Star Romanticism writ large in ancient setting. Alexander was like a Jim Morrison on a war chariot. Stone’s 60s-centrism projected boomer dynamics on ancient history.) Significant Sixties, extending to the early 70s, also produced several anthems as if songs should herald a new age and speak for the entire generation. Some were special: “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Chimes of Freedom”, “America”(Simon and Garfunkel), “Sympathy for the Devil”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “All You Need is Love”, “See Me, Feel Me”, “Woodstock”, while others were less so: “Eve of Destruction”, “Abraham, Martin, and John”, “Get Together”, “Reflections of My Life”, and the inspired but insipid “American Pie”(by Don McLean). Things got so out of hand with generational megalomania that none other than John Lennon had to announce ‘the dream is over’ in none other than a song called “God”, but then it was almost immediately followed up with “Imagine” that said the dream is alive(though, after watching THE BIG CHILL, one can’t help wishing for it to be buried and done with forever). This is why the best films about the 60s tend to maintain a distance from the epicenter of the myth or take place in settings where reality obliterates the BS. Vietnam War films have generally been better than civilian movies about the Sixties because war has no time for flaky nonsense. Indeed, the best part of HAIR(by Milos Forman) is when the hippie(Treat Williams) dons military gear and marches off to war. Despite the movie’s anti-war message, the hippie gains a true sense of life only as a soldier marching off to war. No more days of clowning for him. As for AMERICAN PASTORAL(dir. Ewan McGregor), a decent film despite mostly negative reviews, the main character is a Jewish man whose girl turns into a radical and whose wife abandons herself to insipid fashions.
George Lucas’ heartfelt AMERICAN GRAFFITI takes place before the social eruptions, and the wonderful BABY IT’S YOU(dir. John Sayles) is about an Italian-American fella in love with an upper-middle class Jewish girl and wholly oblivious to the changes around him. For all his flaws and delusions, his ‘greaseball’ self still registers as more authentic than the trendy conceits of college girls. These films have fully-realized characters than poster-boys-and-girls of the era. As for INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, because its ‘hero’ struggles at the margins of a burgeoning folk scene(before Dylan and Beatles happened) and the bulk of the story unfolds on the road between two cities, it allows for a fuller examination of life distanced from the hullabaloo favored by cultural historians. At a remove from the spotlight of conventional lore, our eyes adjust to dimmer lights filled with personal stories, each unique and special in its own right but forgotten by history that emphasizes the winners. Indeed, fictions based on the main threads of history, political or cultural, have often resulted in something akin to series of newspaper clippings. For example, a movie about the Beatles would feel obligated to regurgitate all the familiar highlights, such as John Lennon’s remark about Jesus and the pilgrimage to Maharishi Yogi. The Beatles as individuals would hardly be developed as characters; there’s also the problem of famous people being so shrouded in hype that it’s hard to tell the person apart from the legend; one of the rare movies that overcame this problem was COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, largely due to the quality of writing/directing but also due to the Country Music scene of Loretta Lynn’s time having been sufficiently provincial and cut off from the Mainstream to allow for a more personal and less inflated narrative. The all-pervasive(and all-too-persuasive) power of the official narrative has been a bane on movies about political figures, generally cast as saint/hero or villain/monster, though there have been exceptions like Oliver Stone’s remarkable NIXON, possibly the best political biopic in Hollywood history, that focused less on the outward manifestations of Nixon’s career than his inner struggle that reveals so much about the psychology of power. (Stone’s W. was also very good.) NIXON is all the more remarkable for its success as art given it is largely a film about the Sixties, a period Stone utterly botched in THE DOORS.
The Sixties have been a veritable minefield for film-makers. Arthur Penn’s FOUR FRIENDS has a sensitive main character and some fine moments, but it covers too much ground as chronicle-of-a-generation and eventually spins out of control. Steven Spielberg’s tribute to Sixties pop aesthetics, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, is fab as fashion show but otherwise flat. I’ll take pizza to pizzazz. To Tarantino’s credit, he seems to have recognized the pitfalls of tackling the Sixties head on. You have to play it like a matador. There’s simply too much there that was(or was hyped as) seminal, groundbreaking, radical, trend-setting, and game-changing, not always in a good way. Though the Playboy Mansion scene hints the rest of the movie will be a time-travelogue through all things vogue, the movie thankfully takes a different route and avoids becoming a checklist of sights-and-sounds to see. Wise of Tarantino to cruise in the margins of the Main Action(the spotlight of the biggest stars and celebrities), thus allowing elbow space for his characters to develop what is unique about them.
What makes OUTH stand out as a Period Piece isn’t so much the mythologizing as the hypothesizing. When Leone did ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the Wild West had long been over as history and lingered only as myth and legend in the form of the American(and belatedly Italian) Western that, however, was in its sunset years, though it would go out with a bang — Leone’s epics, THE WILD BUNCH, and TRUE GRIT — than with a whimper. The Western was far from the truth, but no one mistook it as alternative history. Though the various movies about Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and the James Gang wildly differed from one another, they were understood to be free-wheeling interpretations of facts than ‘alternative’ facts.
In contrast, there is an element in OUTH, evocative more of TWILIGHT ZONE and OUTER LIMITS than of TV Westerns, that things could have played out differently and indeed may have in a parallel universe, the string-theory-variety where Sharon Tate is alive and well. (The sci-fi-ish parallel universe vibes are evident in the style of BOUNTY LAW. Though it’s said to be a 50s TV Western, it is oddly anachronistic in its nihilism. Early TV Westerns were moralistic, and bounty hunters weren’t admirable characters; after all, they killed for blood money. Western honor killed for justice or vengeance, especially in the darker works of Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann. Bounty Hunters became ‘cool’ with Leone’s nihilistic Westerns where the anti-hero felt no shame in piling up bodies for more dollars; in the final scene of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, the Man with No Name rides off with a wagon full of dead bodies like a kid pulling a cart of empty bottles for refund money. The TV spots for BOUNTY LAW look too stylized for the period, indeed as if none other than Leone had snuck into Hollywood studios in the 50s to oversee production.)
In a way, Tarantino did with Los Angeles of 1969 what David Lynch did with Twin Peaks, to be sure a town made of whole cloth that represents both idyll and inferno of Americana. The What-If chain-of-events play out in OUTH so that ‘Sharon Tate’ is spared the carnage that befell the real Sharon Tate. In TWIN PEAKS THE RETURN, agent Dale Cooper(Kyle MacLachlan), against all odds, manages to break through several dimensions and prevails over dark forces in an effort to save Laura Palmer. Ultimately however, TWIN PEAKS THE RETURN is as tragic and shattering as OUTH is magical and blissful, but then, Lynch at his best is an artist of depth — has anyone made a film about Hollywood that comes anywhere near MULHOLLAND DR.? — , whereas Tarantino has essentially been a prankster(after his all-too-brief stint as artist with his debut). In this, Tarantino is closer to Spielberg than to Lynch, the Master of Mood. (One wonders, though, to what extent Spielberg’s magic owes to John Williams. The Spielberg-Williams or ‘Spielliams’ formula, effective and excessive in equal measure, is maybe the most powerful visual-musical collaboration in movie history.)
That said, there is an element of melancholia that deepens the tone of OUTH. Yes, ‘Tate’ lives and has a future ahead of her, but as the title appears, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, we are reminded of how the reality didn’t play out like a fairy-tale, also the theme of Don Henley’s “End of the Innocence”. And yet, the movie’s happy-ending hypothesis isn’t merely a fairy-tale but a plausibility; Tate’s murder was not inevitable, indeed nothing is, just like Tess could have avoided murdering her husband, thereby not dooming her chances with the true love of her life. It’s part of human nature to believe in the inevitability of good times when things go well and the inevitability of bad times when things go south. During the dotcom bubble years, it was widely assumed that everyone would inevitably grow rich in the new economy. But when the bubble burst, the downturn seemed so inevitable. Same with the Housing Bubble, from extreme optimism to extreme pessimism, both buttressed by a sense of inevitability. And when National Socialist Germany was riding high, Germans felt history was on their side, and their triumph was inevitable. But when the regime came to an ignominious end, it seemed in retrospect doomed to failure from its very inception. And yet, nothing was inevitable by some iron law of history, neither the rise nor the fall. It all came down to who did what and when and where. It’s like the two mindsets in the opening of SEVEN SAMURAI. One peasant says it’s just the way of the world that bandits should prey on farming folks, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. But another peasant says there is the possibility of action, however daunting it may be. History and reality belong to those who decide to act; even if most fail, some succeed only because they acted. Reality is about what is done than not done, what is said than not said. What is the difference between men and animals?
Men have agency based on will and words, whereas animals only operate on instinct for survival. Men act proactively whereas animals act reactively in response to hunger and danger. This is why Jews seek to control the factors of agency and words in the West. Via monopoly of the Media, Jews have the power of voice whereas white goyim are rendered mute like cattle. While all of us use language on a daily basis, the only effective voice of society-as-a-whole is the ‘megaphone’ of media and state. Thus, the elites have the Mega-Voice whereas the masses have micro-murmurs that might as well be mute, like the inconsequential moos of cattle. Humans don’t kill and eat other humans because humans would protest with words; in contrast, cows can’t talk and so are led to slaughter without being heard. Jews know this, and this is why the ‘megaphone’ must only belong to them. Thus, they get to push the Great Replacement and White Nakba, while white folks, who have no access to the megaphone, go unheard in their misery and demise. White people must take to heart the words of the Arab in THE 13th WARRIOR: “For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought; all we ought to have said, and have not said; all we ought to have done, and have not done.” They must find ways to act. So many conservatives bitch and whine about globo-homo Jew-run Hollywood for not making the kinds of movies they want to see, but they never take action to create a media empire of their own. Whatever one may say of Tarantino, like him or not(and I mostly despise him), one has to give him credit as a man of action who didn’t sit around and procrastinate but actually took action to pursue his dreams and, in doing so, changed film history(though not for the better for the most part).
At the juncture of his career when the movie begins, Dalton can passively keep taking roles as disposable ‘heavies’ before the studios lose all interest and drop him for good, OR he can take a real stock of himself and push himself to be better than ever before. It is not inevitable that he should always be a drunk or stick to formula that has grown old and tired. There IS a second act in America Life if one wills it strongly enough. One must be born again, like Bowman into Starchild. But then, behind every ‘great’ man, there is a good man, the squire beside the knight, or Lancelot to back Arthur. And Booth is that man. In the end, it’s not all about the will or even talent. It’s about loyalty, support, and backup, just like Dutch(Ernest Borgnine) for Pike(William Holden) in THE WILD BUNCH and the Sundance Kid(Robert Redford) for the fast-talking hustler Butch Cassidy(Paul Newman). Yet, almost imperceptively, there is a kind of betrayal of Booth by Dalton. Booth, though stabbed and shot, is still alive and in one piece. As he’s being wheeled into the ambulance, he tells Dalton not to follow him to the hospital, and Dalton agrees and tells him he’s a good friend.
On the surface, it’s a touching moment of camaraderie between two men. Booth has grace-under-fire and seems more concerned about Dalton though he himself is the wounded one. Dalton expresses gratitude and appreciation, but something’s a bit awry when we consider the larger context. In an earlier flashback, we learned that Dalton decided to drop Booth, and the third day in the movie was meant to be their final get-together. And yet, on his last day on the job, Booth proved most indispensable for Dalton and his wife. Also, Booth figures Dalton is too freaked and exhausted to wait around at the hospital. He wants Dalton to rest and be with his wife. Now, if Dalton were a super-friend, he would have gone to the hospital anyway. In an earlier scene when Booth picked up ‘Pussycat’, she said, “I’m not too young to fuc* you, but you’re too old to fuc* me.” Applying the logic to Booth and Dalton in the final scene, the unspoken rule seems to be, “Booth is friend enough to tell Dalton not to visit him in the hospital, but Dalton isn’t friend enough to visit him anyway.” Booth is like a horse, both indispensable and dispensable in Dalton’s eyes. A cowboy is nothing without a horse, but it doesn’t have to be THAT horse. Dalton, more professional-minded than Booth(though not always professional in behavior), could go on with another Booth, whereas Booth’s service to Dalton went beyond mere professionalism.
Next moment, when ‘Sharon Tate’ invites Dalton to her house, he accepts and goes to see her who, in this movie, is never even grazed by violence. Despite all his years together with Booth and no history with ‘Tate’ and her crowd, he walks away from Booth and enters the Polanski domain. (Incidentally, the Folgers heiress, as both social worker and friend of celebrities, seem as loopy about reality as the Mansons are.) It is one way to convey the ‘Coming Apart’ that Charles Murray wrote of. It is in this regard that OUTH shares rapport with (the dreadful)JOKER and PARASITE. OUTH signals the beginning of the ‘coming apart’, JOKER represents the midpoint of globalism, and PARASITE(like THE COUNSELOR by Cormac McCarthy & Ridley Scott) exposes the bleak endpoint. Still, Booth doesn’t seem to mind. He’s not a particularly ambitious man and, as he’s wheeled away, is free of the bitterness felt by Treat Williams’ character in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. “Don’t worry, with one leg a little shy, you’re gonna take giant steps.” “Yeah. And always one step right behind you, Sharkey?”
OUTH is a Big Movie about a man who stars in TV Westerns. After all, the TV, especially back then, was hardly epic as format or in terms of programming. If anything, the TV made even epic movies look small and diminished, especially as the wide-screen format was non-existent for television. Even the biggest TV’s back then were far smaller and the 4:3 ratio format had a Procrustean effect on any movie shot in wider angle. (Watching ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST on the old telly was like being limited to playing the middle portion of a piano.) Also, TV Westerns hastened the death of the Western genre, which lost its mythic aura when anyone from grandpa to toddler could just switch on the TV in any room, including the woman’s domain of the kitchen, for the weekly programming(and daily reruns). Also, even though Italian Westerns revitalized the Western for awhile with a certain Euro-exoticism or ‘Euroticism’, they also used up the remaining fuel in the genre tank by pushing the boundaries fast and far into ultra-violence and nihilism — what had been fresh with Leone’s ‘Dollars Trilogy’ became de rigeur with countless Spaghettis that came to number over a thousand titles. Besides, what more could be done with the genre after THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST? Except for THE WILD BUNCH, MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, and perhaps PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, the Western was hardly expanded after the Spaghettis got through with it. Also, if some Spaghettis went for hyper-mythology, others went the route of political propaganda — the Protest Western or Radical Western — , which rubbed a lot of people the wrong way(as most moviegoers didn’t want a revisionist sermon). Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT, a kind of sci-fi neo-Western, didn’t fare well at the box-office either. Given the deleterious effect of TV and Italian Westerns on the genre as a whole, Dalton-as-symbol of classic Western Idol, especially one at odds with the ‘hippies’, is more than a bit ironic.
As for Schwarz’s thesis that playing the heavy diminishes one’s mystique, is it really true? Richard Widmark often played heavies but had a long illustrious career as tough guy. Same with Jack Palance and Lee Marvin. Though we root for Alan Ladd in SHANE who ultimately vanquishes the heavy, we can’t help feeling that the meanest, toughest, baddest dude in the movie is still the Cobra. And who’s gonna argue against Darth Vader as the most formidable figure in STAR WARS? And there was a reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger opted to play the heavy than the hero in THE TERMINATOR. The heavy almost always loses in the end, but he exudes more bad-to-the-bone charisma(and the good guys, often weaker on a one-on-one basis, have to gang up to destroy him). The iron rule that it takes only the absolute best or an entire army to finally defeat the villain means that the latter is certainly worthy of awe. Just ask Godzilla. Gian Maria Volonte was fearsome in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and A FEW DOLLARS MORE, and Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes was most impressive in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY; besides, Angel Eyes was bested because he was caught between Blondie and Tuco. Of course, Blondie and Tuco weren’t exactly saints, but Angel Eyes was meaner than mean. And one of Henry Fonda’s most memorable roles was as the hired henchman in none other than ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. His gang murders an entire family, including a little boy, to the wailing of an electric guitar, but the role was indisputably Fonda’s most far-out magnificent(and even rock-star-like, besting his children Peter and Jane who came across as goody-two-shoes compared to their pa-gone-‘bad’).
