QT’s Mash Note to Hollywood in Theaters
During blockbuster summer season it’s not uncommon to see a weekend with just one major release. It is uncommon, however, when the studios bow out to a competitor that’s R-rated — normally a family-friendly film will open against it, assuming they can share the audience. But I guess everybody’s afraid of Quentin Tarantino, whose Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just about has the run of things this weekend.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
by Hope Madden and George Wolf
Happy QT Day, everyone — that rare and special holiday where moviegoers love a movie made by an unabashed lover of movies. And this time, he’s made a movie about loving the movies.
It’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s clearest love letter to cinema both great and trashy. Spilling with nostalgia and packing more sentiment than his previous eight films combined, Hollywood is the auteur’s most heartfelt film.
Not that it isn’t bloody. Once it hits its stride the film packs Reservoir Dogs-level brutality into a climax that’s as nervy as anything Tarantino’s ever filmed. But leading up to that, as the filmmaker asks us to look with a mixture of fondness and sadness at two lives twisting toward the inevitable, he’s actually almost sweet.
One of those lives belongs to Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a one-time TV Western leading man who’s made a couple of poor career choices and seems to be facing obsolescence. This would mean, domino-style, the obsolescence of his best friend and stunt double with a sketchy past, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
But that’s not the second story, which instead belongs to the real life tragedy of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Set in the LA of 1969, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood uses the Manson family crimes (marking its 50th anniversary this August) as the thematic underpinning, a violent metaphor for the end of two eras.
Tarantino being Tarantino, though, he’ll use the movies to make everything better.
From the foot fetish (more proudly on display than ever) to the familiar faces (even one who made the cutting room floor and the credits), the hiply retro soundtrack to the inky black humor, Hollywood hides no Tarantinoism. But the film establishes a timestamp more precisely than any of his other works. And on the whole, he shows unpredicted restraint.
The film moseys through the first two acts with long, deliberate takes full enough of pop culture as to completely immerse you in time and place. Tarantino again frames sequences with alternating levels of homage, but dials back the dialogue from his usual quick-hitting crispness to measured ruminations often thick with intention.
In strokes stylish and self-indulgent, Tarantino is bidding adieu to halcyon days of both flower power innocence and the Hollywood studio machine. Here, he’s looking back on the Manson murders as a dividing line, and again wondering what might have been.
For us QT aficionados, Hollywood may feel at first like an odd, overlong duck, but its wandering nature gives you ample time to adjust. The cast shines from top to bottom, propelling an entertaining vision of humor and blood and irony and bittersweet nostalgia.
Settle in, trust the driver and enjoy the ride.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
by Hope Madden
For fans, there is something endlessly fascinating about Leonard Cohen. Maybe it’s because, regardless of the volume of his work — songs, novels and poems — or the intimacy of his words, it’s still impossible to feel as if you know him.
In Nick Broomfield’s latest documentary, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, it’s clear that Cohen’s longtime companion and eternal muse Marianne Ihlen felt the same way.
Ihlen inspired the Cohen classic So Long, Marianne, obviously, as well as dozens of others including Bird on a Wire. The two had one of those Sixties relationships—open but committed, tumultuous but loving, and ultimately doomed.
For eight years they lived together, on and off, along with Ihlen’s son Axel in a humble cottage on the Greek island of Hydra. An artists’ refuge of sorts, it was the kind of pre-hippie paradise where eccentrics engaged perhaps too freely in freedom.
It was there that Broomfield first met Ihlen. Their friendship and the director’s clear fondness for his subject give the film a fresh and odd intimacy.
Though his personal connection to Ihlen is an interesting inroad into this story, the doc sometimes feels like two separate and uneven pieces sewn together.
That seems partly appropriate, given that Leonard and Marianne spent increasing spans of time apart as the years wore on. And there’s no question that — for Leonard devotees, at least — the behind the scenes footage of Cohen on tour in the Sixties, commentary from his bandmates, and snippets of background intel from close friends is as engaging as it is enlightening.
Unfortunately, we lose Marianne almost entirely by Act 2. The titular character becomes a bit of a ghost, and not even one who looms large over the material in the foreground.
Of course, as the film was made posthumously (both Ihlen and Cohen died in 2016), their own insights are limited. In this way, though, Ihlen’s presence outweighs Cohen’s in that Broomfield dug up audio conversations in which she discusses the relationship.
The lack of Cohen’s own thoughts on their pairing — outside of one or two rambling, drug-riddled onstage song intros — makes its absence known.
Still, there is a melancholy beauty in the way Bloomfield’s documentary — his love letter to Marianne and Leonard — follows Cohen’s song lyrics, telling of a fractured, unconventional but nonetheless loving connection.
Indeed, it is Cohen’s final words of love to Ihlen, a note sent to her hospital room as she lay dying, filmed at her request, that illustrates that very point.
A bit disjointed but never uninteresting, Words of Love is an often compelling look at the relationship between muse and artist. For Cohen fans, it’s required viewing.
Also opening in Columbus:
Dancing Elephant (NR)
Dear Comrade (NR)