Quentin Tarantino is a genuine cinephile: someone who films from precise memories of the history of cinema, not to freeze them in a complacent nostalgia, but rather reviewing and reinventing them as a thing of the present. Your 2019 movie, Once upon a time in Hollywood, constitutes a model example of such an attitude.
There we revisited 1969, in the scenarios of the California “dream factory”, reconverted by the emergence of new protagonists linked to the growing power of television. The characters played by Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt are symptoms of this conjuncture: figures of a new time in which the legacy of Hollywood’s golden age persists, even if it no longer seems possible to recreate its mythological power.
Illustrating the elaborate critical awareness of the aesthetic and symbolic roots of his work, Tarantino has just released a “novelization” of his film, adopting the pocket format and look of traditional crime novels (“pulp fiction”). The book Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (HarperCollins) thus emerged as an expression of an ancestral love relationship – between the cinematographic narrative and the literary desire for writing.
Tarantino has given several interviews about this debut as a novelist, after all an extension of his work as a script writer: it was, in fact, as a scriptwriter that he has won two Oscars, with pulp Fiction (1994) and Django Released (2012). A few days ago, on SiriusXM radio’s “The Jess Cagle Show” he spoke of Sharon Tate’s memories (1943-1969) and her treatment as a character in Once upon a time in America.
Even if you don’t know the movie, the reader will know that Sharon Tate, then married to Roman Polanski, was murdered on August 9, 1969 by the Manson Family gang. And, especially for those who are not familiar with the film, I believe it is essential not to reveal how the character of Tate, played by Margot Robbie, appears as staged by Tarantino…
I would just like to quote a few crystal-clear words from Tarantino to Sirius XM, after evoking his dazzling discovery of the actress in the crime comedy The Wrecking Crew/A Danger Around Every Turn, by the way mentioned in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (it was in 1968, Tarantino was five years old). He says that “it is horrible that she was defined (only) by her murder”. And he adds that one of the things he’s proud of is the fact that “after the movie” is no longer defined that way. Thanks to the film, and to the composition of Margot Robbie, it is no longer seen through “victim status” – it is someone “with meaning” and not just a “statistician”.
We may recall that, for many moviegoers, in particular young spectators from the 60s/70s, Tate was never a mere “statistics”, if only because of his protagonism in the very popular Please don’t bite my neck (1967), Polanski’s parodic homage to vampire films that subtly becomes a political fable. But Tarantino’s words are not just about preserving those memories.
What is it about then? In truth, I believe that what is at stake is the social and symbolic power of cinema. When referring to Sharon Tate’s shifting perception through her film, Tarantino is celebrating cinema, not as abstract entertainment, but as a specific event through which our worldview – and, to that extent, the concrete forms of ours. knowledge – lives a process of permanent transfiguration.
This issue is not secondary, especially if we remember that, in the last two decades, the economic and promotional triumph of superheroes (with some magnificent films, this is not what is at stake) consolidated a schematic, deeply reductive image of diversity cinematographic. We have been devaluing the social dimension of cinema itself. “Social”, it is understood, is not a trivial derivation of (so-called) social networks, much less the definition of cinema as a sociological sermon. By evoking Sharon Tate through and beyond her death, Tarantino celebrates cinema as something intimate to our gaze. There is nothing more social.