Tarantino considers both sides of the coin on the ‘politics’ of the heavy. Clint Eastwood, for one, declined the role of cameo-heavy in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST to preserve his newly minted mystique as the Man with No Name — initially, Leone had intended Eastwood, Wallach, and Cleef to play the trio gunned down by Bronson in the opening of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST to signal his departure from the ‘Dollars Trilogy’; Wallach and Cleef were willing, Eastwood was not. Perhaps, Eastwood sensed that invincibility or at least indestructibility was intrinsic to his movie star persona. (Indeed, in HANG EM HIGH, DIRTY HARRY, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, PALE RIDER, and the UNFORGIVEN, it’s as if his character is ‘resurrected’ even from the dead. It’s like even when he’s dead, he doesn’t stay dead, and actually, this aspect of Eastwood-ism goes back to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY where he miraculously survives near-death torments — Tuco does too in a scene that might be called PASSION OF THE TUCO. The only movies in which Eastwood’s characters died were in BEGUILED, HONKY TONK MAN, and GRAN TORINO, but then he didn’t play lone killers in them.) On its face, Schwarz’s argument makes perfect sense, so much so that the disheartened Dalton cries on his friend’s shoulder in front of Mexicans. So, it seems the networks are just using ‘Jake Cahill’(Dalton’s brand in BOUNTY LAW) as a stepping-stone or even floor mat for up-and-coming stars before his usability has run its course. It’s like over-the-hill boxers are paraded out as journeymen punching-bags for new talents because, as former champs or top-contenders, their names still ring a bell with the public. Thus, even a fighter who defeated a much faded Muhammad Ali or Roberto Duran could still claim to have beaten the ‘champ’. It’s like Howard Stern’s PRIVATE PARTS beating the re-release of RETURN OF THE JEDI at the box-office prompted the so-called King of All Media to boast that his movie beat STAR WARS.
Dalton’s “Jake Cahill” is, as Schwarz warns, being passed around like an old whore to break in new studs. He’s the go-to-ass in the game of tail-the-donkey. And yet, prodded by an eccentric director who takes the TV show a tad too seriously(and personally as a would-be ‘auteur’), Dalton has a chance to be ‘sexy hamlet’ than yet another stock character. As anxious and down as Dalton feels, it is this overwhelming sense of crisis(with shades of personal tragedy) that leads him to ‘reevaluate’ and reassess his calling as an actor than merely a ‘star’. Besides, if an eight year old girl is so mindful of herself as an ‘actor’, why shouldn’t he delve deeper into his role as well? Don’t be ‘Dakota’. Be ‘DeCouteau’. A part of him must be born-again, or crawl out of the coffin like Uma Thurman’s character in KILL BILL Part 2. His career isn’t ready for the graveyard yet. For the first time, he can expand his chops as an actor than rely on the same formula that led to TV stardom a decade ago.
Ironically, his most nerve-racking and doubt-riddled performance is for the role of heavy who exudes nothing but cocky arrogance. Thus, the ‘sexy hamlet’ element has less to do with the role itself(which is more like Paris in ROMEO AND JULIET) than Dalton’s struggle with himself. And this is what’s epic about the moment. It’s like someone trying to squeeze tears out of stones. The epic element is intensified by the way Tarantino structured the scene. Though a filming of a modest TV show, it is staged like a major Western and looks too elaborate for Tube fare. It’s as if we’re drawn into Dalton’s subjective view of the role and story than watching the actual filmiing. For him, the stakes are huge, a make-or-break moment of truth, and he sees and plays it like his life depended on it. While death is faked on a movie set, Dalton’s prospects as star/actor is really on the line. On that note, it really is do-or-die for him in the showdown of his life. (It’s as if famous people lead two lives. The personal life like the rest of us and the public life of the stars. People who’ve never known fame don’t know what it’s like to have it then lose it. Indeed, Booth says as much: “Look, I never had much of a career to speak of, so I can’t say I really know how you feel.” It is a kind of death, like a wingless bird that, though alive, is effectively dead as a bird. Booth, never having had wings, can cope better. Fame is like a drug, an addiction. In a way, the Sixties began the process of universalizing the Fame mindset even among the non-famous as the cult of the cool implied anyone with ‘higher consciousness’ and drugs could be ‘groovy’ and ‘far out’, just like the Grateful Dead. If earlier generations went to Hollywood to become stars, the mere act of being a hippie in San Francisco meant you were a star, or at least a starchild. The ease of ‘conversion’ and being ‘special’ was part of the appeal. Hollywood was hierarchy, Haight-Asbury was equality, and the Manson Murders were the worst possible meeting of the two.) The scenes with Dalton-as-DeCouteau are done with panache, as if to spellbind us into seeing them as the real thing; we almost forget it’s Dalton playing a character. It’s like TWILIGHT ZONE meets BONANZA, one where fiction becomes reality. (There’s a TWILIGHT ZONE episode called “A World of Difference” where an actor becomes so immersed in his role that it becomes his reality.)
Also, playing the heavy in this particular pilot, Dalton comes face to face with the nastier side of himself. He not only plays a real son of a bitch but lets out his demon-genie, the Hyde to the Jekyll or Buddy Love to Professor Kelp(of Jerry Lewis’ THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. Off the movie set, we’ve seen him as a stuttering crybaby, whiny alcoholic, and weak ‘nice guy’ — he looks especially small in the talk with the insightful and forceful Schwarz — , but there is rage roiling within him. In life, he knew not how to harness this fury — he lost his driver’s license to heavy drinking, and his private tantrums, like in the movie-set trailer, are a sorry sight — , but his role-as-heavy touches a nerve within(even toughening him up for nihilistic Italian Westerns and the encounter with Manson Youths who drive up to his house; he vents such spleen at them that the shaken Tex, paralyzed with fear, apologizes and retreats with his tail between his legs, reminiscent of the man who couldn’t get up the nerve to draw the gun on Cheyenne in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST; that said, Dalton’s rage, which has all the hallmarks of celebrity entitlement, lends some credence to the hatred felt by Manson Youths though their anger is driven by envy and resentment than any sense of justice). The director praises Dalton for the spontaneous move of slamming the little girl(Trudi Fraser) against the floor, but it’s also a bit disturbing.
The girl seems to have it all: Looks, smarts, personality, and even the hardiness of a mini-stunt-person. It’s as though Dalton snatched the opportunity to assert his wounded male ego over the girl who’d mentally and emotionally treated him as a child. Also disturbing is the girl’s beaming reaction to Dalton’s improvisation. She says she throws herself on the floor in her spare time. Does she want to grow up to do her own stunts? It also shows how female nature turns on to male prowess. She felt sorry for the weepy Dalton earlier but is impressed by the ‘sexy hamlet’. On the other hand, the fact that the girl is unfazed by Dalton’s shock move and sees fit to pass judgement on his acting suggests she’s still on top. She remains the teacher. Trudi and the somewhat older Sadie typify changes wrought by youth ‘liberation’ and female ‘empowerment’. Both are beyond their years in thoughts and words. Trudi is child-scholar and Sadie a beatnik-or-freaknik-philosopher. They are girls-as-women as ‘Sharon Tate’ is a woman-as-girl. ‘Tate’ seems to be in a love triangle with Roman Polanski(her husband) and ‘Jay Sebring’, but it’s also as if she’s caught up in a shadow-menage-a-trois or a psychic mytho-a-trois with Dalton & Booth despite getting to know Dalton(without Booth) only at the end. Of course, the three have no clue as to how their horoscopes crossed path to shape their destinies. They are like mice in a zodiac maze altered by Tarantino playing invisible god.
There have been many what-if’s about the Kennedy assassination and its consequences, especially in relation to Vietnam and the future of the CIA-Military-Industrial-Complex, and these thought-games revolve around the intention/action of the individual or the parties involved while generally ignoring the ‘accidental’ factors of history. Those who insist on Oswald as the lone gunman focus on his determined completion of the plan while others, such as Oliver Stone in JFK, suggest that, once the Deep State set the ball in motion, there was precious little that could have been done to stop it. And yet, even the most meticulously arranged plans often derail like the murder plot in UNFAITHFULLY YOURS(dir. Preston Sturges). It could be incompetence, poor timing, or just plain bad luck, like with the dog in Kubrick’s THE KILLING. Consider all the building projects that have run up costs and prolonged the schedule. To this day, many refuse to believe the official narrative of the JFK assassination, and the death of Jimmy Hoffa(the subject of Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN) is still shrouded in mystery. There’s no question about the deaths of Sharon Tate and her friends, but Tarantino seems to suggest that the death was as much an ‘accident’ as anything else. Here, ‘accident’ has a double meaning. (1) An act that deviates from the original plan by a set of unforeseen circumstances, like the Manson Youths going off to kill Dalton first. (2) But even an act that goes totally according to plan can be deemed an ‘accident’ of history because it arose from circumstances beyond anyone’s control; Bolshevik takeover of Russia was hastened by World War I, and Mao’s takeover of China owed to fallout from World War II; the principal players acted, but fortune fell on their laps.
Anyone who’s embarked on a film project knows of the ‘accidental’ factor. The filming rarely goes according to plan; furthermore, some ‘accidents’, unforeseen and unintended, prove to be the magic pill that the movie really needed. OUTH and THE GRADUATE have in common the potential to alter the impossible into the possible, the difference being that Braddock pulls it off with manic determination, whereas an ‘accident’ deflects the asteroid heading toward ‘Sharon Tate’ and her friends. Was this ‘accident’ more a matter of chance or divine intervention? It’s as if Tarantino enjoyed playing a beneficent hipster god who tipped the scale just a tiny bit to bring about the favored outcome. Indeed, one way of defining ‘god’ is a being with control over time, .e.g. the characters in TIME AFTER TIME and THE TERMINATOR, with means to change the entire course of history, possess godlike powers.
Jews, perhaps the most historically conscious people yet also armed with prophetic vision of the future, aspire to be masters of time. Benjamin Braddock, as the embodiment of the ‘Jewish Revolutionary Spirit’, pulls off the virtually impossible against time and space, which feels even more outrageous because Mike Nichols, inspired by European Art Cinema, resolved to make a mature and intelligent film about life. The miraculous happy ending in the old Hollywood style, the sort of thing that happens in Doris-Day-and-Rock-Hudson movies, would have been out of place. And yet, the film was based on a slight breezy novel by Charles Webb that does end like a fairy tale. The challenge for Nichols was to make an Art Film out of a mod fairy-tale but then make the fairy-tale-ending stick in terms of Truth as demanded by Art. To make the ending more wrenching, Nichols made Braddock snatch Elaine AFTER she made her vows and kissed the groom. Thus, the struggle gets down-and-dirty as Braddock isn’t so much a white knight but a gypsy thief. Also, Nichols made the character of Braddock far more maniacal and neurotic(at times even Polanski-Manson-like), exactly the kind of person who just might push the envelope. Thus, the Wasp fairy-tale was turned into a Jewish hit job — hero into gangster — , the kind that just might be willed into reality.
Indeed, if there’s one thing that distinguishes Jews from other groups, it’s this radical will to make the impossible possible. A bit of Jewishness may have rubbed off on Tarantino who, in OUTH, makes the impossible possible by having Sharon Tate live, much like Superman defies the cosmic order to bring Lois Lane back to life in SUPERMAN. How did Christianity begin? The Jewish Disciples couldn’t do anything to save their Master, but they didn’t just give up then and there. Against all odds, they created a myth of Jesus’ Resurrection. Tragedy was willed into Triumph, and it became the basis of the greatest religion in human history. A seemingly impossible feat came to be. Most groups in human history have been far more resigned to fate, the way of things, to the Tao or Karma. Que Sera Sera, Whatever Will Be Will Be. In contrast, Jews not only have a penchant for conceiving impossible dreams but possess the radical will and strategic cunning to bring them to fruition by means fair and foul. Who would have thought the Bolshevik Revolution would have been possible? Apparently, Jewish radicals did and never gave up. Who would have thought Jews would reclaim the Holy Land? Who would have thought Jews would take power from the Anglos, the mightiest people the world had ever seen? Who would have thought Jews could get away with pushing ‘gay marriage’? It is then hardly surprising that Jews are unrelenting in their War on Russia with the long-term plan of taking it over for themselves, as they’d done with the US and EU. Jews say “Never Again”, but their modus operandi is more like “Never Give Up.” The Stamper family in Ken Kesey’s SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION lives by the motto, “Never Give A Inch”, whereas the “Never Give Up” Jews will sometimes yield an inch only to maneuver to take a mile and then everything. Stampers are tough but rigid defenders, whereas Jews are relentless attackers flexible enough to lose an inch to gain the whole nine yard. Well, it’s the Jews who came to rule America.
It’s no wonder Jews hate Adolf Hitler with such virulence. It wasn’t just because Hitler hated Jews but because he was so much like them in radical will. And it is this mania that propels Benjamin Braddock in THE GRADUATE, or Charles Grodin’s character in THE HEARTBREAK KID. He must get what he wants, and he will do ANYTHING to have it. And yet, no one gets what he wants just by desire and effort. If reality worked that way, the most determined would always win. Rather, one needs a keen sense of the ‘accident’-factor in history, the unforeseen outliers that serve as “crisis points that mustn’t go to waste”. Exploiting those ‘accidents’ makes the plan so much easier. It’s like a wrestler doesn’t win just by straining with all his strength but by taking advantage of ‘holes’ that open up during the match. This is where Jews are savvy and smart. They keep their hands on the Future Plan and wait for the right moment to pounce for the kill. Consider how swiftly Jewish globalists pushed through the Plan when the Soviet Union imploded and Russia was ripe for the taking by sharks and weasels. They had the Plan in waiting and watched out for the right crisis point to enforce the ‘shock doctrine’, or Shylock Doctrine. Likewise, Jews used 9/11 to push the Iraq War and exploited the 2008 financial meltdown to make Obama president and push through ‘gay marriage’.
Despite the lack of intimacy between the woman(Claudia Cardinale) and the two men(Bronson and Jason Robards) in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST — ironically, the only man we see her in bed with is Frank the killer — , there forms a kind of ‘spiritual’ bond among them. Fate crossed the paths of the two men to save the woman(as carrier of water) from the railroad tycoon and his henchmen. Still, the three characters come to know one another and realize, rather self-consciously, their significance in the myth; indeed, they are less individuals than icons.
In OUTH, however, the characters teeter somewhere between realistic and archetypal: Beneath Dalton’s star persona is a real person hung up with self-doubt, and beyond Booth’s job as gofer/chauffeur is a larger-than-life hero; and ‘Tate’ is both movie star and girl-next-door, literally. Thus, their interconnected destinies seem as random as fateful.
In ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, everything turns out as ordained by the ‘logic’ of the genre. Indeed, when Harmonica(Charles Bronson) says to Frank(Henry Fonda), “So, you found out you’re not a businessman after all”, the response is, “Just a man”, to which Harmonica says, “An ancient race…” Frank then states, “The future don’t matter to us. Nothing matters now – not the land, not the money, not the woman…” In other words, there is no other way for him or Harmonica. The stars meant for them to settle the score. One of them must be ritually sacrificed in the twilight of the West, and the victor must fade into the horizon.
In contrast, OUTH has it both ways. Dalton is tough guy on screen, touchy guy off-screen, and Booth, despite his Marlboro Man good-looks, lives in a trailer with a dog. And yet, because the movie is set in one of the most iconic years in one of the most momentous decades, the characters can’t help being a part of something bigger. Even though OUTH is as much about randomness(quantum mechanics of life) as starry fate, there is nevertheless a tidal sense of grandeur to the events, not least because Tarantino, ever so genre-conscious, modeled the narrative on the Western and the fairytale. (Incidentally, the title of Pauline Kael’s review of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA in the New Yorker was “Tidal”.)
Leone’s contribution to the Western was conceived of opposite impulses; his style owed more to film-makers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang(of the German period), Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock(who never made a Western), and of course, Akira Kurosawa(who did, however make, Easterns) than to the most famous directors of Hollywood Westerns. Leone’s use of extreme long shots — opening image of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and in the final shoot-out in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY to name a few — were unlike any other in Westerns, and yet, Leone also pioneered his own brand of extreme close-ups and obsession with details, such as Angel Eyes slurping stew in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and Jack Elam & the fly in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. (The opening scene following the b/w mock-documentary intro begins with an extreme close-up of a Dalton movie poster that could be an homage to Leone. Granted, there’s a Lynchian feel as well, making it ‘Lyncheone’.)
