Once Upon a Time in Hollywood A Novel By Quentin Tarantino: Two years after once, Once Upon a Time Hit theatres in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino has novelized his winning Oscar film and called the result “to reflect the plot completely.” Cynics could think of repackaging. This is not quite right, however: The book is a distinctive experience — more ranging, sexier, more bloody. It expands the cinema’s world even as it comments on it more melancholy and somewhat veiled in its meaning.
Maybe Tarantino’s biggest issue is that many of his future readers are well aware of the finale. They don’t? The suspense of the film is based on what will happen when the plot reaches 9 August 1969. Five people were murdered in the home of actress Sharon Tate during the night of the Manson family.
But Tarantino always knows how to shape the text pretty differently. Tarantino’s novel. He turns it into another part of the remote Tapestry of late 60s LA by decentralizing the Manson plotline. Instead, the emotional basis of the narrative is his very own inventions, the cowboy from the TV, Cliff Booth, and his closest friend.
Like the film, the novel goes from the pub to Beverly Hills, following Rick and Cliff. There’s a lot of new material, many about Cliff’s violent history, that only appears in the film, although other lines are pulled straight from this screenplay. We receive more from the precocious 8-year-old Rick’s half-sister on “Lancer” the TV west (a real show, incidentally). It is up to her to give the most detailed meta-commentary about the action of the narrative.
“She notes that, “They ask the question at the Actors Studio: What if that’s not what the script states? So what is your character going to do? So what is your character’s choice?” This seems to have been Tarantino’s question for some time now: if a historical end is not correct, what if history may be just… re-shot?
The book focuses on the threat that the arrival of the new Hollywood poses for Rick and Cliff. Rick faces “a race down” as “an Eisenhower actor in Dennis Hopper Hollywood.” Cliff is more dependent on his old comrade for a living, whose incipient disorder makes him unwilling. Can the unavoidable transformation survive?
The explosive Tarantino conversation is almost as effective in writing, as it is heard aloud with its combination of street and formal cadences. The brio with which he imitates period language generates occasionally the ridiculousness (“He lights up his cancer, in the flashy (noisy) fashion with his silver zip, like a cool fiftieth-century daddy”), yet it contributes to a genuinely pulpy atmosphere throughout.
Tarantino is a narrator who likes to show and tell, making it an irritating presence, but little undisciplinary. There’s often no clear distinction between the point of view of a character and the narrator and this could be a bit hair-raising considering the certain non-PC stances. It can also interrupt the time effect – the anachronistic Pauline Kael remark is written in a chapter in Charles Manson’s POV; otherwise, Candice Bergen is known as a ‘sixties-era beauty,’ a phrase that is certainly a retrospect.
Without the sumptuous sensations of the film – the operatic carnage, the ragged camera, and the golden needle-drops – once in a while may not be as much a film trip as a night out with Tarantino. Chapters contain the propulsion of anecdotes. The overwhelming charm is his exuberant excess. In reality, Tarantino’s debut novel may, as he has hinted, be the launching point for the endless imaginative director, far from being the throwaways artifact that he often pretends to be.