Doing, as always, things in their peculiar way, Quentin Tarantino went the opposite way to the one that usually prevails in Hollywood: instead of making a movie from a book, he wrote a book from his movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. His first novel, which picks up on the story of declining star Rick Dalton, his double Cliff Booth, the royalty of cinema in the late sixties —Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski— and the clan of Charles Manson and its girls, it resembles and at the same time moves away from the film of 2019 which grossed nearly USD 375 million at the global box office and earned 10 nominations for the oscar, of which he was left with two, including best supporting actor for Brad Pitt for his Cliff.
“Hollywood, 1969. You should have been there!” invites the backs of tarantino’s first of two books he hired. HarperCollins: the second could be a volume of film criticism or, depending on The Guardian, an autobiography.
You can read the novel without having seen the film, but possibly the experience is better after you have watched it. Especially since the grand cinematic ending of the story—what happens the night the Manson girls prepare for Tate’s ritual murder—is dispatched like a prolepsy to page 100 in a book of 400, an episode that turns Rick (the character he played). Leonardo DiCaprio) in a habitué of the program The Tonight Showof Johnny Carson, and “a folk hero of the ‘silent majority’ of [Richard] Nixon“, as the author wrote.
“What would be the point of writing about the whole brutal sequence of when Cliff hits the head of Katie, one of the members of the Manson Family, against each of the hard surfaces in Rick’s house?” he asks: it would be better to look at the scene in which Pitt and Madisen Beaty they do exactly that. So the novel works like a spoiler for those who did not see the film: he anticipates, for example, the appearance of a flamethrower in Rick’s hands.
Instead, the text unfolds an entire chapter told from the point of view of Charles Manson, who would send to the devil all the girls who follow him as a spiritual leader if luck made him a rock star. The violence appears in a lateral way, the transformation of the world is a Plan B: the guy wants to go out on the cover of Rolling Stone.
But the character who has grown the most in writing is probably Cliff, whose life trumps all others. If ever Tarantino said he wanted to tell the story of a veteran of the World War II returning to the United States and discovers that the industry cinema no longer attracts him, and that he then becomes an expert in international aute cinema, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (the title of the book does not carry an ellipsis, like that of the film in English) is the closest it has come.
Every Sunday Cliff goes to the cinema to see a foreign film, looking for that I don’t know-what he’s missed; Likes Federico Fellini but he thinks he would have to stop directing his wife and vary the casting; Ingmar Bergman it bores him, François Truffaut it doesn’t get to the feelings, Michelangelo Antonioni it seems to him “a fraud” and Hiroshima Mon Amourof Alain Resnais, “shit”.
Loves Akira Kurosawa, except for Barbarossa, and its analysis of Throne of Blood concludes, “No wonder American critics have embalmed Kurosawa with praise.” This aspect, evidently, is Tarantino in disguise: “When it came to how to make a current thriller in the style of Hitchcock for an alert audience, which will throb like the Swinging London, Roman managed to decrypt the code with repulsion“, says twice as many, for example.
Cliff is, in the novel, a full-fact psychopath. When you take away the charisma and ambiguity that Pitt gives to his character, in the role or the ebook Cliff is scary. The text repeats that it has killed so many people in the war that at one point it stopped counting the amount and two mafiosi have been charged in Cleveland only to prove that, thanks to his status as a hero, he can murder with impunity. Looks more like a character than Reservoir Dogs or Kill Bill than of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
But above all —spoiler alert—, the novel breaks the mystery that the film leaves around the death of Bobbie, Cliff’s wife, during a walk by the sea. The scene, in fact, contains a high concentration of the director of Pulp Fiction: it is the bloodiest and most grotesque of the 400 pages. “Tarantino rarely lets a murder go to waste,” he observed. The New York Times.
“In an impulse, Booth fires an underwater hunting gun at his wife in a bikini, which basically splits it in two. He regrets it immediately. For seven hours he holds the two sides together while they both lovingly remember their entire relationship,” the US newspaper detailed. “When the Coast Guard arrives and tries to move it, it disarms and dies.”
Also Sharon Tate grows in the novel: the text is solaza in its tastes, like the Monkees or Paul Revere & The Raiders before the Beatles, behind her hyper-cultured husband’s back; his contempt for the holidays of Hugh Hefner; his personal history. “Tarantino succeeds in recovering it far beyond the victimization to which popular culture has relegated it over the past five decades,” he said. The Guardian.
The British newspaper was less kind in alluding to the tone of the filmmaker’s prose: “Tarantino is not Henry James“, he summed up. ” He over-explains, repeats himself and distributes phrases made to meet the descriptions.” also IndieWire he objected: “It may be that Pauline Kael be Tarantino’s favorite critic, but he’s not a prose stylist like Kael.”
On the other hand, for the Times the style deserved a praise: the comparison with Elmore Leonard. The novel tells a story and you have to take it or leave it. Since “popular culture is what America has instead of mythology,” the newspaper takes it: it celebrates its walk through the old cinema, male camaraderie, revenge, redemption, music, and style. “If it was better written, it would be worse written,” he concluded.
Characteristically, Tarantino did not want a hardcover edition of his book, so there are only ebook, softcover and ultra-economical edition available, such as the pulp fiction with whom he grew up. Also true to himself, his love for cinema and, above all, for old television shines in the novel even more than in the movie. And as a nod to his admirers he included himself in the future of the girl actress Trudi Fraser (who Julia Butters played on screen): in 1999 he grew up and received his third Oscar nomination for “Quentin Tarantino’s new version of the screenplay of John Salyes for the gangster epic The Lady In Red“, the film of Lewis Teague envelope John Dillingher.
Tarantino dedicated Once Upon a Time In Hollywood to his wife, Daniella, and son, Leo: “Thank you for creating a happy home in which I can write.” Perhaps that is significant since he has said that after his next film he will stop directing, and as an investment he has bought a second cinema in Los Angeles. Given its subject matter, the novel is also dedicated to the actors of old Hollywood who told it stories: Bruce Dern, David Carradine, Burt Reynolds, Robert Blake, Michael Parks, Robert Forster “and especially” Kurt Russell.