The zen-like detachment of the Man with No Name and Harmonica seem all the more remarkable because they inhabit a world so grubby and gross in appetites and manners. They are hawks in a world of vultures. Though the opening scene of the three killers in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is similar to the opening of HIGH NOON, the trio in the latter seem ready for action whereas Jack Elam, Woody Strode, and Al Mulock seem to have all the time in the world to sweat, collect dust, crack knuckles, and grow stubble on chin. With time suspended, Leone’s gaze lingers on seemingly trivial matters, exaggerated ways of killing time. And so, Elam’s annoyance with the fly turns into a contest of wills. Drops of water collect on Strodes’ stetson like in an ancient well. And Mulock’s knuckles crack in ritualistic anticipation. It’s as if Leone’s poring at the Western slide under a microscope. His Westerns are called ‘cosmic’ but are also ‘nano’, shifting in scale between vast plains and grains of sand.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST’s vastness of scope but minuteness of details was bound to baffle many viewers. Generally, an epic-sized movie focuses on grand gestures and copious amounts of action — the battle of titans, like in Anthony Mann’s EL CID, which is wall-to-wall melodrama and clashing of swords. But so much of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST dwell on painterly nitty-gritty in a state of suspended time. The effect was especially disorienting for fans of the Classic Western, a genre that operates in finite concentrations of space and time. Despite the aura of wide-open spaces, most Westerns are about tightly conceived characters in narrowly constructed spaces. This is why so many Westerns take place in a single town with a main street and saloon. That’s pretty much all one needs for most Westerns. (It was also economic for the movie studios.) The Western directs our attention to the stark conflict at hand, the pinpoint intersection of time and space. The West may be vast, but the Western is about the gravitational pull and claustrophobia between the gunmen; everything else is irrelevant. William Wyler’s THE WESTERNER exemplifies this aspect of the genre. Near the opening, we see Gary Cooper riding fast and free over vast terrain, but once he arrives at a certain place and gets entangled with a few characters, the entirety of the movie is focused on the narrow drama/action.
Most Westerns are about place than movement. Even when the Western heroes are constantly on the move, as in Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher’s neatly constructed works, their minds are wrapped around a single objective with no time to spare for anything else. Even in a movement-heavy movie like STAGECOACH, it’s as if the only space that matters is inside the crib-like coach, and even when Red Savages appear the main objective is to defend the vehicle as a symbol of civilization and community against the elements; it is to the West what the baby carriage was for the Revolution in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Indeed, the stagecoach is almost the entire stage in the movie. Some find Ford’s style a bit constricting — so static and stable amidst so much commotion and chaos — but, others find it remarkable, as if Ford had the best gyroscope in the business. There were Westerns with fuller sense of movement, the more elaborate and expensive productions with large cast of characters(and sometimes even more cattle). Raoul Walsh’s magnificent BIG TRAIL was a whale of a production. When Howard Hawks finally got around to directing his first Western, it was the sprawling RED RIVER, a movie as restless as it was big. And Ford’s most famous Western is THE SEARCHERS, about two men constantly on the move. Even so, they are all about impulse and impatience; they are about highly charged men doing everything in their power to hasten the completion of their mission. (Peckinpah reversed this dynamics in MAJOR DUNDEE, THE WILD BUNCH, and PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID where the anti-heroes keep veering off track as if to forestall the inevitable as long as possible.)
In contrast, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was conceived with a sense of infinite time and space. We always sense more time and space than needed for the action and resolution. Many viewers were confused as to why Leone expanded time and space IF he was going to leave most of it empty or fill it with seemingly irrelevant details. In the classic Western, the hero with vengeance on his mind is most eager to get what he’s after; James Stewart is lived with barely repressed rage throughout his Anthony Mann Westerns. In contrast, Harmonica carries on as if he has all the time in the world before finally coming to a head with Frank at just the right moment in just the right place. One might think he’s waiting for Godot. He even spares Frank at one time so that he can confront him later.
Though not the first, Leone crafted a hyperbolic style of montage cutting between near and far to up the ante in tension and suspense. (He certainly would have succeeded in propaganda and advertising.) For this contribution, despite the overwhelming critical and moral dismissals of his works upon release, Leone belongs to a handful of film artists who could boast of having altered the language and landscape of cinema. Even most excellent film-makers weren’t seminal in this way. As important as John Ford was — and he was one of the greatest movie-makers — , the Hollywood style would have developed more-or-less the same way had Ford worked in movies But cinema was never quite the same after Leone. The opening of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is one of the most outstanding in movie history. The ways in which the scene alternates between the most minuscule details — the fly on Elam’s stubble, water condensing on the bottom of a water barrel(perhaps the inspiration for the final image of BLOOD SIMPLE), creases and dirt on the boots, etc. — and the grandest of vistas(of the sky, plains, and railroad track stretching into the distance) create an effect like nothing before in cinema. The executives at Paramount were furious that, instead of another rock-and-rollicking Spaghetti Western, Leone delivered them an ‘art film’. (It was as if Leone directed a Western in the style of Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, and Miklos Jancso, with the caveat that Art Directors slowed the pace to get at the deeper truth, whereas Leone did so to push the myth even further. The result was too unreal for the art-house and too arty for the mainstream.)
To further exasperation to Paramount, Ennio Morricone’s score was fancier and loftier than in the ‘Dollars Trilogy’ though it featured one of the most haunting uses of Rock-style electric guitar. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was oddly more realistic and more fantastic than the ‘Dollars Trilogy’. Its presentation of frontier life was naturalistic beyond anything seen in Westerns since Raoul Walsh’s THE BIG TRAIL. You could almost smell the sweat. Instead of using sets and locations as mere backdrops as in the ‘Dollars Trilogy’, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST settled into them as historical space; the re-creations have the meticulousness of the most elaborate museum displays than the threadbare or essentialist look of most Westerns. So much in it look lived-in and authentic, regardless of their historical accuracy. The slow pace also conveyed the reality of being a killer. Most kinds of work require people to be constantly occupied with some activity, and the focus on the task helps to kill time. In contrast, killers have a lot of dead time on their hands when they’re not killing. Even soldiers in war, who see far more violence than gunslingers, experience long stretches of dead time between firefights. Men whose lives are devoted to intermittent spurts of violence must spend much of their days idling around, waiting for the opportune moment. It’s like being a fireman. In operation, they see more action than most people, but in the wait, they find themselves with too much time. Actors, especially supporting cast and bit players, on movie sets understand this well enough. They must hang around for long stretches til everything all set and ready and it’s their turn. Otherwise, they must sit and wait, like Dalton reading a dime-novel about ‘Easy-Breezy’. Perhaps, more than any other movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST conveyed the duality of what it means to be a killer: the most exciting action in the most boring job.
The realist element of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was undergirded with Ennio Morricone’s incorporation of natural sounds at key junctures as either part of the score or its surrogate. This was done to a remarkable degree in the very beginning with the buzzing fly, cracking knuckles, plopping water, clicking telegraph sounder, creaking windmill, clomping boots, and finally the train whistle, all to devastating effect. (The train station with ticket booth and telegraph ticker could be an allusion to a movie theater with projection booth.) Few directors/composers prior to Leone/Morricone used sound quite in this manner — Antonioni in the montage sequences in THE ECLIPSE and BLOW-UP come to mind. The aural montage is as remarkable as the visual montage. Clamor of the train’s arrival is all the more disquieting precisely because our senses were attuned to the idle murmurs of dead time. As mundane as the sounds are, they are also ‘animal’ in their amplified clarity, as if heard through the extraordinary senses of a cat or coyote, just like the eagle-eyed-view lends a supra-sensory dimension to the landscape. With keen enough senses, anything can be made epic, surely a lesson Tarantino learned a thing or two from Leone.
There are scenes in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD that aren’t particularly eventful but pulsing with extra energy. It’s like a lion, or Booth for that matter, need not always be in the hunt to convey its impressive strength. It’s as if Tarantino finally felt such confidence in his film-making prowess that he approached OUTH in the mode of a stalk than a full-on hunt. If you got it, no need to show all of it to show you got it. Tarantino made PULP FICTION, KILL BILL, and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS with nouveau riche aesthetics that flaunted everything and then some to prove value. People ate it up, but it was rather like the bike-obsession in PEE WEE HERMAN’S BIG ADVENTURE. Pee Wee Quentin couldn’t get enough attention with silly bike gimmicks, as amazing as some of them were. With OUTH, there’s a sign that Tarantino is past his silly-bike phase, no longer so eager to prove his chops as whiz kid. Thus, the style is more assured and in sync with the story, which is more about humans than caricatures. Tarantino may no longer feel he must put the pedal to the metal and jump over bridges to prove his worth. It’s like a sports car need not go full speed all the time to be a prized object. In AMADEUS, ‘Mozart’ takes the criticism of ‘too many notes’ badly, but there is some truth to what the Emperor suggested. While genius or special talent is a wonderful thing, it has a tendency toward narcissism, thus highlighting its brilliance at the expense of everything else. Robin Williams was a genius comic but toned himself down for movie roles because a character making non-stop funny jokes wouldn’t have been believable. Woody Allen, another genius comic, could pack a movie with seemingly endless funny jokes(as in his early hilarious movies) but wouldn’t have been able to make movies about life and people if every line was another joke.
When Francis Ford Coppola made THE GODFATHER and APOCALYPSE NOW, his film-making prowess, even genius, was in the service of story and characters. It was a team-player than a selfish player. In team sports, even the very best player can’t be showing off his skills at every opportunity to the detriment of the team as a whole. His talent, great as it is, must be in concert with other players. ONE FROM THE HEART, RUMBLE FISH, and COTTON CLUB are all examples of film-making prowess turned into a selfish player. The problem with Tarantino was ‘too many notes’, as if, in rivalry with other movie wizards like Wong Kar-Wai, he had to prove he could do cartwheels and juggle at the same time. But such manic excess of style and tricks hardly did anything for story and characters. Still, it was a hit with the young audience with ADS, or attention-deficit-syndrome, and ISD, or infantile-sensibility-disorder. With OUTH, Tarantino was more mindful of using his prowess to serve the story. Hold the extra sausage & peppers and too much sauce. Don’t use highway speed, let alone NASCAR speed, on local roads. This was surely risky on his part because so many of his fans have gotten accustomed to his shtick as one-man Santini-Brothers.
Perhaps, worried that such an approach might seem perplexing or even boring to current moviegoers accustomed to zip-zap-wham-bam of blockbuster cinema, Tarantino sets the proper tone between himself and the audience with the dog-feeding scene. The dog could be meant to be us, the viewers. Tarantino could be nudge-nudging us that OUTH is not the usual action-packed blood-soaked blockbuster served like fast food. Rather, like BLADE RUNNER, it’s best appreciated with a bit of patience and focus. So, settle down and watch the movie or no dog-food.
That said, Tarantino was savvy enough to know he’d end up in movie-making dungeon if he made something truly like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, especially after the box-office failure of HATEFUL EIGHT. Therefore, even as OUTH drew inspiration from Leone’s epic Western, it was careful to reduce slack in the pacing. Tarantino wears both a belt and suspenders just to be sure. There’s a bright musical quality, brassy and upbeat, that keeps the movie bounding along. It’s a testament to how light and color can create visual music, and OUTH is a better musical than the LA LA LAND. Also, periodic blasts of 60s Rock music helps to keep the adrenaline flowing. That Tarantino grew up to Rock music surely made him a more kinetic director than Leone. While the electric guitar lent youthful vigor to the ‘Dollars Trilogy’, those movies were nevertheless classically constructed and consistently paced. In contrast, Tarantino’s style constantly shifts like 45’s on a phonograph. Because his scenes work like a series of pop songs, one needn’t worry with a dud moment because the next one just might rock.
Furthermore, Tarantino’s approach in OUTH is a blend of Western and Horror tropes, most telling in Booth’s visit to Spahn ranch that draws from both ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and PSYCHO. In terms of action, very little happens until Booth finally clocks a ‘hippie’ and even then the tension ebbs as the ‘hippy’ cowers to Booth’s demand. Most of the scene is taken up with Booth walking to a house, visiting an old friend, and walking back to his car. And yet, it builds to near-epic dimensions by a fusion of tension, suspense, dread(intimating unspeakable horrors, especially for those who know about the Mansons), and pathos. In this scene, Tarantino knew as well as Leone and Hitchcock(or Edgar Allan Poe) that a few choice words and glances can radically alter one’s view of the world. Almost imperceptibly, friend becomes enemy, innocuous turns intolerable. Pussycat is like the Siren of Greek Mythology who lures with a song and smile but is a creature of darkness. And Booth is like Parsifal of Wagner’s opera who is tempted by Kundry & the Flower-maidens but overcomes them. There is also the matter of personal history and memory. If Booth hadn’t known George Spahn, he would have dropped off Pussycat and just driven away. But because he has a certain history at the movie ranch, his conscience doesn’t allow him to just walk away. He feels obligated to find out what’s really up.
Booth’s walk to and from George Spahn’s house becomes the centerpiece of the second day, in a way of the entire movie. And, whereas Dalton’s high drama on the movie set was just make-believe(no matter how intensely he got into the role), Booth really risks life and limb as he walks up to the house. The three kinds of violence featured on the second day — on the movie set with Dalton(solemn but not real), on the movie screen with ‘Tate’(unserious and unreal), and on movie ranch with Booth(serious and real) — say something about the meaning of violence as drama, comedy, and reality in America. As Booth inches closer to the door, we aren’t sure what the Manson Youths will do. And we share Booth’s dread of unearthing something ghastly, like the decayed body on the bed in MULHOLLAND DR. or the shriveled corpse of Norman’s mother in PSYCHO. The eeriness makes the reunion between Booth and Spahn all the more touching, even a big grand, yet also sad as the old man has lost the better half of himself to either senility or perhaps drugs supplied by the Mansons. Memory is the key to power. It is amnesia that slows Odysseus’ journey back home and wipes Siegfried’s knowledge of his true love. Spahn has succumbed to temptation and amnesia, whereas Booth remains true to himself with a full storage of memory and will-power.
Like the opening of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the scene is especially memorable for its keen attention to details, all adding to the ghoulish tension. Even the release of the latch-hook on the door by Squeaky(Dakota Fanning) is done with an accent. It is the power of cinema that even short distances can seem like an epic mile and a gaggle of young girls can seem like the devil’s spawn. Booth’s walk to the house is truly masterly film-making. Tarantino could also be channeling a certain ‘auteur’, of whom Jean-Luc Godard said “Nicholas Ray is cinema.” Ray had an uncanny way of combining the eccentric and the generic, the classic and the modern. He was perhaps the director whose sensibility was furthest removed from Hollywood yet managed to make movies that were acceptable(if just barely) to Hollywood standards. Movies like BIGGER THAN LIFE, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and JOHNNY GUITAR outwardly conform to conventions while inwardly breaking every rule. His metaphor of the house as a normal place on the outside and a trouble place within hinted at the deceptive foundation of the American Dream. He captured turmoil inside a bottle and was a powerful stylist to boot, which can’t be said of the hopelessly crude Sam Fuller.
The third (mock)epic moment is when ‘Tate’ attends a screening of her own movie. A woman entering a movie theater should be of no special significance, but she arrives in the middle of the day not as a movie-goer but as movie royalty, a star on the rise, a goddess come to bestow blessing on her goddessy self on the silver screen. The moment is both magnifique and mundane. A genuine star, the very actress of the now-showing movie no less, has appeared out of the blue. A cause for celebration, and yet, the secret is between her and two staff members who feel privileged to be her presence. Privileged but also a bit bemused and off-balance. In the public imagination, stars are the center of attention and greeted with something akin to mass hysteria. But fanfare requires the critical mass of a mob, and it just so happens there’s only the box office cashier and the lobby manager. Very possibly, they might have been thrilled had they gotten a glimpse of ‘Tate’ at a Red Carpet gala. But on that occasion, it’s just the three of them. A star is among them, but two isn’t crowd enough for excitement. But because ‘Tate’ is famous, a sense of formality comes between them.
