Upon hearing the title of Tarantino’s new movie I became excited. The two previous Sergio Leone movies, “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Once Upon a Time in America” were both great, memorable films. Knowing Tarantino’s knowledge of and love for film I had confidence that whatever he was up to with this new title was going to be good.
I try not to read much about any movie before seeing it. I love the feeling of sitting in the theatre as a movie begins without knowing exactly what I’m about to experience. It’s why I hate most trailers (I admit to watching them in the theatre because I like to arrive early enough to get a good seat but I almost never watch them online). Trailers done well, meaning those that don’t give away anything at all, are extremely rare. Trailers done badly, meaning most of them, make me feel like I just saw the cliff notes version of the movie.
I also avoid reading reviews of movies until after I have seen them. I want to know very little about a movie before seeing it. Director, stars, setting, theme, all fine but. Don’t. Tell. Me. The. Plot.
All I knew about “…in Hollywood” was: Tarantino; DiCaprio, Pitt, Robbie (Sharon Tate); Hollywood; 70’s. That was enough. As much as I hated “The Hateful Eight” I was excited to see Tarantino’s latest, and hopeful that it would be as good as “Reservoir Dogs” or “Pulp Fiction.” Then he opened his mouth.
It goes without saying that reviews should not contain major spoilers. That means it doesn’t need to be said! It also goes without saying that revealing the end of a movie is a major spoiler. Reviewers know this. Everybody knows this. So when the director of a movie goes out of his way to say, “please don’t reveal the ending of my movie,” he’s pretty much giving it away.
Spoiler alert. Did I say that too late? Blame Tarantino.
I tried not to think about it so hard that I postponed seeing the movie for as long as I could. But we’re talking Tarantino here and I couldn’t miss seeing it on the big screen. So I tried to surprise myself and circumstances supported me in that endeavor.
It was Friday, 12:05 pm, and I had just gotten back from an errand. I had no plans for the day and decided to see a matinee. Any matinee (within reason). So I searched by location and showtimes and decided that the first movie of interest that was available to me would be it. And there it was, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” at 12:15 pm just three miles away. I ran out the door, jumped in my car and was on my way in seconds.
Traffic in the Bay Area is always heavy so I was able to avoid thinking about what I feared my own thoughts would betray while driving. Mostly I wondered if I would make it (I don’t enter movies late.) But during the brief walk from the car to the theatre it happened. I figured out the the ending. Damn you, Tarantino. All it took was the juxtaposition of three simple facts: The movie’s title, Sharon Tate, and “don’t reveal the ending.” Of course she doesn’t die. There’s no way it could happen. Not with those three clues. The title: it’s a fairy tale. Sharon Tate: died in a horrible way. “Don’t reveal the ending:” she won’t — she can’t — die.
As last minute matinees go, this one was perfect. Spur of the moment. A compelling movie. So few people attending that I got my ideal seat. Which I sat in just as the opening credits began. I even missed the previews.
The movie was great. It took a little while to pull me out of the feeling that I was watching a movie but I got there. By the time Cliff visits Spahn Ranch I was all in. The scenery was so evocative, the acting by all so eerily realistic and the tension so palpable I was transfixed in the moments as they revealed themselves. At that point the ending didn’t matter because I was right where the filmmaker put me — in the middle of it all. Until the final sequence of events, which was marked by the introduction of time stamps, on the fatal night we all knew was coming.
Believe it or not, I’m going to ruin the ending for you, even if you think I already have. Because Tarantino, in this movie, is as good a filmmaker as it takes to portray something that is so ingrained in our cultural memory, so obvious, so known, in such a surprising and yet predictable way that I thoroughly enjoyed it as it played out.
Because even though I was back in my head as the fateful evening began, by the time it was over I had been treated to a roller coaster ride of shock, surprise, disbelief, horror and delight. It wasn’t until just now, writing these words, that I realize how similar this ending was to the ending in “Reservoir Dogs.” Tarantino’s mastery here is evident in the way he simultaneously fulfills and subverts the familiar conventions of expectation and suspense.
Tarantino, I forgive you. And welcome back.