First come the vignettes; blurry, distant, shifting out of focus from our eyes and ears. Are the images and sounds from the short trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth major motion pictureOnce Upon A Time In Hollywoodthe ones that actually exist or are they ones that we only wish would exist in order to be reprieved from a steady and unhealthy diet of strictly superhero and computer animated features?
We squint our eyes just so as the one minute and forty six second teaser trailer unspools in front of us. We can almost see the film for what we want it to be; sleek, hip, funny, dramatic, horrific and intelligent. We’re introduced to an ageing Western television star (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in his first film since his Oscar winning turn in The Revenant) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt) via one of those so old fashioned and so goofy they’re actually charming studio publicity interviews. It’s 1969. It’s Los Angeles. In the style of Tarantino’s 1994 breakout film “Pulp Fiction,” there are interweaving stories featuring more stars than there are in the nighttime sky (Al Pacino, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Tim Roth and Kurt Russell are just a few of the luminaries that grace this project). And in the background of a changing Hollywood landscape looms a dark shadow named Charles Manson who, we assume, might tie the whole shebang together in a big bright bow.
The trailer that has been circulating for the last month for the film has woken up a vast contingent of slumbering cinephiles weaned on the likes of Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders, Nancy Savoca, and Spike Lee who had all but given up on a mainstream film world that could deliver them anything other than the latest big action blur of capes, tights and wisecracking computer animated squirrels and ice princesses. Full disclosure: Your humble author for this piece happened to be one of the aforementioned dozing characters. With the premiere of this blink and you miss it trailer I’m suddenly invested again in the future of American mainstream film, reaffirmed in my youthful twenty-something notion that art need not trump commerce (and vice-versa) in order to produce something entertaining, good and meaningful. Rather, it feels like when done right, the two can perhaps become beautiful lovers, joined to the notion of producing a new Saving Private Ryan, Inception, Goodfellas or Dances With Wolves.
Across the world, everyone seems to be holding their collective breaths in the months leading up to the July 26 release date of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, even the very audiences that have embraced the strictly two or three genres that now seem to run the roost in Hollywood. But are we being fair to Quentin Tarantino’s new movie by burdening it with such high and unrealistic expectations?
While mulling over what I would write for this article (“Is it a film review?” “Is it an in-depth analysis ofthe trailer?” “Is it a conceited think piece?”) I was struck with an epiphany that sort of sucked (at least for someone who counts Richard Linklater’s “Before” films as religious experiences): Big budget, over the top superhero movies ain’t going anywhere, ditto their computer animated brethren. These are the new normal. Want a movie with substance? Check out one of the many streaming services such as Netflix that offer up gems such as Roma or the upcoming Scorsese film, The Irishman. But whatever you do, do not head of to the local Cineplex with any expectation of suddenly seeing anything other than the latest popcorn spectacle. Sure, something unique and special might sneak in every once in a blue moon, but that will never be the norm at the mainstream American movie theater as it exists in the twenty first century. Or so I say in my best old man “get off my grass you damn kids” voice.
“Indian Summer” is defined as a period of unusually dry and warm weather that happens in the late autumn right before the cold and the snow hit, bogging everyone down for an extended period of time. Thinking it over, I suspect that is what “Once Upon A Time…” will be in the filmatic landscape; something undeniably sweet and so very brief that when we blink it will be gone as though it never existed. We’ll shed more than one tear as we smile at the memory of what Hollywood could once offer us, once upon a time…