Thus, their brief encounter is both special and casual, and it also presages the triangle of fortune that links the fates of Booth, Dalton, and ‘Tate’ later. In a way, a movie star is standing with peons, but in another way, two people get to play with a shiny toy, a life-sized barbie doll, all to themselves for a few minutes. The moment also points to an often overlooked aspect of movie culture, especially in our time of box-office-mania. There is now so much buzz about new releases and box office numbers that other discussions are overlooked. But, a truer cinema is the simple love of movies regardless of all the hysteria and pissing contests over which movie had the bigger box office gross and which star was voted the ‘sexiest man/woman of the year’. Tarantino, who spent many hours in movie screenings with mostly empty seats, knows of this movie culture. It’s not about the money or fame. It’s just you and the movie and what you make out of it. On that note, ‘Tate’ gets to be a civilian for a change as well as a movie star. She is glorifying in herself but also simply taking in a movie like everyone else. Perhaps, the idea struck a chord with Tarantino who can no longer just walk into any theater as an anonymous nobody and take in a movie. He is watched and talked about. Whatever he does is part of the gossip mill. He surely loves his stardom, but there must be a side of him that yearns for a time when it was just him and the movies and hell with everything else.
The three intersecting narratives, of Dalton and ‘Tate’ and Booth, convey the multi-faceted grandeur of Hollywood as the haunted palace of sin, fantasy, and redemption. ‘Tate’ is truly blessed as she’s the type of woman who needn’t do much for attention. Wherever she goes, the world revolves around her. And yet, she is also living a miracle because so many women with comparable beauty never get anywhere in the industry. Indeed, she mentions ‘dirty pictures’ on a couple of occasions, as if to imply that, but for the grace of Todd, she could have ended up as just another nameless whore in the then nascent porn industry than a princess slated for movie stardom. (Despite the new libertine-ism of the period, it was still a time when female stardom meant something other than shameless skankery so pervasive in our age.)
The sheer ebullience of ‘Tate’ savoring the moment heightens our appreciation of the irony and the euphoria. Just as the secret had been between her and the two staff members, it is now between her and us. Others in the theater don’t know who is among them, and it is this shared intimacy between her and us that makes the scene crackle with delight. Not knowing of her presence, the audience reaction is natural than self-conscious, and their laughter could be admiring or derisive, but ‘Tate’ is just happy to share the joy with them. Also, sitting in the dark anonymously, she is at once one of them(as indeed she used to be one of the countless ‘nobodies’ gazing at movie stars) and the one-and-only, the one whose image shines on big screens around the world. She is both princess and pauperess, the embodiment of the dream and illusion of Hollywood that, contra the old aristocracy, a nobody could go from peasant to royalty or frog to prince with a lucky stroke of the magic wand. The scene is also suggestive of how appreciation of anything is incumbent not only on WHAT we are seeing but HOW we are seeing it. The added joy for ‘Tate’ derives from ‘spying’ on the movie audience while watching her play a spy onscreen. And the movie audience would surely experience the movie differently IF they knew that the star actress was sitting among them.
Thus, there are three movies showing on screen: (1) the movie seen by an audience that doesn’t know ‘Tate’ is among them (2) the movie seen by ‘Tate’ with an ear to the audience that doesn’t know she’s among them and (3) the movie seen by us who know ‘Tate’ is sitting among the audience. It’s as if Tarantino took Jean-Luc Gordard’s theory about film-watching — cinema is not the thing on the screen or the viewer in the seat but the constant discourse ‘swimming’ back and forth between them, i.e. the same film is a million different films for a million different viewers watching under million different circumstances — and turned it into Pop Thought. Later in the day, with the shooting all wrapped up, Dalton rushes home and watches the episode of FBI TV show with himself as the heavy. While some actors loathe watching themselves on the screen, others can’t get enough of the the narcissism. ‘Tate’ and Dalton have that in common.
Still, there is a sweetness about ‘Tate’ adoring her onscreen self. It has the sincerity, even the ‘innocence’ of Snow White than the vanity of the wicked Queen. It is a happy, loving, and sharing kind of self-love, and why not when the whole world seems to love her(until the Mansons proved otherwise)? Though blissed out to see herself on the screen, ‘Tate’ also delights in having brought joy and laughter to the hoi polloi. A matinee screening, the seats are far from full, but then, it makes the moment more natural and carefree, as if the audience is in a living room with a big TV than formally attending a screening.
Tarantino shows the original clips of Sharon Tate in THE WRECKING CREW than recreating the scenes with Margot Robbie as Tate, and this is a real coup in the way the two ladies are made to complement and contrast one another. While Robbie is gorgeous, her looks cannot match the shaded beauty of Sharon Tate. Robbie’s all smiles and sunshine, bells and whistles. Me thinks Polanski was drawn to Sharon Tate for tonal qualities lacking in Robbie. The ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ thing. Still, given the horror that ended Tate’s life, Robbie’s sparkle provides the tonic the movie needs to close as a fairytale. Her ‘Tate’ in the movie is the sun that doesn’t set, the eternal Noon Child. The treatment of the three narratives, of dramatic intensity, fairytale ebullience, and creeping horror — Tarantino sure loves to juggle genres — makes for an Epic Day.
Consciously or not, Tarantino may have been channeling the Coen Brothers with ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD. The comic sensibility is similar to one in BIG LEBOWSKI and BARTON FINK. And the theme of the struggling artist has parallels with INSIDE LLEYWN DAVIS. But the two movies that come to mind most are SERIOUS MAN and HAIL, CAESAR! Booth on the roof fixing the antennae is uncannily similar to a scene in SERIOUS MAN. Both movies, like Francois Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451, betray anxiety about the influence of TV despite or especially because they too are the products of the all-pervasive Pop Culture sensibility — Coens and Tarantino are Art or Indie Directors who’ve been profoundly affected by Hollywood, TV, and Rock Culture, the very things that have robbed the masses of critical thinking and sober world-view; their ‘art’ is thus inseparable from their pop addition; there is some struggle against but much smuggling back-and-forth with the other side. Indeed, if not for the Jewish tradition of Bar Mitzvah — or a goy neighbor’s rite-of-passage for his son via hunting — , what culture is there in our world but the TV? Though OUTH is abuzz with excitement over TV and Movie culture, it also shows a national(and world) culture hooked to the Idiot Tube as the neo-biblical source of ‘universal’ references and allusions. In RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION, characters don’t quote from the Good Book but from pop songs, TV shows, and advertising.
Indeed, if everyone from rich guy Schwarz to the disheveled Manson Youths have anything in common, it’s that they all watch TV. Of course, Schwarzes of the world are in the business of producing programs and molding minds whereas most Americans mindlessly(or worse, mindfully) absorb junk day in and day out, made all the worse by the utter degradation of American pop culture into shameless filth. Some say DEADWOOD is a great TV show(and maybe it’s not without value), but one episode of non-stop potty-mouth invective was enough, not because foul language is always inappropriate but because it was so gratuitous and blatant. It’s as if every cowpoke was like Joe Pesci in GOODFELLAS/CASINO.
Anyway, an odd thing about Tarantino’s latest work, a major production ostensibly about Hollywood and the Western, is it’s centered around TV than the Movies — and if Dalton finds a measure of success in the movies, it’s on the other side of the Atlantic. Still, Tarantino gives the shooting of the TV show the full cinematic treatment. Perhaps, Tarantino was paying tribute to a time when the movies enjoyed infinitely more prestige than TV. Thus, it could be that OUTH’s view of the TV production is subjective(through the eyes of Dalton and Sam the director) than objective/‘actualistic’.
Both Sam and Dalton would rather be doing movies than TV. For them, TV is a way station before destination cinema. It’s fishing in a lake before fishing in the ocean. So, even as they work small, they could be seeing things big in their minds, indeed as if they are making a major movie. It’s like a Minor League player imagines himself to be in the Major League. Well, that was then, this is now, as many critics and social observers now bestow more prestige on TV, not least because the bulk of movie culture is about spandex superhero blockbusters(as none other than Scorsese lamented). Besides, even the movie screen is now essentially a giant TV screen as the 35mm techology has been fazed out. (Is Booth an homage to all the people who worked in the projection booth, the unseen and ‘unsung’ technicians who flashed light on the screen? Those providing the light remain in the dark. Incidentally, Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in THE FIGHT CLUB had a job as film projector, albeit none-too-good one.) How telling that in the same year as OUTH, Scorsese made one of his most ambitious ‘movies’ for TV. When Tarantino started out in the movie business, cinema was still on top. However, because the generations since the 50s had grown up more with TV than cinema, there was a noticeable change in the style among the new crop of film-makers.
There was also the ridiculous trend in the 1990s of turning just about every old TV show into a Movie. It used to be the movies eventually made it to TV, not the other way around, a trend initiated with STAR TREK. Still, something like TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE was the exception than the rule prior to the 90s, the decade when cinema was so devoid of bankable ideas that it rummaged through old TV shows for ‘inspiration’ and nostalgia factor. And, even when the newer crop of directors made originally conceived movie-movies, their sensibilities were often more TV-ish than movie-ish. Consider Tim Burton, whose movies seem shaped by TV aesthetics or filtered through TV format even when drawing upon past films. After all, most boomers first encountered old movies on TV, i.e. they didn’t so much see the movie but the TV-ized version of it. And paradoxically, some were better on TV precisely because of TV’s poorer visual quality. An Ed Wood movie on the big screen would bare all its flaws and defects, but it just might work on the blurry and warped TV screen. After all, TWILIGHT ZONE and OUTER LIMITS worked on TV precisely because the shoddy production values could be overlooked. Another advantage of TV was the relative freedom to experiment and take chances, like in THE MONKEES, BANANA SPLITS, ELECTRIC COMPANY, and of course, MTV, the training ground of so many directors in the 90s. (One wonders what kind of aesthetic will emerge from the generation weaned on smart phones and digital media.)
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, like SERIOUS MAN, is instructive as to the TV’s impact on 60s youth. Though referred to as the Film Generation, the boomers were more the TV Generation. The ‘Film Generation’ label was favored by critics and scholars with a more august image of themselves. After all, while cinema gained new heights as an Art Form(especially in Europe and Japan) in the 1960s, most TV shows ranged from middling to worthless. However, for every boomer devoted to Film Culture, a hundred(or thousand) were immersed in TV. For every college intellectual who watched Godard or Bergman films, many more watched THE MONKEES or HAWAII FIVE-O. This junk-addiction aspect of the boomer generation was, until relatively recently, overlooked because (1) junk isn’t all that edifying as topic of discussion and (2) boomer culture elites were loathe to admit their sensibilities were as molded by TV as by Film, especially Art Film. The prestigious endeavor among culture critics was to write an essay or book on Michelangelo Antonioni or Stanley Kubrick, not on I DREAM OF JEANNIE or THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.
After all, while film criticism got some respect, TV criticism was regarded as mere consumer report. Prior to the transformation of media and academia with the ‘long march through the institutions’ by ‘radical’ boomers(who learned to love capitalism as the most effective tool for attaining ‘cultural hegemony’), concepts such as art, quality, meaning, and depth still mattered(and of course, they still matter in the margins of cultural ‘discourse’ as, when push comes to shove, even the most PC-addled clown can’t help noticing greatness at times). Genius, originality, brilliance, and/or truth were admired as the hallmarks of art, something understood by everyone from Harold Bloom to Pauline Kael. But once culture came to be regarded essentially as a tool of-and-for power(or ‘empowerment’) and hegemony, what mattered most was the culture’s utility to the Agenda. Following this logic, a shallow TV show that converts the masses to the ‘correct’ ideas and idol-worship is more valuable than a work that, despite its artistic virtues, transmits the ‘wrong’ ideas(as Richard Brody noted of OUTH as a ‘regressively white’ movie) or fails to find a large enough audience. Then, it’s no wonder that even trashy Lady Gaga music videos and the awful Disney STAR WARS(or Star Schwarz) have garnered such gushing praise from ‘culture critics’ as cultural commissars.
If indeed power is what matters most, the lie that serves the Agenda is more valuable than the truth that hinders it. It explains why the media are a mass deception machine pushing utter lies about ‘Russia Collusion’, the Syrian War, events at Charlottesville, and matters of human bio-diversity & supposed malleability of ‘gender’ into fifty or more identities. There was a time when intellectual defense of popular culture was a more expansive means of defending quality, and why not when so much brilliance and genius in mass culture had been snubbed? They were deservedly praising the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Robert Aldrich, Sam Peckinpah, and etc. with the realization that some of the most interesting and consequential cultural ferment was to be found outside the traditionally esteemed arts. While such critical sensibility will always be around, the new trend with the rise of Generation X and the Millennials(who took the worst ideas of the boomers and ran with them) has been to focus mainly on ‘wokemon’ points over all other considerations. It was made all the worse by the vulgarization of taste(largely due to Negroes and Homos) among the intelligent and the lowering of admission standards for the unintelligent.
Thus, even people smart enough to know better could barely discern high from low, serious from trivial, truth from lies. As for the dummies, they could get easy A’s and snap up degrees in humanities & ‘culture studies’ and be hired by the academia itself or by the mass media that, racked with financial uncertainty, opted for young ones on the cheap while dumping many veteran writers and reporters with experience and erudition. Besides, proggy professors were more about transmitting the message and favoring PC pets than encouraging critical mindset and independence of thought. Indeed, the main reason why THE SEARCHERS ranks so high in the film canon has less to do with the power of its aesthetics and storytelling than with its utility as a lesson on ‘RACISM’. (At any rate, it could be the TV exerted a far greater influence than cinema precisely because people thought less about it. In a way, we are more affected by what we don’t think about than what we do think about. Since the 1960s, many people thought seriously about cinema but not about TV, that is until recently with shows like BREAKING BAD among others. TV was regarded as inferior, hardly worthy of discussion and only good for killing time and relaxation. Yet, that means most people not only watched more TV but did so in an utterly uncritical way. Because so many people, high and low, watched TV so passively[whereas movies were regarded with more attention and concentration, critical or otherwise], they remained oblivious to its full impact on them and their children. Likewise, many Americans grow fatter from all the snacks they mindlessly consume than from meals enjoyed with a measure of appreciation. TV turned Americans into blubber-brains, something they failed to realize because they never took it seriously.)
At any rate, the so-called ‘Film Generation’ comprised only a small segment of the boomers(especially among younger boomers), and the fervor that had sustained it for several years subsided by the mid-70s. (Besides, the most notable American movies of the late 60s and early 70s weren’t so much American variants of European art film as personalized revamping of genres, e.g. THE FRENCH CONNECTION & DIRTY HARRY as the new crime thriller, THE GODFATHER as the new gangster movie, M*A*S*H as the new screwball comedy, CABARET as the new musical, DELIVERANCE as new action adventure, HAROLD AND MAUDE as new black comedy, THE EXORCIST as the new horror, CHINATOWN as the new noir, and etc. ‘Auteurism’ emerged in full swing but, more or less, on the same playing field of genre movies. European Art Cinema affected style than substance in Hollywood, e.g. THE GRADUATE that looks and feels arty but is in service to formula: ‘formulart’.)
The cult of novelty tends to wear off sooner than later, and Art Cinema followed the earlier trajectories of modernism in painting, sculpture, literature, and music. Everything under the sun has its day in the sun. Just when the European and Japanese Art Cinema were waning — due to ideological as well as socio-economic factors as the tumult of May 68 Movement severely hampered French cultural production and, worse, drove many artists to commit themselves to the Agenda than to Art(demeaned as ‘bourgeois’) — , a new kind of cinema was emerging in the US from writers/directors whose inspirations(at least in style) largely derived from Europe and Japan than from Classic Hollywood. Akira Kurosawa would prove to be a huge influence on Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Milius, and Walter Hill while Europeans such as Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut, Luchino Visconti, and others exerted tremendous influence on film-makers such as Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Cimino, Paul Mazursky, Martin Scorsese, and many others. For the most part, New Hollywood of the late 1960s & first half of 1970s wasn’t as conceptually or stylistically innovative or seminal as the best of what might be called World Cinema, but it was when American Cinema learned to shed its dowdy feathers and fly. Somewhat older directors like Richard Brooks, Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman, and Arthur Penn finally got to do it their own way without the earlier impositions, and younger directors blazed off in new directions. (As if to complete the circle, the youngest of the young directors, the so-called Movie Brats, turned out to feel more at home with Old Hollywood than New Hollywood and World Cinema. Spielberg, Lucas, Zemeckis, and the like mainly infused new blood to the old genres.)
