Most period movies get made with the goal of bringing the audience back to whatever era they take place in. But Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” seems to have been made instead for the purpose of bringing Tarantino himself back in time. This movie recreates every detail of Los Angeles 1969 with meticulous, often ostentatious accuracy, which of course is something you can say about many of the better period movies.
More so than in even Tarantino’s own previous forays into historical drama, “Once Upon a Time” seems intensely personal. You can feel it in the way the director’s camera practically luxuriates in the extensively reconstituted location scenery, in his refusal to shortchange even one moment of the time he gets to spend with his characters, and in the golden hour light that he imbues it all with.
Of course, Tarantino’s films have always been preoccupied with his consumption of other media—film history, obviously, but also pop culture in general. “Once Upon a Time” is a whole new level; it goes beyond consumption into pure immersion. You could say that the director took his US$90 million budget and built himself his own personal Westworld, a private theme park where he could act out his fantasies of historical revisionism.
The results are so specific to Tarantino himself that the resulting film can be bewildering, at least at first, or at least for me. I left the theater thinking, “That was a good movie. I think? Maybe it wasn’t? Or maybe it was a great movie?” But I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, my mind constantly poring over the rich tapestry of details that Tarantino had weaved, darting into all of those corners and searching through all of those pockets he obsessively constructed for no other reason than that he wanted to know that they were there for himself. I still can’t stop thinking about it, actually, and by now I desperately want to go see it again. How many directors can turn their own trainspotting-level fascination with the marginalia of history into something that enraptures audiences like this? I can’t name another.
I saw one other movie in the theater last month: “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” I didn’t like it. Here’s the full list of all twenty-one: