Well, we made it happen. Our 2020 season got off the ground on Saturday. And a very good and eventful evening it was too. As well as dealing with the global pandemic, lockdown restrictions, and socially distant solar lamps, we also had a last-minute screen mishap and a visit from the local police. Whilst I seemed to suffer no ill effects from the clout on the head I received when the screen toppled earlier in the day, the screen itself had a significant puncture. I repaired it as best as I could, and no-one would have noticed if Linda hadn’t pointed it out to everybody.
A big thanks to everyone for complying with the new rules. I personally think that with everyone showing just a little common sense, and a little bit of guidance, our yard is big enough for everyone to feel safe, and to interact without risking themselves.
I also think that watching Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood on a big screen in the outdoors is very fitting. Yes, Brad Pitt’s character lives in a trailer on the site of a 60’s drive-in, but beyond that the whole sensibility of the movie is a throwback to a time when watching movies was an important, communal experience. The recreation of late 60s period Hollywood was rigorously perfect and somewhat of a transport, so the big screen on a frame in front if us seemed to add to the experience.
Tarantino has spoken about his work being divided into two universes; the real world, where stories about real people - sometimes fictional, sometimes real - are told. And the movie universe, where fantastical stories are told in movie form. When people in the ‘real world’ go to the movies, they watch the movies from his movie universe. For example, Reservoir Dogs is from the real world, where the protagonists might go and watch Kill Bill at the cinema. Characters and plots often cross over, and fans look for these references.
In this piece Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are real people, making their inter-dependent ways through the Hollywood machine, brushing up against Hollywood stars like Steve McQueen and Sharon Tate, as well as infamous characters from the Manson Family. But Rick is also famous in this world as Jake Cahill, the bounty hunter in his successful TV series, Bounty Law. This will serve as a significant plot device later. In a way, DiCaprio's character bridges the two universes, as well as driving the story to its conclusion.
Leonardo DiCaprio is brilliant as the aging TV western star, coughing and wheezing his way through his last shot at staying relevant. He inhabits the character to an extent that he looks waxen and greasy, from too many cigarettes and too much booze. And his redemption as an actor - yes he is Rick Fucking Dalton - feels genuine. But he didn’t win the Oscar. Brad Pitt won Best Supporting Actor for Cliff Booth, which was probably merited against his opposition but seems slightly unjust as he spends the entire movie in Rick’s shadow, both in the narrative and in terms of the performance. Whilst he is very charismatic, much of his performance involved taking his shirt off and smiling that Brad Pitt smile.
Tarantino is also known for reinterpreting historical events for the purpose of his story, and here the Sharon Tate murders are reimagined. As the movie enters it's final act, Kurt Russell begins a narration that creates the feel of a real-life crime documentary, and any familiarity with the events of 1968 builds your anticipation of the horror to come. But this is a Tarantino movie universe, and the twisting of the events - the changing of the participants, the re-direction of the violence towards the hippie protagonists - is spectacular, cinematic and strangely satisfying. The coda is deeply poignant, when Rick realizes his ambition of being invited to share drinks at the Polanski house, and greets one-by-one the real victims of 1968 who have dodged their horrific fate in Tarantino’s version.
The whole atmospheric experience was enhanced for us by the dramatic sight of flashing blue and red lights on the side of the house, as a police cruiser pulled up to check out the parked cars across the road. Luckily we don’t charge any extra for a fully immersive movie experience in our backyard.
I enjoyed this much more on second viewing, and I would put myself above the homage/snoozefest debate. I think this is quite a masterpiece, possibly one of Tarantino’s best movies, up there with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. It’s technically good, it has some fantastic performances, it is definitely value for your Tarantino dollar, but it is also one of the best-written movies of recent times.
On the whole, a great start to the summer. Unfortunately we expected to have the fridge magnets in hand, but the good old reliable Pennington USPS seem to have lost them, and we are currently trying to track them down. Hopefully we’ll have then in time for Mr Rogers…