The tipping point was 1967 when the dam burst with COOL HAND LUKE, IN COLD BLOOD, THE GRADUATE, BONNIE AND CLYDE, and even IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT that paved the way for MIDNIGHT COWBOY & THE WILD BUNCH in 1969 and in THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE GODFATHER, HAROLD AND MAUDE, and MCCABE & MRS. MILLER in the 70s. (To be sure, the careful observer could name a slew of movies in the first half of the 60s and even the 1950s that profoundly altered the game. One could even look back to CITIZEN KANE of 1941. Also, Hitchcock’s PSYCHO in 1960 was a genuine shocker and game-changer — it was also shot with a TV crew with a budget closer to TV production, suggesting Hitchcock had an inkling of the cultural shift afoot, indeed going back to 1955 when he had his own show on TV, a medium many Hollywood eschewed as ‘vulgar’ and diminishing. Elia Kazan brought a new naturalism to Hollywood, and movies like SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, DR. STRANGELOVE, BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, and MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE had already change the landscape. Some might mention Richard Lester’s A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, but it was made in Britain that was going through a kind of new wave of its own. And among the independents, there was John Cassavetes whose works were contemporaneous with than imitative of European Cinema. Still, it was beginning with movies around 1967 that a new spirit animated the Zeitgeist, not least because the end of censorship made everything seem possible under the sun — it was as if the Iron Curtain or Berlin Wall of cinema had come down; furthermore, the final and total collapse of the studio system meant film-makers had to forge their own styles. As special as SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was at the time, it still felt like Classic Hollywood trying to catch up with the new sensibility; same was true of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. In contrast, there is no strain in COOL HAND LUKE and THE GRADUATE. They don’t try and just are.)
But the new dawn met the dusk sooner than later — much like the ‘bold’ adventure of the couple in LOST IN AMERICA — , and among all the talents that emerged in the 1970s, it’s arguable that only Martin Scorsese maintained long-term viability as a personal artist. Scorsese had both the sprinter and marathoner within him. Cinema did revive as commerce and technology, especially with the triumph of Lucas and Spielberg, but the cult of cinema-as-personal-art extolled by the Film Generation moved increasingly to the margins of Movie Culture. Film Festivals continued(and even grew in number), and the advent of home video and internet made more films available to more people than ever thought possible, but Film-as-Art became a mere blip on the cultural radar. In contrast, films like LA DOLCE VITA and L’AVVENTURA were worldwide sensations, the talk of the town, and Fellini and Antonioni became household names; even educated people who didn’t live in proximity of big cities and college campuses at least read about them in magazines. It’s difficult to name an international film-maker today with the standing of some of the masters in the 1960s. Besides, in our wanton and shameless age, many among the cultural elites(whose status owes to dubious credentials than taste, sense, or sanity) prefer junk over art and have no qualms about directing their main gaze to celebrity gossip, shallow ‘juicebombs’(coined by Dana Stevens), and tripe of all kinds. Indeed, it’s even gotten to the point where a superhero comic-book story spawned a mock-art-film in THE JOKER. If Christopher Nolan gave BATMAN the art-film make-over, THE JOKER feigns art-film credentials at its core. Instead of merely being suited up in artiness, it pretends to be the genuine article, an utterly ludicrous notion.
The current state of Film Culture is well-illustrated by the response to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, a very fine film. It won top awards at prestigious film festivals such as Cannes and garnered near-universal praise from film-critics, but the acclaim feels ceremonial than impassioned, i.e. it’s worthy of respect than anything to get excited over. Of course, this is no fault of the film-makers, critics, or even the audience. The excitement generated by Film-as-Art in the 1950s and 1960s owed to Film being a belated(and possibly the last) platform for modernism(which had run its course in all the other arts), one with the greatest potential as cinema was regarded as a ‘total art’, one incorporating the features of all other arts. To the starry-eyed, cinema was to the arts what mixed-martial-arts is to hand-to-hand combat. And yet, the possibilities were exhausted faster than anyone realized — the French New Wave lost its luster by 1965. (Also, it was soon evident that, while there are infinite ways of using the film medium — as avant-garde artists demonstrated countless times with their collages — , only a handful of methods really worked on the human senses; likewise, while Modernism in Music taught us there are infinite variations in scales, only a relative few really work on the sensual and emotional level. The dissonant and confounding may be interesting for novelty-sake or intellectualism in the academia, but, most honest people don’t want to listen to that stuff.)
It was because novelty was so short-lived that cine-hype relied so heavily on National Cinemas as means of reinvigorating modernism in film. So, even if the French New Wave turned into an ebb, the next big thing could be the German New Wave, Brazilian New Wave, Taiwanese New Wave, Arab New Wave, African New Wave, and etc. In time, the ‘new wave’ label essentially became a marketing ploy. What’s next? The Uzbek New Wave? The Madagascarian New Wave? Ceylan’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA is an estimable work(though perhaps a tad pregnant, or stillborn, with Significance), but despite all the accolades and awards, it hardly made an impact on Film Culture. It didn’t create a buzz outside film festivals even though, like Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD(and Bong Joon-Ho’s PARASITE), it grapples with the timely issues of class, violence, urban-rural divide, and cultural malaise. Perhaps, it is too heavy(even tedious) for the current culture. (In contrast, consider when Jan Troell’s THE EMIGRANTS made a mark on movie culture along with THE GODFATHER & CABARET and was even nominated for Best Picture.
Recently, there was much brouhaha about the Korean film PARASITE winning an unprecedented Best Movie Oscar for a non-English feature, but it seems to have been foisted on the culture than something the larger public responded to.) And on this note, one has to give credit to Tarantino, part ‘auteur’ and part hustler, for his alchemic knack for concocting the kind of work that generates the most buzz and talk. He has showmanship savvy and maverick style(even if not always genuine), the quality of Jazz men who managed to win attention and accolades as entertainer-artists. It’s a contradictory talent to have: The showman-diplomat is about shameless self-promotion and schmoozing others while the maverick-artist is about insistence on uncompromising purity of vision, indeed as if he’s utterly indifferent to what the critics and people think. Miles Davis was very skilled at this and overshadowed others more talented who lacked his aloofness that had a dual quality of being both above money and integrity. Generally, entertainers who are all about pleasing the audience don’t generate much buzz despite the profits they generate. Has anyone written a book on Michael Bay? But it’s also true of artists who remain utterly true to themselves in relative isolation. Like monks in a monastery, they may get some respect and admiration for their purist devotion but not much else. There are plenty of film artists who mean something only within the film-festival circuit.
Then, there are those who so adeptly play both the personal artist and public figure. Truffaut and Godard(at least until around 1967) were experts at this, admired as uncompromising artists and adored as cultural celebrities. It’s probably this side of Godard that once appealed most to Tarantino, though his mode in OUTH is closer to Truffaut, who also made a movie about movie-making in DAY FOR NIGHT. (Bong also hit the jackpot by making a film that appeals both to artistic and genre sensibilities. And of course, there’s Guillermo Del Toro whose Franken-Art shtick is mostly horror genre reconstituted as ‘art film’ though the result is closer to shameless[and worthless] agit-prop.)
Tarantino’s shtick is making a big show of doing his own thing to create maximum buzz about town, and he usually gets what he wants. (And in his own way, he has influenced film-makers of all stripes, directly or indirectly. Those who change the Zeitgeist change everyone in it. Perhaps, the more outlandish elements of GANGS OF NEW YORK and the sheer sensationalism of THE DEPARTED owed something to Tarantino, a case of ‘student’ teaching the ‘master’. The slicker professionalism of PARASITE, as compared to Bong’s earlier films, may also reflect Tarantino’s influence, and there’s no question that the sensibility behind JOKER is more Tarantino than Nolan and other directors of the Marvel or DC universe. That said, as retarded/demented as Tarantino can be, he is always clever and crafty, much like his rival M. Night Shyamalan, something that can’t be said for the utterly witless and moronic Todd Phillips of JOKER, a dumb movie pretending to be smart, meaningless trash faking as biting satire. Still, it’s easy to figure out the secret to its box office grand slam. It’s like why a certain kind of Rock Music in the 60s and 70s became so huge among young people, especially white males. Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Pink Floyd were tremendous concert acts, and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was one of the biggest sellers ever.
Why? Because young people want both meaning and mania. While there were plenty of acts that made more money than the Who, Zeppelin, and Floyd, they were come-and-go, flash-in-the-pan forgotten. Think of Herman’s Hermits, Shaun Cassidy, Olivia Newton-John, and Peter Frampton. They had super hits but were considered fluff and soon ignored. On the other hand, stuff like classical music, modern music, and art Jazz were deemed too heavy, cerebral, haute, and/or boring for youthful taste. In contrast, the more serious acts in Rock offered that combination of talent worthy of scrutiny and thrill worthy of Friday night partying. In other words, you got everything in one package with someone like David Bowie. Then, it isn’t surprising that so many young males flocked to JOKER. In their eyes, it is to cinema what 60s/70s Rock was to a whole generation of young males. For them, JOKER is that perfect combination of TAXI DRIVER and BATMAN, both disturbing art and kick-ass entertainment. Actually, it’s more like mistaking Kiss for Zeppelin and the Knack for The Clash. It is to cinema what Styx was to music. The Joker is on them. Still, Tarantino and Phillips share a propensity that is closer to Rock Culture than Film Culture. Both would probably feel at home in the world of HIGH FIDELITY.
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD certainly didn’t disappoint as buzz-generator, and in this regard, Tarantino has had a lucky streak on par with the Beatles whose only certifiable disaster was MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR the made-for-TV movie. And even though its box-office numbers came nowhere near JOKER(the Corona-Virus among movies) and other blockbusters, it was a hit enough to create ripples in the industry. For sure, Tarantino won’t have problems raising money for this next project. (Also, like the Beatles’ SGT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, it may be Tarantino’s movie with the widest appeal among age groups. And just possibly, it might be talked about in years to come, a source of ‘memes’ that keep movies alive as points of reference. Here, personality factor matters a great deal. It’s possible GOODFELLAS wouldn’t be so memorable with the public if not for Joe Pesci’s antics. Italians are known for personality, but Pesci’s Tommy is personality on steroids. Same with his Nicky Santoro in CASINO. Same goes for Rock Music. Paul McCartney may have been just as talented as John Lennon, but the latter had the personality and became the object of cult worship. One reason why David Fincher’s ZODIAC failed at the box-office may have been it’s lack of a central personality, like Francesco Rosi’s SALVATORE GIULIANO, where the titular hero only appears as a corpse or hovers as a myth-in-making, like Jesus; in ZODIAC, the killer is barely glimpsed and goes unidentified. ZODIAC has the same running time as OUTH and is also set in 1969 though in San Francisco than Los Angeles, and both vividly re-create the look, feel, and sounds of the times, not least with hit songs of the period. It’s relative box office failure surely owed to the grim subject matter, cold-as-fish narrative, and profusion of perplexing details & dead-end leads, but it was also because, as fine as the performances were, there wasn’t a single character with a big personality. This is where Dustin Hoffman was so crucial in THE GRADUATE and MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Not a big man but a big personality, indeed a little big man.)
To be sure, JOKER was the most talked-about movie of 2019, but then, it was an outlier as most superhero/comic-book movies don’t inspire much socio-political interest except on the most elemental level, e.g. “Bane is anti-capitalist” or “Batman is a conservative hero”. In contrast, JOKER really got under people’s skin or tickled their fancy, resulting in one of the most polarized reactions since A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. But then, the heated debate was mostly revolved around lies and delusions. The anti-JOKER crowd willfully condemned the movie as an ‘incel’ call-to-arms to obfuscate its class-war aspect, while the pro-JOKER rabble, on left and right, made believe it spoke to THEIR rage and fears. In truth, the movie is as stupid as FALLING DOWN and makes Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS seem like a towering exercise in intellect. JOKER is fake through and through because all its ‘dark’ and ‘disturbing’ elements have been copped superficially from genuine works of film art about the angst-ridden modern condition. Whatever one thinks of Paul Schrader or Martin Scorsese, TAXI DRIVER was an attempt to understand and unearth the neurosis, malaise, and even madness at the heart of modern life. In contrast, JOKER is just copycat ‘art’. It’s like anyone can outwardly imitate Van Gogh’s art without the slightest inkling of the inner darkness from which it sprung. Above all, JOKER is numbing. In the end, you don’t even feel bad or offended. You feel nothing despite all the ugliness and mayhem. I’d wager OUTH will matter more to movie culture in years to come than JOKER. JOKER’s sequels will expose the total hollowness soon enough. Its Gomer-Pylean(of FULL METAL JACKET) conceit that one must be shit in a world of shit is just bad shtick. If JOKER is for real as art, it would be like TAXI DRIVER and not crank about a money-grubbing part 2. An infinitely superior film that hit many of the same notes is AMERICAN SPLENDOR, a real work of art and without all the pretense. JOKER has only two good scenes: The dwarf unable to reach the door latch, which is cruelly funny, and the dance on the stairs if only because, in our age of CGI run amok, it’s good to see a director employing the basics of cinema to pull off a grand effect. Indeed, that scene seems to have wowed audiences more than most superhero special effects.
Tarantino seems to have learned a thing or two from the successes and failures of past masters. In OUTH, as the Polanskis drive up to their estate, Dalton the next-door neighbor remarks how Polanski is one of the hottest directors around, maybe the hottest. Tarantino was to the 90s what Polanski was to the 60s. Though Polanski had a remarkable career with several peaks, so much went wrong along the way, and not only with the 12 yr old girl and flight from justice? Justifiably or not, most of Polanski’s films, even some excellent ones, went ignored upon release, and many are now virtually forgotten even among cinephiles. After ROSEMARY’S BABY, Polanski had two successes in the 1970s: CHINATOWN and TESS but went nowhere with MACBETH(despite it being one of the best Shakespearean adaptations), THE TENANT(despite it being one of the best Kafkaesque films), and a film aptlay titled WHAT?
Afterwards, in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, the only film that generated anything like widespread interest was THE PIANIST but probably more for its grave(and ‘sacred’) topic than anything else(though it is a solid piece of film-making). If such could be the fate of one of the most famous and notorious(not always a bad thing in popular culture) film-makers, what about others? An incessant talker himself, it’s only natural that Tarantino wants people to talk and talk about his movies as the life of the party. Tarantino instinctively knows that Talk has less to do with quality per se or commercial success alone. After all, many films received high marks but were soon forgotten. Roland Emmerich’s movies have been box-office dynamites, but no one talks about them. Also, there is talk-of-the-hour and talk-through-the-years. There is also difference between solemn talk and spirited talk. GANDHI, PLATOON, and SCHINDLER’S LIST are examples of the talks-of-the-hour that people solemnly praised as ‘necessary’ and ‘important’ films. But no one really enjoyed talking about them. Discussing them had a dampening than sparkling effect. In contrast, some movies attract talk like some stars attract paparazzi, and this fascination grows decade after decade, generation after generation. Perhaps, Stanley Kubrick was the ultimate master-generator of the talk. Even works that were initially met with antipathy or confusion have, over the years, been reappraised and reinterpreted. BARRY LYNDON was a box office bomb, and THE SHINING received, at best, mixed reviews, but both are now regarded with endless fascination. Kubrick the personalist-and-perfectionist wanted to do his thing exactly as he liked but, especially in light of BARRY LYNDON’s failure, took calculated gambles with projects that provided ample space for his personal/singular vision while also providing thrills for a large enough public. Thus, THE SHINING was at once horror, esoterica, and philosophical query. It was the only way he could remain in the game as a bankable director and a relevant artist. Some film-makers alternate between popcorn movie and personal film, the financial success of the former securing production for the latter, which usually doesn’t make money. Kubrick could have taken the same tact, but he obviously didn’t want to spend time working on stuff like JAWS and STAR WARS to allow for worthier projects. SPARTACUS was enough for him as a commercial undertaking. And yet, tackling any major production — Kubrick liked to work big — meant it had to at least break even and avoid the fate of HEAVEN’S GATE, the mother of all disasters. This meant Kubrick had to be especially selective with projects, in the lookout for genre material rich in re-interpretative potential(like THE SENTINEL and THE SHINING), eccentric works with ‘outrage’ factor(like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and FULL METAL JACKET), or serious works with ‘sensationalist’ appeal(like LOLITA and THE DREAM NOVEL).
