Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was heavily scrutinised for its representation, but are the critics missing something?
Tarantino has always been contentious when it comes to the way women are portrayed in his work. His lens’ obsession with feet, and strange choices around The Bride in Kill Bill have lead to long, complex analysis over the years. His latest film paints Sharon Tate as one of its only female protagonists, but she doesn’t really… say much. We discuss how this representation fits into Taratino’s larger narrative and tendency to reference and re-mix. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.
David: I guess the question would be given that what we know about Tarantino and his kind of his idolization of this time period, this kind of Hollywood that we don’t have anymore. I think maybe, he’s said before he’s got one or two films left he’s going to make, I think definitely he’s feeling like he doesn’t have a place in cinema anymore. I guess he’s looking at this wall of media — Game of Thrones was the homogenization — a homogeneous thing that everyone shared for a little bit of time.
Whether it’s good or not is not the point here, but it was something that became common discourse for a while. And I think we’re getting less and less of that as media is becoming less and less centralized.
And so the question is, you know, in this environment, does Tarantino believe it as well? Is his film trying to say should we go back to this homogenize Hollywood where everyone’s making spaghetti westerns?
If you’re not making them the correct way, then you’re out, or should we allow for this diversity? And I guess he’s saying… well I don’t think he has an answer in this film.
Ben: I think this film is pretty different other films that are currently out there. So I feel like it’s almost you know, it just kind of speaks for itself.
David: Someone needs to be making this stuff. But then he’s going: I don’t know if I want to do this forever because he should —
Ben: And it’s interesting that this this film has nothing in it. Margot Robbie is a headline acts. She’s on the poster.
David: But she only says 10 things.
Ben: Her role in the film is confusing. If anything, it’s really just sort of… you know, she exists to just kind of be a third point that you jump to when you’re not jumping between Cliff.
David: I think she exists to humanize Tate before the end of the film. I don’t know. My impression is like he did that to be like, hey, this was a normal person before all this stuff happened.
Ben: Yeah, and it helps the end of the film, obviously, because you spend the whole film bouncing between essentially these two worlds, and kind of a third one with Cliff, but [without her] it wouldn’t really have worked as well.
David: I don’t know…
Ben: There’s also some weird imagery at the end when the gates open and he like literally walks into heaven… it’s just so on the nose, where it’s so obviously the Pearly Gates. Okay, we’ve got that metaphor then what was [the point] when we were following her around all day. When she go watch the films like is this, is she Jesus? Like what do we what do we take from that… she’s known by a few… she’s… is she Jesus?
David: I think maybe she’s Jesus. I don’t know man. Maybe the second coming?
Ben: Sure. Whatever, you’re Jesus.
David: I don’t think Tarantino thinks that far into his imagery. I just think he went: that’s a cool reference.
Ben: Because he comes over dad your game theory. He actually died and those were the real Gates. That’s kind of what I was getting to. This film is on the edge of being analysed.
David: I get it. Tarantino’s obsessed with references and intertextuality and stuff. Right? Like I think that’s just another one of them where you can parse it a hundred times. You wouldn’t get to the bottom of it.
Ben: I mean this this film even has like. Chekhov’s giant painting of Tate’s face.
David: Yeah, and it’s like nothing happens with it…
Ben: I was waiting for someone to fly through it. I was waiting for it to get filled with bullet holes, or was it waiting for it to get caught on fire. There were so many like little things like that in this film.
Ben: I was like that’s definitely gonna be called back to.
David: Well, somehow like Dalton’s car is the same Cadillac that Vick Vega drives in Reservoir Dogs, right.
Ben: Oh, I mean when we first go to Cliffs house, Reservoir Dogs starts playing in the cinema. It starts playing the “Your Feature Presentation” — that start is generic but Feature Presentation is at the start of Reservoir Dogs.
David: This is the first one [Tarantino movie] that kind of references his own work more. So obviously, you know, the title isn’t a reference to his own work, but it’s a reference to Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America, which is Sergio Leone post-westerns.
But what’s interesting is killing the Nazis with a flamethrower is an obvious reference to Inglorious Basterds.
Ben: Even the Great Escape bit where it’s a reshot of —
David: It’s the Great Escape–they’ve actually… it’s not new footage, they used CGI or something.
Ben: Yeah. It’s the face. It’s probably a deep fake right?
David: Probably. I don’t know for sure. They probably used something in it. Also Tarantino has a bunch of brands of he’s invented that appear in this film.
So Big Kahuna Burger, Chattanooga Beer, Wolf’s Tooth Dog Food and Red Apple cigarettes just to name a few. That kind of leads me to this whole referencing thing that he does that… a lot of the time he reference things in Hollywood, but the world that exists in the film doesn’t always exist in parallel with our world.
Ben: Like a Tarantino Cinematic Universe.
David: But then sometimes it isn’t, sometimes it’s our world?