When I wrote the preview of our season with the mini-summaries of each movie, I called Quentin Tarantino a ‘marmite’ director. Just like with my ignorance of Mr. Rogers, that big ole stretch of water between the UK and USA can get in the way of cultural references, so let me explain…apologies to those who already know this.
Marmite is an absolute institution in the UK. It is a food product, officially known as ‘yeast extract’ which has a thick, sticky texture and an extremely strong, salty umami flavour. It has many uses, but surprisingly it is most commonly found as a breakfast food, spread thinly on hot buttered toast. Generations of kids were brought up on ‘marmite soldiers’. Many parents believed that the concentrated goo, packed with vitamins, would be good for kids development. More likely, having to endure such an extreme flavor and texture at that age helped form character traits like stoicism and restraint, and some kids grew up with the Marmite habit. Others detested the stuff for what it was.
Thereby, the adjective ‘marmite’ entered the English language to represent something for which it is impossible to hold a moderate or middling opinion. Unilever (the company who now own the brand) themselves regularly use the ‘Love It/Hate it’ motif in their advertising, never more funnier than this.
So finally we get to Tarantino, and my description of him as a marmite director is validated, as we already have three people who will not be joining us to see this landmark movie because they ‘don’t like Tarantino movies’. Well, that’s fair. There are enough common themes in his works even to polarize a community that’s had to deal with three years of Trump baloney. Opinion respected. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood has enough typical Tarantino trademarks - great music, spot-on dialogue, movie meta references, bad language and, of course, a touch of extreme violence - to run a mile, if you are so inclined. But if you can see past the ‘bad' stuff, Tarantino films are always packed with enough interesting material to get the brain cells a-hopping, especially if, like him, you are a student of the whole idea and history of movie-making.
It is worth knowing that OUATIH, as it shall now be known to save my typing fingers, uses the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson family as a plot device - the Charles Manson character makes a cameo-like appearance - though the treatment of the event is unconventional (Chris says, striving to avoid plot spoilers) so it is worth knowing a little of the history to get the benefit of the creative filmmaking on display.
Having said that, the majority of the movie focuses not on the murders, but on other protagonists, mainly the relationship between Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading star of TV westerns, and his best friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The movie has been called a love letter to 1960’s Hollywood, and the attention to detail in sets, costume, music etc is stunning. Sometimes paeans of praise can become tiresome, and this is certainly a long, perhaps indulgent movie. But it was a serious Best Movie Oscar contender for a reason. Perhaps there were just more members of the Academy that loved it than hated it ?
By the way, I love Marmite. Join us around 8pm on Saturday for the first 2020 pandemic-edition of Folly Avenue Film Club.