Kubrick was a master at exploiting the appeal of controversy. At any rate, he couldn’t risk making intensely personal films as Roman Polanski did with THE TENANT. But it wasn’t merely a matter of compromise as the conceptually-minded Kubrick preferred to tackle big ideas, which called for archetypes than individuals. In his works, every character, object, gesture, complication, and turn of events signify man’s condition within the cosmic order. As in chess, every move is a ‘ripple’ on the board, interrelated with the totality of the game. To devise this schema, certain aspects of the genre were useful for their larger-than-life characters, exaggerated significance of events, and maze-like structure, ostensibly infallible but not without cracks and portals through which new ideas could be smuggled in. Pure realism seeks fidelity with facts, and pure genre is content within a self-contained formula. It is their encounter in the night that allows for a contest, a game, between the individual/material and archetypal/mythical facets of human psychology. Fidelity, though a virtue, remains trapped within its allotted domain, even timidly so. Every act of transgression beyond one’s borders is an act of infidelity, easily resulting in anxiety(for both one’s own side and the other side), instability, and violence, as among savage tribes and angry spouses. But the moment of uneasy fascination can also be played like a game, a diplomatic strategy, as Bill Harford(Tom Cruise) decides to do in EYES WIDE SHUT by venturing beyond his faithful enclosure. In a way, Kubrick’s artistic life was one of utmost fidelity and utmost infidelity. Among American directors, it’s difficult to think of another major figure who remained so insistently true to his vision. Yet, his approach, with the exception of BARRY LYNDON(his only box office failure, possibly due to lack of genre conventions), was about subverting and breaking down the space between art committed to truth and genre committed to myth and then reconstituting it in his own inimitable way, just like David Bowman must be broken like Humpty Dumpty and unraveled to the atomic level before being recreated as Starchild. (David Cronenberg amazingly made a sterling career for himself as a poor man’s Kubrick.)
Tarantino has been a master-maker of films that get people all excited and yapping, but would a sane and healthy society devote so much gab to trash like KILL BILL or INGLORIOUS BASTERDS? Tarantino is either savvy or savant-like as promoter-provocateur or ‘promocateur’. He is like a candy maker or drug-chemist with a knack for mixing ingredients in ways both formulaic and idiosyncratic. Like it or not, the blend of the familiar and different works like syncopation in Jazz, the hip sensation of simultaneously being on and off note. It’s as if Tarantino can do everything ‘wrong’ and still end up doing everything right. For his admirers, he might as well be movie world’s ‘amadeus’, a pop genius who has memorized the entire history of cinema and can play all genres and styles forwards and backwards, sideways and upside down. For sober minds, he’s a man of talent who has frittered away too much creative energy on nonsense or garbage-material.
Even though educated elites wish to regard themselves as defenders of arts & culture(so much of which just barely scrape by with oligarchic patronage, public funding, and critical/academic support), they also want to be hip and relevant, which is why they seek intersections with the larger culture. (There is, on occasion, a movie like THE GODFATHER, which is equally appealing to critics and the audience. It’s like killing two birds with one stone as critics get to discuss artistic worth backed by public enthusiasm.) The most intellectual film critics often pontificate about some film from a rather ‘obscure’ place, but it’s like shouting alone in a forest, which is too bad. People being social creatures — and film critics are people too — , it feels awfully lonely for critics to go out on a limb in praise of quality above all else when their words gain hardly any traction with the public.
But then, the dynamics flow in the other way as well. While most moviegoers are numbnuts content with junk, the fact is humans are naturally hierarchical, and that means even culture slobs hanker for some measure of respectability and ‘quality’. They don’t want to believe that Adam Sandler movies, STAR WARS, or Marvel Movies are the sum total of their cultural taste. This is why the works of Kubrick and Tarantino(and of course Scorsese) — and the supposedly serious and mature TV shows like SOPRANOS and BREAKING BAD — have had such wide appeal. Works like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, and GOODFELLAS can be enjoyed on several levels. Thus, even numbnuts who don’t understand why a particular Scorsese or Kubrick film is great can nevertheless claim to appreciate the work of a master. Precisely because such works are more than mere popcorn movies, as well as the topic of discussion among the smart set, it is edifying for culture slobs to feel that they too share in the appreciation. Perhaps keen to this psychology of elites seeking acceptance from the public and the masses seeking respectability from the elites, Tarantino has carved a niche for himself where he gets to play a Loki-like mediator between the two realms.
Tarantino probably feels that seriousness, concentration, and/or depth work like a trap, a quicksand that demands totality of one’s attention and commitments. Such immersion or ‘trap-ment’ is essential to an understanding of deep meaning. Robert Bresson’s works would be meaningless, indeed impossible, without the stubborn mule-like demand they make on the audience. No multi-tasking tolerated; focus on the screen. Ingmar Bergman’s cinema calls for attention, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s works are nothing if not immersive. But for many moviegoers, they feel confusion, suffocation, and/or claustrophobia coming over them when confronted with such films. They feel unable to breathe, as if their senses, so attuned to jolts of pop culture and video games from cradle, have been stuffed with cotton and tape. They feel like frogs inside a jar. Demands are made on them that they aren’t accustomed to or capable of. Federico Fellini, one of the more popular Art Film Directors, confessed as much in 8 ½: Immersion goes against his nature. He wanted wings than walls and a shovel. He preferred movement and distractions over intense meditation on the human condition to such a degree that eluding the human condition became his idea of the human condition. And yet, as if by some cinematic miracle, Fellini was artist enough to immerse us in the mind-scape of a liar, showman, and charlatan. At his best, Fellini’s talent was such that he could make art out of evasion, truth out of illusion. He understood the aspect of human nature that can’t handle too much truth and presented it truthfully, especially in the earlier works marked by conflict between reality and whimsy, the one sobering the other, the other sweetening the one.
Martin Scorsese, though deeply appreciative of film masters such as Bresson and Antonioni, has more-or-less been following in Fellini’s foot-steps, though unlike the latter Foolish Fellini, Scorsese has managed to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground than flying off like Mary Poppins or Totoro into la-la land. His two most impressive works, GOODFELLAS and CASINO, follow Fellini’s game plan of captivating the audience with an endless procession of dazzling sights and sounds(and, to a lesser extent, Orson Welles’ game plan of keeping the audience always off-balance, as in a fun-house, to work them like a pinball — it’s no wonder Bergman detested Welles as showman trickster than serious artist), and of course, there’s the wall-to-wall music. The key difference is, whereas Fellini’s distractions eventually became just that, excuses for neglecting story and character development, Scorsese’s multi-directional approach snoops for data tangential in some way to the main story arc. Like a bloodhound, Scorsese sniffed at everything but ultimately to track down the target — in his case, all ‘distractions’ lead to home. (Sadly, Fellini forgot what he was searching for in his art.) Thus, Scorsese has kept his concentration despite the overflow of what some may call ‘sensory overloard’(which indeed goes too far in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET).
Even though most of his films aren’t immersive in the conventional sense — KUNDUN and SILENCE are exceptions, and TAXI DRIVER, AGE OF INNOCENCE, & THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST are partial exceptions — , Scorsese has proven his artistic credentials with mastery of technique, eye for detail, and passion for truth(even if, for the most part, not deep truth). Charlie, the bumbling ‘hero’ of MEAN STREETS, has neither the requisite patience nor the concentration for an honest reckoning with himself, but he tries, and the ruckus of comic, tragic, and absurd moments ring so true to life. Still, his cinema is more about darting motions than dense sinking into depth, partly because of his restless personality but also because most viewers prefer surfing the waves than deep sea submersion. After all, it is called ‘motion pictures’ than ‘sinking moods’. Kids prefer running in the playground to sitting still in classroom or church. Movies are one place where you can sit still and be swept away through infinitude of time and space.
Anyway, unless one knows what he’s looking for, plumbing for depth can end up disastrously like the final part of APOCALYPSE NOW. Perhaps, Scorsese hoped to make more films like KUNDUN and SILENCE, but movie-making is a business, especially for those who like to work big. To stay in the game, he had to settle for directing movies mostly about vicious people and shallow vices that have more entertainment value. Sinners are more fun than saints. He also lucked out because Hollywood figured having at least One Scorsese around lent prestige to the industry. Unlike Sam Peckinpah and Orson Welles, Scorsese could play the game and follow the rules; in this regard, it’s understandable why he empathizes so powerfully with Elia Kazan; despite the customary lamenting over Kazan’s naming-names to HUAC, the fact is Scorsese had to shut his mouth and go along to get along to remain in good graces with the industry; if Kazan had to name names to work in Hollywood, Scorsese knows he must Never Rat on His Friends and Always Keep His Mouth Shut about the true nature of power in Hollywood and New York, the empires of the globo-homo-shlomo Jews. Now, self-discipline is a real virtue in a man, and Scorsese, like Spielberg, has plenty. And yet, in some corner of his mind, Scorsese probably wonders if he sold his soul in becoming a company man. Wouldn’t an artist of true integrity been driven crazy and over-the-edge by the demands and compromises of Hollywood? After all, there’s a limit to how much a man, especially of a sensitive artistic soul, can take. In a corrupt world of betrayal and compromises, shouldn’t the pure artist go mad? Shouldn’t he become like the Peter Finch character in NETWORK and scream, “I can’t take it anymore!” Such were the legends of Peckinpah and Nicholas Ray. They went mad in an industry that couldn’t tolerate personal integrity(though, to be sure, drugs and the bottle helped some).
And if Kubrick held it together somehow, it was because he kept a gulf between himself and Hollywood(and could play people like a fiddle). And yet, Scorsese, despite his formidable artistic credentials, kept working like an accountant in an industry that, for the most part, is designed to chew and spit out artist like him. That Scorsese was willing to play flunky in the industry, like Jack Lemmon’s character in THE APARTMENT, all the while creating works that rank among the greatest in cinema, is surely one of the biggest anomalies in movie history. Was he so good that Hollywood simply had to give him his due — like Sugar Ray Robinson in boxing despite bias against black fighters — , or did Hollywood just keep him around as their window display holding the sign “Hollywood Has Heart”(or Hollywood Has Art)? It’s as if he grasped the future with his first major film, MEAN STREETS. Harvey Keitel’s Charlie has his own ideas about truth & redemption and clings to them, but all said and done, he has to play as his uncle, the mafia boss, says. MEAN STREETS suggests Scorsese considered moving in the direction of John Cassavates, and he wasn’t alone in the period of New Hollywood when personal film-making, like the singer-songwriter craze, was the thing. Yet, as years passed, he realized he had to work in genre once in awhile — COLOR OF MONEY, CAPE FEAR, THE DEPARTED — , and even when he made art than genre, it was a safer bet to work on subjects tied to genres, e.g. GOODFELLAS and CASINO don’t technically belong in the gangster genre but nevertheless appeal to fans of it. It’s something Kurosawa understood all too well, though, to be sure, his characters tend to be moral agents than amoral opportunists who dominate Scorsese’s works. To remain viable and ‘relevant’, his motion-and-emotion-heavy works ran on tight genre schedules, which is why even the 3 hr 20 min SEVEN SAMURAI never flags — each and every part is integral to the whole, the same reason why THE GODFATHER I & II are riveting from start to finish; in contrast, the more full-fledged kinds of Art Cinema reserve more time/space to moments that exist in their own right than in subservience to the whole, e.g. the long stretches of isolated time in ANDREI RUBLEV, MARKETA LAZAROVA, EMIGRANTS & NEW LAND, and TREE OF THE WOODEN CLOGS.
Anyway, despite Kurosawa’s more-or-less adherence to genre staples, his works take us on a remarkable tour-de-force journey through the heaven and hell of reality. Through the Capraesque-cum-Neo-Realist story of self-actualization in IKIRU, we come face-to-face with the hardships of post-war Japan. The noir-ish search for the stolen gun in STRAY DOG serves as an opportunity to document the social maladies of a rebuilding nation in danger of supplanting moral values with material ones. The kidnapping of the child and the ensuing detective work in HIGH AND LOW drag us to the netherworld of the so-called new prosperous Japan. (In a way, film-artists are like kidnappers who nab our senses and compel them to see what they usually don’t want to see. Because we are given no choice and can only bear witness to what is laid bare — precisely for this reason, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome overtakes the audience —, it is of the utmost importance that the artist be courageous, truthful, and sincere. This is why a fake artist is far more risible than a mere entertainer. When people watch a typical movie, they expect to be shown what they desire. Most movie-makers are, in this sense, more like candy-sellers or drug-pushers. They also nab our senses but only because we happily hand them over. Even the most grisly works of horror have nothing to do with reality and, if anything, the chills serve to take our minds off the real problems of existence. In contrast, narrative artists are, ideally at least, committed to the truth instead of propaganda, fantasy, or mere dogma — as priests are to God or the sacred truth — , and therefore, are obligated to operate with a different set of principles. A fake artist is like a fake preacher, one who exploits the trust between himself and the flock for self-aggrandizement and/or opportunism, and yet, the danger isn’t only with the faker but with the flock that prefers fakery as it sweetens the bitterness of reality with simple emotions and the opiate of hope. It is then no wonder that being a true artist is a real burden. He must deliver the message that many don’t want to hear; he must be the doctor who tells the patient he has cancer. And yet, even the task of the true artist is most paradoxical for he must utilize the inherently false form of fiction to probe reality and convey truth. It’s like the rumination in the opening of Godard’s ALPHAVILLE: “Sometimes reality is too complex for oral communication. But legend embodies it in a form which enables it to spread all over the world.” The efficacy of fiction allows for composites, heightened intimacy, psychological speculation, narrative structure, and dramatic arc, all of which function to turn either the voluminous mass or the missing links of reality into an absorbing story. Of some reality, there is too much data, and of others, too little. Fiction serves to filter out the too-muchness and fill in the holes of too-littleness. Even the best art is only an approach to truth than truth itself. Because of the core principles of art, we must be vigilant against fake artists above all, especially if they have the outward skills of an artist and the backing of powerful forces, because they have the means to fool us with falsehood packaged as searing truth. Unlike with fantasy, a work claiming to be art has a way of putting the audience in the mindset of ‘seeing is believing’. And yet, half-truths and even utter-fakes can be made to seem so real and compelling, like the Odessa Steps in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN that never happened in reality. Take films like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and SOCIAL NETWORK that seem so real but are poppycock. Or all those seemingly harrowing movies about black reality in the US that overlook the core reasons for the problem. One of the biggest shams of the current culture is there is so much veiled propaganda masquerading as art; but then, so much of so-called science journalism and ‘highbrow’ articles in haute-yuppie magazines are designed mainly to perpetuate the current dogma and signal the correct attitudes in the Current Year for elites and wanna-be-elites. Also, even when a work may be truthful, we need to ask why the Power allows truthful exploration of one reality while suppressing it for others? A work about black slavery in America may be truthful, but why isn’t there one about the Jewish role in slavery? Polish anti-Jewish attitudes may have been captured honestly in a particular film, but where is the film about Jewish hostility toward goyim and Jewish destruction of the Palestinian people? Indeed, it would do us more good if we got into the habit of discussing the movies-not-made than the movies-made. After all, one won’t learn much about the Great Famine in the USSR by watching Soviet films of the period. Even Dovzhenko’s EARTH that is filled with artistry and visual poetry was one big lie about the true character of forced-collectivization.)
A world in the throes of war forces the princess of HIDDEN FORTRESS to descend among the commoners and recognize their humanity, warts and wall — this dynamics was reversed in KAGEMUSHA where a lowly thief becomes intimate with the elite domain. The template of the person of secure station forced into crisis and struggling to regain equilibrium but only by reevaluating the very foundation of his existence has been the staple of countless stories, and Kurosawa’s films were no different except that the formula was pressed to a much greater degree against the real world; he made genre eat the dirt. If some of Kurosawa’s heroes are forced into ‘exile’, physical or psychological, and wander as existential ‘nomads’, others are introduced as astray or carefree drifters who are compelled to join a cause or serve a purpose, as with the ronin in SEVEN SAMURAI & YOJIMBO and the thief in KAGEMUSHA(and even the young doctor in RED BEARD who, though secure in status and promising future, finds renewed meaning in committing himself to the wretched poor than social climb up the hierarchy.) The secure are shaken and the free are bound, as if to suggest that one’s meaning in life is found not in stasis but in the challenging journey across the river.
