Tag Archives: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

José Arroyo in Conversation with Joaquín Aras

 

Joaquín Aras is an artist and filmmaker from Buenos Aires. His work is on show alongside that of María Agustina Fernández Raggio and Paula Monzillo at the What It Became Is Not What It Is Now exhibition curated by Louise Hobson and currently on show at Grand Union until the 9th of November. Aras also screened Snuff 1976 at The Electric Cinema in Birmingham. Snuff 1976 is a reworking of the original ´snuff´/horror/ soft core porn’ American exploitation film shot in Argentina just at the time when a military dictatorship was coming into power and beginning to commit the atrocities this period in Argentine history will forever be remembered for. The film was advertised as ‘A movie that could only have been made in South America, where life is cheap’.

 

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This is a wide-ranging conversation that touches on: film history; what is centre/ periphery in relation to how film cultures circulate?; how does one reconstruct popular memory?; film preservation; the connection between Snuff 1976, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and the Manson murders; and Aras´ ongoing attempts to give voice and expression to those areas related to history and popular memory currently occluded, bypassed, sometimes even lost or erased.

Joaquín and I also discuss the relationship of his work to the video essay, how his choices of what to focus on are contextual and specific to Argentina. We discuss the relationship of guest and host in the horror film and what the work of Levinas and Derrida can bring to an understanding of that relationship. We also talk about how memory might be a great way to challenge historicity. A conversation worth hearing and a show worth watching. Details of the exhibition are below:

 

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Those of you interested in issues of film history and popular memory might want to follow up by reading Annette Kuhn´s foundational work in these areas:

An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. Published in the US as Dreaming of Fred and Ginger: Cinema and Cultural Memory. New York: New York University Press.

Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. London: Verso, 1995; rev edn, 2002.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 163 – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Mike feared it might be the most tasteless film ever made. José doesn’t look forward to Quentin Tarantino films. But we both came away from this fantastical reimagining of a near-mythological era of Hollywood history having had a great time. Tellingly, for a film that exceeds two and a half hours, we both felt the time fly by.

Tarantino’s love for and expert knowledge of Hollywood and cinema informs all of his work, and arguably not that consequentially – he cribs shots, pastiches genres, and evokes styles and tones specific to cinema, but to debatable significant effect beyond the superficial. But in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (OUATIH for brevity’s sake), the decision to bring this passion to the surface and tell a story directly about Hollywood results in Tarantino’s most meaningful and personal film. What he values is brazenly displayed here, and, Mike suggests, isn’t entirely pleasant to examine. He finds OUATIH initially troubling in this regard – with a day’s reflection on it, he comes to see it as deeply conservative and protective of privilege. In digging this up, we discuss its sexual politics, the way it uses race, and the clash it represents between the old and the new in a rapidly changing 1969 Hollywood. Mike argues that, as in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s revisionism revealingly reflects his fantasy of what an ideal world would look like and contain, and in this case it’s a little uneasy to stomach. He also takes issue with the way the Manson family are used, but not, as he feared, for reasons of taste – Charles Manson wasn’t in Hollywood by chance, he wanted stardom, and for a film in which the desire for and loss of stardom are interests, to show no interest in drawing a thematic link here is more evidence of Tarantino’s retrograde attitude.

The flip side to this coin is that the things Tarantino loves are wonderfully, warmly depicted. OUATIH is as much about television as it is cinema, if not more so, and Tarantino offers imagined and reimagined TV shows of many types in evoking in detail the time and place in which he grew up. To José, about the same age as Tarantino, there abound countless nostalgic pleasures; to Mike, disgustingly born 30 years too late, the film’s enthusiasm and obvious knowledge about its setting rubs off easily. The film easily convinces you to love what it loves, be it silly, overblown action movies; cheesy, overblown TV acting; or Brad Pitt’s Hawaiian shirt, which in one scene blows off.

Speaking of Pitt, José considers this his best performance, one in which he switches from evoking coolness and control to dumb and tripping balls. But for all the little touches and tone he brings to his character, Leonardo DiCaprio brings entirely different registers. His performance is a tour de force, his Rick, a declining Western star, constantly performing, even only to himself at times, and at every moment his emotions and thoughts are crystal clear, even under layer upon layer of performance. DiCaprio practically shapeshifts in sketches depicting Rick’s old movies and television appearances, and offers a sympathetic portrait of a star unable to adapt to his changing environment. It’s a rich, demanding role, and DiCaprio is spellbinding in meeting its challenge.

You’d be doing yourself a disservice missing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at the cinema. It’s an excited, passionate trip through a Hollywood fantasy, hilarious, light, and thoroughly enjoyable – though, like so many fantasies, its underbelly is dark.

A very interesting article by Mark Olsen on the film´s ending can be found in the LA Times 

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.