Tarantino’s success owes to his allergy to immersion(and introspection). Even his appreciation of serious film-makers merely scrapes the surface, a sensibility closer to Pop Art and Advertising(which might as well be one and the same, as suggested by the stupid TV show MAD-MEN) that scours everything from high to low to add to its arsenal of catchy expressions. (This is where Tarantino diverges from Bob Dylan. In CHRONICLES, Dylan recounts long hours spent in basements of folk clubs buried in history books and ancient classics. And he certainly knows his Bible. His depth is felt in works such as BLONDE ON BLONDE and JOHN WESLEY HARDING; his sensibility and understanding went far beyond the Rock Zeitgeist and indeed transformed it. Such depth is almost entirely missing in the works of Tarantino who is glibly content with pop. To be sure, Dylan and Tarantino emerged from vastly different cultural contexts. One was original, the other post-original. Dylan turned Rock music into an art form from scratch when no one dared to entertain such a notion. One might say he fused folk with Rock n Roll, but the folk scene was about propaganda, not art, and Dylan had to rebel against folk as well as revamp Rock n Roll. No meant feat. In contrast, by the 1960s, cinema had already staked its claim as an art form as well as entertainment. Thus, Tarantino could never be as seminal as Dylan was with music. Now, which is a greater task? To be original or to build on the works of originals? Originality means birthing a new template, no easy task, one that serves as proposition and challenge to other artists. Still, the true original has one advantage in getting a head start in the foundational process. It took awhile for people to catch onto what Dylan was up to. As for building on the achievements of originals, it is easier because the tools and instructions have already been invented. But precisely for that reason, the post-original must do something special to make his mark? It’s the difference between just-another-Western and THE WILD BUNCH or just-another-noir and CHINATOWN. In painting, sculpture, and even music, this is now virtually impossible as they’ve been stylistically exhausted to death. When Tarantino arrived on the scene, cinema had already undergone a series of national ‘new waves’, and Peckinpah, Kubrick, Friedkin, Scorsese, Spielberg, Polanski, Seijun Suzuki, Jean-Pierre Melveille, Walter Hill, & Hong Kong cinema had made their mark, leaving precious little room for further innovation. So, what was Tarantino to do if he wanted to make a name for himself as a bona fide ‘auteur’ in his own right? In that sense, Tarantino’s challenge was as difficult and treacherous as what Dylan faced in the early 60s. In his time, Dylan was compared with Shakespeare for his astounding word play, and Tarantino seemed poised to become the closest thing to a hipster Shakespeare of cinema, a kind of milkshakespeare. After all, even though American cinema produced many talented and even brilliant writers, it failed to produce the truly awesome writer-director. Most writers of Old Hollywood cleaved to formula, and even the very best rarely transcended genre limitations. And most of the great directors weren’t full-blown writers. Orson Welles mostly worked on adaptations or screenplays by others. Billy Wilder was highly skilled as both writer and director but, like Neil Simon, didn’t wander far from middlebrow standards. Spielberg and Scorsese have been directors than writers. Paul Schrader and John Milius have been best as writers, not directors. Kubrick was mostly a director than writer though he carefully supervised the writings of his projects; same with Hitchcock. Woody Allen has been a better writer than director and, furthermore, for all the wit and brilliance, hardly pushed the boundaries of cinema. David Mamet demonstrated strength as writer and director, but his vision is too narrow and subjective to be Shakespearean in any way. His characters are essentially pawns in a mind-game; Mamet is M.C. Escher with words. But then, this kid comes along in 1992 with RESERVOIR DOGS, and it is amazing on every level as the whole package. The son of a gun both wrote it and directed it. And even though TRUE ROMANCE, as directed by Tony Scott, wasn’t much, the scene with Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper was one of the most audacious pieces of writing in Hollywood history. Many were hoping that Tarantino would be the full kahuna, the complete package as writer-director, the Pop Shakespeare of American Cinema. And for many, PULP FICTION was the fulfillment of their hopes. It was ‘sexy hamlet’ and ‘hip macbeth’ rolled into one. I hated it and still do, but maybe it works better as a radio play where one doesn’t have to look at the sickness. Still, despite continued success and accolades by the bushel, the highest hopes for Tarantino has faded, especially with the silliness of KILL BILL and the ‘tardism’ of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, which put all the good lines in the basket of one character, the zeligish Nazi commander with the personality of a cosmopolitan Jew. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD isn’t going to persuade anyone that Tarantino belongs in the pantheon of film greats, but it is full of surprises and ironies that may signal a new dawn, one where he goes from ape-man to human, if not exactly all the way to starchild. Besides, there are second acts in American Life, especially in cinema. After the powerful kickoff in the 80s with RAGING BULL, Scorsese mostly tread water throughout the decade, but then came GOODFELLAS as a new chapter in a revitalized Scorsese. Spielberg also got a second wind in the 1990s as both entertainer and serious film-maker. And who would have expected the Polanski of FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS and WHAT? to make CHINATOWN and TESS? Odds are Tarantino will revert to his idiotic tendencies, but ‘tomorrow never knows’.)
Tarantino’s worldview is on the level of dust-jacket descriptions and cliff notes, but then, the very nature of cinema, where the average movie ranges from 90 to 120 minutes, has favored skimming for highlights. Writing for film is closer in spirit to editing than narrating. This is probably the aspect of (early)Godard that appealed most to Tarantino — a sensibility that skips freely over narratives than becoming immersed in one. RESERVOIR DOGS, which molded meaning out of menace, suggested Tarantino could have been a first-rate playwright. But, if it took awhile for Fellini to become corrupted by vanity and excess, Tarantino became a gross pig almost immediately with his second picture. Incredibly, Tarantino managed to win acclaim as ‘auteur’ and personal film-maker despite being almost totally devoid of depth and decency. A dubious feat but a feat none-the-less. Tarantino’s primary ‘genius’ has been the uncanny ability to remain ‘dry’ despite dipping constantly into the reservoir of movie history. It lent the impression that he could walk on water. The consummate Teflon Don of Cinema. Like a spider immune to the stickiness of the web. He shares the secret of being waterproof with the never-bathing character in CROSS OF IRON. (Jim Jarmusch would be somewhere between hustler and artist, most telling in DEAD MAN that joins deadpan and severity at the hip.) Tarantino floats on his own filth.
Thus, his mystique rests on the immunity against being pigeonholed like, say, Sam Peckinpah, Walter Hill, John Ford, and others. There is a zeligish quality about him, as with the Nazi commander in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS who, at the drop of a hat, can go over to the other side and be a ‘good American’. (That’s why the swastika carved on his forehead is most unjust. He was never really a nazi but a ‘nazelig’, a free spirit who will go wherever the power and privilege are.) The lack of commitment and deep passion means Tarantino is always free to reinvent himself with the next big idea. He’s like the eternal immigrant who changes his identity from movie to movie, the only constant being his brazen infidelity. (And yet, there is a kind of passion in the passionlessness, like fireballs from a flamethrower than a self-sustaining fire of wood and coal. As with Bill Clinton, the moment means everything. Just like the latest person to shake Clinton’s hand is his best-friend-forever, Tarantino’s latest brainstorm is the greatest thing since pop tarts, that is until the next greatest thing comes along. The faithless, while lacking in deep passion, is utterly thrilled with the latest infatuation.)
In contrast, despite his involvement with many genres, there is a sense of commitment, essentially of a sentimental nature, in Spielberg. (If Spielberg is really a stone-cold cynic who’s been faking his sentimentalism over the years, he is surely one of the greatest charlatans of all time.) He is wedded to a worldview, a sensibility, and a manner of expression. In contrast, Tarantino is the Don Giovanni of cinema, promiscuous in every way. So, Tarantino-ism is like a video game with the reset button. No matter what happens, it is wiped clean and the game starts all over. It’s no wonder there’s been such lack of moral and emotional growth in Tarantino’s movies; in some cases, he appeared to be growing backwards, a common condition among people stuck in youth mentality but anxious of growing older and therefore compensating by acting more infantile as years pass. Tarantino’s mentality follows the logic of TV shows. Whatever happens in an episode of HONEYMOONERS or SANFORD AND SON, it has virtually no bearing on the next — it was only with the more recent long-running series like SOPRANOS and BREAKING BAD that stories and characters were allowed to develop for the long haul; there were, to be sure, soap operas and shows like DALLAS, but the thinness of material precluded any potential for story development. Tarantino’s TV-mentality keeps him both mobile and stuck. With the reset button, he feels totally free to pursue the next project with a blank mind, but the absence of a vision-in-progress means he’s back to being the class clown, like a student who remains in the same grade year after year with no thought of graduation. There’s been too much Billy Madison and Jeff Spicoli in Tarantino. The clown who made INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is the same clown that made PULP FICTION. Some may note this as consistency, but actually it isn’t. Consistency of the continuous thread nurtures organic growth that feed on memory and reflection. Consider the progression of John Ford’s vision from STAGECOACH to THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. With Tarantino, it’s more like the constancy of amnesia.
In THE WILD BUNCH, Pike Bishop(William Holden) speaks these words: “We’re not gonna get rid of anybody! We’re gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal, you’re finished! We’re finished! All of us!” Peckinpah developed a vision of life from RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY to unfairly neglected THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND. Like Hemingway, he had a code by which his failures, betrayals, and compromises were measured and judged; no wonder he was angry not only with his enemies but with himself, often his own worst enemy. There is a powerful sense of inner-struggle in all his works. Like it or not, STRAW DOGS is a high-stakes film with an authentic perspective on human nature and sexual politics. It plays for keeps. And BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA erred, if anything, on the side of being too personal. Though Peckinpah couldn’t save any of his marriages, he was wed to his vision of cinema. For many, the Passion of Peckinpah was too much. Tarantino need never worry about such because his aloofness guarantees he will never be mistaken for an excess of emotions. Indeed, for all their gore, violence, and mayhem, what is most irritating about movies like PULP FICTION and INGLORIOUS BASTERD is the smug and snide air of indifference, whether it’s brains splattered all over the car or a matter of who-kills-whom. It wouldn’t have made any emotional or moral difference in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS if the wrong guys came out on top because everyone is a ridiculous caricature, a human gargoyle.
Quentin Tarantino, born in 1963, qualifies as among the last of the boomers. By the time he was a teenager, the ‘Film Generation’ was a mere footnote in the mostly forgotten Counterculture — oddly enough, while Americans were willing to revisit the Vietnam experience in monuments and movies, they had no interest in rehashing cultural fashions of the 60s despite all the PBS nostalgia-fests; history is real, fashions come and go, like flappers of the 1920’s — , and kids grew up with fewer pretensions and commitments, as the period from the end of the Vietnam War to the early 90s was marked by 60s fatigue and apolitical materialism; besides, PC had yet to appear as the new crusade. For Tarantino’s tail-end boomer generation, TV mattered more than cinema — there was virtually no one showing off his interest in Godard. Of course, the TV had been central to youth culture in the 60s as well, but the combination of lingering cultural elitism and radical idealism pressed upon youths(billed as the best-educated generation in history) to direct their minds to the search for meaning: Turn off the Tube and watch a film from France or read Aldous Huxley and Hermann Hesse; be serious, curious, and committed; say NO to ‘plastics’, seek organic authenticity; and even when enjoying pop culture, appreciate rock lyrics as poetry — “Rock with Shakespeare” —, and think about what it all means; consult Marshall McLuhan.
By the mid-70s, such attitudes had all but evaporated from youth culture, and the ascendant yuppie culture of the 80s was proudly ‘shallow’ and ‘superficial’. It wasn’t so much that the changes wrought by the 60s were rejected or reversed as absorbed by the larger culture, indeed to the point where sex, drugs, & rock-n-roll vibes in the air one breathed. If one element of 60s fell out of favor, it was earnestness and hopeful naivete, e.g. drugs could lead to Nirvana, cinema & music could raise consciousness, and protest could change the world. In a sense, the 60s generation, despite their rebellion against their elders, shared in the ‘innocence’ of past America. On that note, boomers also seemed ‘lame’ to later generations. Post-60s youths grew up with cynicism baked into the pie. For them, drugs and hedonism were for fun, not meaning. Music & movies were for thrills, and sex was for pleasure, not for ‘liberation’ or some higher purpose. It was only later that PC revived the culture of earnestness with hysteria about ‘hate speech’, globo-homomania, MLK & Holy Negro Worship, and Holocaustianity, but then, it was a corrupted earnestness that directed youthful energies toward worshiping at the altar of ‘sacralized’ decadence, degeneracy, and deception. At least the older generations and the boomers had themes worthy of serious devotion and commitment: Family, nation, church, high culture, social justice, anti-materialism. Current youths’ object of sincere devotion is that a man with a penis is a ‘woman’. It’s about Pronoun Politics, the passion for ‘Latinx’ than ‘Latino or Latina’.
The Coens and Tarantino were born roughly ten years apart, and that may explain why the Coens, though also brought up on TV, shed juvenilia sooner in their career than Tarantino finally seems to be doing if indeed so. Or perhaps, Tarantino and Linklater’s late-nite rap-session sensibilities function as compensation for their incomplete education. Still, it likely has something to do with TV culture. Whereas movies are watched in silence in theaters, TV is seen in the home with people talking, reacting to the screen and one another. The TV became like the third parent, electronic sibling, or artificial friend in countless households. In single-mother households or in homes where kids were raised by grandparents, the TV was like the main authority figure, the first and last arbiter of right and wrong, cool and uncool. One of the most disturbing images in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is the ‘hippies’ packed like sardines in a small room gazing at the TV under the watchful eye of Squeaky as mother hen. Indeed, it’s as if the other ‘hippies’ are extra-sensorial extensions of Squeaky’s hive-mind-central. Other members function as her eyes, ears, hands, and feet. They are tuned to her wavelengths like TV viewers are tuned to signals from broadcasting towers. Squeaky, a rather formidable figure, truly stands out from the rest of the pack. Her obsessive TV-watching could be a way of perfecting her own mind-control techniques, to be a tower to the antennas, like Anthony Quinn’s character is a river to his people in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.
In the late 60s, the radical Godard embarked on a project of trying to disassemble the inner-workings of cinema. Cinema was here to stay, and nothing could be done about it. But as long as it functions as a mind-control tool, humanity had only two options: Understand, resist, and/or properly utilize its power OR fall under its sway as an escapist fantasy machine controlled by the Power. For this reason, Godard increasingly lost interest in cinema as an art form worthy of appreciation and analysis. The art on the screen mattered less than how the images and sounds become processed in the all-too-gullible-and-easily-yielding minds of the viewers. It was a worthy mission of liberating the mind but also a dehumanizing folly premised on radical commitment, suppression of sentiment & emotions, and deconstruction upon deconstruction, a ceaseless intellectual purging, of what one felt and saw and what one felt about what one felt and saw ad infinitum. This maddening tendency can be glanced in LETTER TO JANE by Godard and Jean Gorin. The Godard of the Maoist period was, in his own way, just as demented as Charles Manson. That humanity doesn’t live on Truth alone is also an essential truth but went missing in the Maoist Godard, made all the worse by the delusion that truth could be found on the map of ‘Maoism’, which was willfully misconstrued by the French at any rate. There needs to be a place for romanticism and fairy-tales, poetry and pathos — everything in balance — , and OUTH seems a defense of the myth and fables against the radical Godard/Manson faction that, in the name of total uncompromising authenticity, became part and parcel of the kind of insanity surrounding the Altamont fiasco and ultimately leading to the grim fate of Jim-Jonestown a decade later. The problem with the radical rejection of falsehood and total commitment to truth is it presupposes one knows with absolute clarity what is true and false or how to find the one and identify the other. Yet, such an attitude blinds more than illuminates. In an interview long ago, Tarantino expressed preference for Godard over Truffaut, but OUTH is more in the spirit of the latter while possibly a dig at the former.
In OUTH, Tarantino could be channeling another Coens movie, HAIL, CAESAR!(which also has a cowboy actor struggling with new roles). If the Coens used the Biblical Epic as model and backdrop to contemplate the fusion of Jewish Prophecy and Roman Militarism that reverberated across the millennia and came to a new head into the 20th century in the form of the Cold War, Tarantino plays the Western genre(and its TV variant and the Spaghettis) like a poker game as a test of bluff so intrinsic to the American mythos. In traditional society, one was more likely to know his place in the order — whom to look up or down to. In America, especially in the blank slate of the Wild West, one’s position could be ascertained only by the contest of wills, as in the stare-down and the bluff, sometimes leading to the showdown. This constant tension and danger, sometimes erupting in blood, was the price for the promise of equality and the freedom of starting anew. American equality wasn’t about equality of outcome(as in socialism) but equality of opportunity, which inevitably led to some people having to prove they were more equal than others. Minus an established pecking order in a world where everyone had a gun to stake his pride as a free man, one had to know how to play the game(as Burt Reynolds’ character says in DELIVERANCE).
Though the Wild West didn’t last for long, it’s hard to think of another chapter of American History(and facet of American Mythology) that became so emblematic of what it means to be American. By the 1960s, the classic Hollywood Western was in steep decline, and the TV Western was soon on its way out as well. Still, the co-existence of freedom/wildness and order/civilization in the American Imagination & Idealism has been intoxicating to people all over the world. Anyone around the world who saw William Wyler’s BIG COUNTRY most certainly wanted to come to America and become American. In the Western, the cowboys and pioneers are both free-spirited adventurers and agents of order, the builders of churches and schools in the wilderness. This duality is at the heart of Americanism. Even today, Americans feel they are, at once, living in the most free nation and most developed nation. But don’t development and order require suppression of freedom and wildness? After all, civilization was made possible by iron control over wilder impulses. In this, enslavement and/or en-serf-ment were crucial to the rise of civilization. Progs and blacks complain that America used slavery to tame the Negroes; they see it as affront to the very spirit of civilization. But the notion that slavery is evil and antithetical to civilization is relatively a new idea in history. For most of history, practices such as slavery, serfdom, and similar institutions of mass control constituted the essential means and processes by which large populations became civilized. Long long ago, whites too were civilized by slavery or forms of quasi-slavery, and this was no less true of the Persians, Hindus, and East Asians. Civilization didn’t begin with or arise from the idea of universal freedom but with the iron prerogative of mass control. It was only later, with increased economic productivity and liberalizing attitudes, that a new ideal of universal freedom and human rights arose and gradually expanded. Still, in order for a people to enjoy their measure of freedom, they needed to belong to and uphold an order that had been created through iron rule and ‘tyranny’.
Now, one may argue that by the time Europeans enslaved the Negroes, they no longer believed in the moral validity of slavery. True enough. However, whites found themselves in co-existence with a primitive race that hadn’t undergone the taming process of turning savages into civilized folks. After all, Western Freedom would never have developed if weren’t for historical stages of Tyranny & Slavery that created stable social & political orders in the first place and weeded out troublesome genotypes in favor of milder and more sociable ones. Indeed, the civilizational-slavery phase for blacks lasted far shorter than had been the case for whites who underwent many centuries of slavery, serfdom, or tyranny before a social order could sufficiently develop to allow constructive freedoms for increasing members of society. If anything, what blacks experienced in America was an accelerated form of civilizationalism, i.e. within a couple of centuries, they went from savagery to slavery to freedom. In this light, the Negroes should be thanking the ‘honkers’ for their rapid transformation from primitivism to modernism.
Of course, the problem is black genetics are still stuck in savagery as a mere couple of centuries weren’t sufficiently long enough to weed out the oogity-bootity traits. (By the way, why does the Old South get a far worse rap than the Old West or the Old North for that matter? The Old North was created by ‘genocide’ of the Indians. Also, the mythology of the Old West is inseparable from the legends of white men as pioneers, cowboys, and gun-men using bloody violence to take lands from the Red Natives. If all are agreed that genocide is worse than slavery, shouldn’t the Old West and its symbols draw more ire than the Old South and its symbols? Why are the Confederates compared with the Nazis but cowboys are not? Granted, there was a time in the 60s when the Anti-Western did conflate the conquest of the West with Nazism. And THE SEARCHERS is often cited as a useful text on the sexually-charged nature of American ‘racism’. Still, many prefer to see the racial angle in THE SEARCHERS as subtext for white-black relations than white-red relations. After all, John Wayne’s character fought for the South in the Civil War and expresses no remorse. Furthermore, his fury about the sexual conquest of white women by non-whites is more reflective of white attitudes about black-white mating prior to the 80s. Perhaps, the Old West seems less worse because the Indians, despite defeat and demise, had a sense of pride and honor. They lived and fought as warriors, and indeed, were respected as such. Also, the Indians did manage to rape, kill, and scalp a fair amount of whites in the race war. In contrast, even though blacks fared far better under whites than Indians did, they had little in the way of pride and dignity as slaves. Also, a handful of black uprisings notwithstanding, blacks in the Old South never got their share of rightful vengeance against white folks. But more than any other reason, there are many more blacks than Indians in the US, blacks defined the struggle for the especially mythologized Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, and blacks are dominant in sports and pop music. That means whatever wrong that was done to blacks just feels worse in mainstream American consciousness.
Also, there’s the Jewish control of mass media and the manipulation of ‘white guilt’ about blacks to cower and control the white population. One other reason could be that the American South remains as a bastion of White American Conservatism whereas the American West has been utterly taken over by Jews, progs, freaks, homos, and Mexicans. Texas, the last holdout, is on its last legs.) Anyway, traditional political philosophy long feared the rise of freedom as a threat to order, and the disastrous consequences of the French Revolution seemed to confirm this. Indeed, to save itself, the French Republic had to give way to Napoleonic ‘tyranny’. And once Napoleon’s armies were defeated, Europe settled for a century of reactionary rule that maintained order. Even the political earth shake of 1848 failed to overturn the prevailing order, which, in the end, was destroyed not by radical politics but by rise of capitalism and the clash of empires in World War I, followed by yet another clash of empires in WWII.
In contrast to European History following the failure of the French Revolution, the American Experiment came to represent a model where one could have both liberty/freedom and order/civilization. But, if the US had unleashed the wild energies of the masses, how could order be maintained for civilization? Though the Wild West narrative is only a chapter in the far larger American Pageant, the cowboy mythology came to best exemplify this American Paradox. The cowboy valued his freedom of movement and adventure, but that very freedom made him more appreciative of order as he could be ambushed by outlaws, Indians, or rival cowboys at any time. In Old Europe where all the lands had long been claimed by the ruling elites, the freedom-lover resented the prevailing ‘tyranny’ but at least he didn’t have to sleep with one-eye-open; ‘tyranny’ provided some degree of stability, even security. The element of ‘tyranny’ made European politics more radical and resentful but also made it favor socialism over individualism because most people had become so accustomed to the iron blanket of long-existing hierarchy; Europeans didn’t so much crave new liberty as new justice. In contrast, American pioneers, at least for a time, could move into areas with unsettled ownership and uncertain authority, making for low, if any, levels of stability. It was good to be free, but it also meant you could be killed on the spot by savages or outlaws. So, the cowboys appreciated order as well as freedom, especially as their order would be founded on their own terms than on aristocratic lineage.
Though the only cowboys in ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD are TV cowboys, some of the Wild West spirit seems just around the corner in every part of L.A. of 1969, a time when boomers were young, California was overwhelmingly white, old-timers were still around, and vast new migrations were afoot of people coming for jobs, climate, or drugs. Many of those ‘hippies’ weren’t homegrown but came from all over America. Indeed, what was it that attracted Roman Polanski, a Franco-Polish Jew, to Hollywood? He got his start as a film artist in Poland and then settled for a time in the UK. A known quality since the success of KNIFE IN THE WATER, he didn’t need to come to America to pursue a promising career in film — indeed, most European film artists stayed put with national cinema — , but he couldn’t resist the charms of Hollywood(and the Hollywood lifestyle); while so many European film artists defined themselves in contrast to Hollywood, an attitude copped even by budding American would-be ‘auteurs’, Polanski fit right in the moment he arrived in Hollyweird. As an ‘exile’ from communist Poland, he could have had freedom in Western Europe, but he chose the US. And he took to American freedom with abandon like a wild-and-crazy guy. He was distinctly European but also easily adaptable to Americanism via Jewish Zeligishness. Besides, unlike European nations that had long been claimed by specific goy ethnic groups as their homelands, the claim on America was still up in the air, and Jews were rapidly gaining as the rising elites and the new masters of Americanism. Jews were taking over White America like White Americans had once taken over Indian-America. Jews could feel as neon-cowboys, pioneers of a newer America belonging to them as the top barons. Then, Polanski in Hollywood was like both a neo-aristocrat and a Jewish cowboy.
In OUTH, the frontier spirit rides on the hoods of automobiles as horses-on-wheels. Some of the driving, fast and furious, have the rough-and-tumble feel of wagons in Westerns. (OUTH is probably the movie with the most driving without a car chase.) Booth’s confrontation with tire-puncturing ‘hippie’ recalls the scene in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS where the Man with No Name expresses displeasure about what was done to his mule — funny that Eastwood began his movie career on a mule and then played one in THE MULE. OUTH consciously emphasizes the speed-and-swerve aspect of the American Automobile even though cars play no significant role in the plot, most of which hinges on actions in places than on roads.
Though ‘Polanski’ in the movie arrives in a glittering modern city, he appears to revel in the spirit of adventure and movement. In more ways than one, Los Angeles of OUTH is like a New Frontier town, a city of the future in the making. Despite the pervasive modernity, nothing seems nailed down or meant to last… but then, the allure of modernity is a kind of neo-primitivist futurism, a world of plastics where ‘eternity’ and ‘permanence’ are four-letter words. In that regard, the modern city has something in common with make-shift towns erected across the West as frontier outposts. Permanence is the last item on their agenda. Indeed, when we compare the L.A. of 1969 to the L.A. of today, it’s true that the ‘frontier’ spirit has been very much alive, the difference being that whites are now the New Indians to be replaced by new hordes of invaders. White people sure can be stupid.
Anything Goes by the ‘rules’ of the frontier, meaning that those who with the fastest-draw wins the prize. In wit and insight, the swift Schwarz sure is a Hopalong Cassidy. Indeed, his ‘friendly’ exchange with Dalton is like a little duel. It begins amiably enough but Schwarz fires off remarks that leave Dalton out-drawn and wet in the pants. Schwarz hits his marks as to why Dalton should suspend his TV career and try his luck in Italy. In the art of the deal, Schwarz holds the aces, and he has verbal firepower for backup. His words have the authoritative crackle and pop of gunfire. Like characters in Westerns, people in Hollywood need boldness and initiative, what Jews call ‘chutzpah’. They also need something up their sleeves just in case, like the small pistol that comes in handy against the hunchback in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. It’s what Robin Williams’ character called ‘insurance’ in INSOMNIA.
When Dalton’s role as Caleb DeCouteau goes head to head with ‘Boston’(Luke Perry), it’s almost like a showdown between the Jew as New Honcho and a member of the Anglo Establishment. (The name ‘DeCouteau’ suggests Dalton needs to expand his horizons — play ‘hippie’-cowboy, work in Italy, and play characters of non-Anglo origin — to develop his artistry. This was certainly true of Clint Eastwood who gained much from his stint in Italy. And, even after a long illustrious career, Henry Fonda chose to appear in a Leone movie, as heavy no less, to broaden his screen persona. Even though his place in the Hollywood pantheon had long been secured prior to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, our appreciation of Fonda simply wouldn’t be the same without his role as the arch-villain. It challenged Fonda to reach beyond the familiar persona. Ironically, if Fonda’s challenge was to play someone mean and murderous, Tarantino’s challenge was to play it warm and gentle. You gotta cross the river. ‘DeCouteau’ is another way of arguing for ‘More Restaurants’, and indeed Dalton-in-Italy loves the local cuisine so much so that he gains 15 lbs. It’s Tarantino’s way of saying how Diversity enriched and broadened the Anglo-American perspective. That said, OUTH also pays respect to the more spartan meat-and-potatoes virtues of Anglo-Americanism as embodied by Booth. It may not have spice and flavor, but it’s real about life and got things done.) Dalton/DeCouteau lays it on so thick that the actor playing ‘Boston’ seems genuinely intimidated and diminished. The moment is genuinely tense. Hyper-verbal Jews often approach conversation as a duel, a showdown. Consider Bob Dylan’s treatment of the Time reporter in DON’T LOOK BACK. Consider Howard Stern’s nonstop venom on Tom Snyder’s show. It’s a game of shoot-from-the-lip. Indeed, Jews gained the world with the word, both as authors of sacred texts and legal documents. What would Jordan Belfort have been without the gift of gab? (‘Boston’ has a limp from a war injury, something that DeCouteau mocks, and yet, ironically enough, Booth the war hero may walk with a limp for the rest of his life — like Burt Reynolds character in DELIVERANCE — because of the knife injury.)
Most people are members of a community who best go along to get along. Most townsfolk in a Western are like this. In contrast, the Western hero finds himself at the crossroads where he stands alone, looks the enemy straight in the eye, and must prove himself. That’s what sets him apart from ordinary sheeple who, even with the blessings of freedom, prefer to stay in their holes than mark territory; indeed, there were Pioneers and pioneers, with the former leading and clearing the path so that the latter followed along in relative security — Columbus was the the mother of all pioneers. Most folks may be ‘good people’ but aren’t game-changers or world-shakers. It is the bold individual with true grit or ‘more sand than most’ who makes the move to win or lose. Those who fear losing will never taste victory either.
Tarantino surely understands this because, with the deck stacked against him(as against any aspiring film-maker, esp. a would-be ‘auteur’), he embarked on a movie career that paid off in spades. He became the Wolf of Hollywood. He never gunned anyone down with a six-shooter, but he did square off against great odds at the Hollywood corral. He turned talk into walk, found his spot, and drew and shot. This aspect of individualism was mythologized by Ayn Rand in THE FOUNTAINHEAD and crudely manifested in the American Cowboy as a man of will, courage, and fortitude. Especially in an industry like Hollywood, no one can make it without some cowboy blood in his veins.
Though Tarantino has been more a cultural disease than a sign of health, he has lived by the motto “No Fate but What We Make” in TERMINATOR 2. Success and glory cannot rest on the laurels of ability, smarts, and credentials. It comes to those willing to stare down destiny at the O.K. Corral. This was, of course, also true of Sergio Leone. Who in the early 60s would have thought a rotund and obscure Italian director would come to change film-history with a cheapie shoot-em-up starring a little known TV actor of RAWHIDE? It is then no wonder that the ruthless tycoon of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is not without admirable qualities. He isn’t only about money but the dream, for which he is willing to sacrifice anything, even his failing health, to see to fruition. Ironically, Cheyenne(Robards) comes to share something in common with him because, despite his own fatal injury, he is also resolved to see it to the very end, that is to save Jill(Cardinale), the only person or thing he came to care about. In more ways than one, Mr. ChooChoo was Leone’s alter ego.
Whether ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD will be remembered as a classic, only time will tell. Who knows how it will be regarded twenty or thirty years hence, with a double dose of nostalgia for 2019 and 1969. This was surely the case with AMERICAN GRAFFITI and DAZED AND CONFUSED. The former makes one feel nostalgic for the early Sixties and the legendary era of New Hollywood, and the latter for the Bicentennial 1976 and 1993, a banner year for American Cinema. Despite its happy ending, OUTH is ultimately a melancholic movie and not only because the real Sharon Tate was murdered by the Mansons but because it features a lost California. If California today were demographically contiguous with its earlier self, the ending wouldn’t be so wistful, poignant. But like the deceptive ending of A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, the alternate world of OUTH is a pipe dream out-of-time(like the Stones song), not unlike the one Noodles in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA recedes into, perhaps to a world where Max and Debra are with him. Despite the Vietnam War, race riots, and problems of youth, the Go-Go Years of the Sixties were an unprecedented time of hope and dreams. And yet, too much of a good thing led to taking things for granted. And in the end, they ‘blew it’. Not just Fonda and Hopper but all of White California. With the rapid and tragic transformations of the West into Third World hell-holes, it could be that the only reminders of White Civilization will be in the ‘regressively white’ movies, just like many near-extinct species can be found in zoos and preserves. On that note, even though Tarantino’s latest movie may fall short of being a major work — let future be the judge — and may not offer much in the way of food-for-thought (compared to works of true giants like Lynch, Leone, Kubrick, and etc.), it offers one of the more unique and special movie experiences in quite some time.