Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Some Thoughts On The Ending Of Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In...Hollywood And On The Film Overall

An exchange with someone prompted a few considered thoughts on this most excellent movie, one that goes into the pantheon.

I wrote this in answer to someone saying he found the ending unfulfilling, too easy, facile.

I’ve only focused on one part of the film and what I see as a big theme in the film.

The movie is capacious. Somebody could write a very, very, very—that’s three verys—long essay about it and not begin to exhaust what’s to be said.

....You misunderstand the ending. It’s not easy or unsatisfying, not at all. 

It’s ominous, anti fairy tale, anti Once Upon A Time... For we know what the Mansonites will do to the very pregnant, innocently sweet and luminously lovely Sharon Tate. No one will live happily ever after. So the final scene of a happy social coming together of Tate and Dalton is forebodingly undercut by what history tells us murderously happened. 

In that, a central theme in Once Upon, the play between what’s made up—tv, movies, all art—and actuality culminates. It reaches a dizzying height in the film-represented Sharon Tate watching the actual Sharon Tate on screen in the Dean Martin movie in a fictional scene. Fiction and fact are juxtaposed throughout, informing each other. Dalton and Booth jostle cheek and jowl with projected real life characters, (who are also made up insofar as they’re represented by actors in the movie in fictional scene after fictional scene.) Bracketing all of that, as noted, are the sheer facts of what happened to Tate and her guests and, too, the later awful statutory rape by Polanski of a 13 year old girl, pushed on him, as it happened, by her mother. That rape is implicitly referred to in the scene when Booth turns down a blow job from Pussycat in part out of concern for how young she is. 

As—so it’s often argued—the murder of Tate brought the sixties, the ludicrously so-called “decade of peace and love,” to a close, so does Tarantino by obvious implication. He sets the happy, sweet, convivial, neighbourly getting together of Dalton and Tate against our knowledge that her very, very pregnant self and her guests will be horribly stabbed to death many times over. 

For that matter, in line with this anti fairy tale theme, the ending also undercuts the Western film mythos of the good guy riding off into the sunset on his horse after putting down the bad guys. Here Booth, badly stabbed and shot, is brought low. He can do no better than be carted away in a stretcher by an ambulance. 

In the scene at Spahn Ranch, brimming with menace and incipient violence, Booth seems invulnerable. He’s totally self-confidently undeterred in checking in on George Spahn out of concern for him. He with a few hard punches to the  head straightens out the hippie who flattened the tire on Dalton’s Cadillac. He then easily holds back the threatening, approaching group of hippies by warning that the guy he slugged will get more. Tex comes riding in to save the day—as if he could—but by then Booth is comfortably driving away. The whole scene suggests Booth is impervious to any physical defeat. But the ending shreds that suggestion. 

So the notion that Tarantino is too accommodating or facile or understated or evading fullness in the ending of this movie is misconceived and reflects an unnuanced, ill thought through reading of it and of the movie as a whole. 

Tarantino—I’m no expert on his films—often subverts, explodes really, his movies by surreal episodes of violence that are so beyond belief as to have him winking at some of us by joining those of us who get it in the realization of how ridiculous it all is, how he winkingly qualifies the very thing he’s created. We get it; he gets it; and aren’t we clever, superior really, in that, in finally not taking it all too seriously. 

But there’s a subtler, more nuanced, more complex iteration of that subversion in Once Upon. The surreal, subversive-of-the-movie-itself violence occurs in the penultimate over the top violent scene culminating in Dalton’s over the top firebombing of the Mansonite hippie in his pool, literally incinerating her. But the movie doesn’t end on that absurdly surreal note. It softens and the surreal fades into the real as though, as I see it, Tarantino isn’t satisfied with his former hip, we’re cooler than school, winking subversion. 

Booth, as noted, is in an ambulance on his way to a hospital. Dalton affirms their friendship and says he’ll visit him tomorrow. Then Dalton recounts the night’s events yet again, before to the cops, this time to Sebring, and then confirms everything’s ok to Sharon Tate herself, speaking to her for the very first time. He’s always wanted to, ever since she and Polanski moved in beside him. Hey, maybe Polanski will cast him, he tells Booth.

I take this in part as Tarantino’s bracketing his former kind of subversion. The movie goes on for a bit to its end afterward, placidly, prosaically and convivially between these nice, charming neighbours. The fictional ending is believable but, as I keep arguing, it’s surrounded by the ominous horror at what actuality tells us what all too really happened. And the point here is, I’d argue, that reality will overwhelm an ostensible fairy tale—Once Upon A Time...—every time.



‪I think I'd be in broad agreement with your argument in that convincing review of OUATIH.  I feel the same about the movie and it seems to be that the violence at the climax is not only Tarentino exercising fictional rights to make history come out differently (as with Inglourious Basterds), but also the nature of contingency that's always in his plot mechanics.  Here the Family have no real idea of violence -- they're not good at it -- and even mix up the street addresses, and the combo of Booth's fighting skills, the fact that he's high (on the spliff that the hippie girl gave him, ironically), and a ruthless attack dog is too much for them.  In that sense, it's a moral lesson: open the door to savagery and you could find something even more savage on the other side.‬

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Shakespeare, Feminism And Male Sexuality

My comment:

..Great essay.

A keeper.

I think I only disagree with this:

…Male sexuality is basically a form of slave morality, in which women are the oppressors. They make us weak. Only in the moment of surrender and penetration is this reversed, and redeemed. This is the deep mystery—why men are so enslaved to women, so keen to please them.” His response was politically incorrect, borderline indecent, sexually subversive, and, I think, entirely accurate…

This over-characterizes, over-dramatizes and over-indicts male sexuality. 

Lusting after a woman is not enslavement in any sense unless we’re powerless against our urges, which most of us are not. They’re urges after all, not Internal whips and chains. 

And in acting on that desire, that lust, like in flirting, trying to pick a woman up, all of which most of us can try to do or not do as we happen to choose, we’re the opposite of enslaved: we’re simply taking a shot. 

And should we, as we say, “get lucky,” we’re hardly redeeming our enslavement or bringing women low—save physically in the act itself, and often, we in this literal sense bring ourselves lower—we’re rather mutually with our partner both enjoying the, what to say, the organic fulfillment of our urges, urges that are relatively strong in women too.

All this talk of enslavement and redeeming and reversing it in sex, in tearing women down to some low state is way over the top.

So, in contrast to Ms Simon, whose scintillating essay I love, I judge her friend’s account of male sexuality politically irrelevant, indecently silly in being histrionic, subversive only of common sense and reasonableness, and, I think, generally inaccurate.

Monday, July 22, 2019

US Not FOUNDED On Slavery

Charles Kesler to Mark Levin: paraphrase, The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution (the documents) were created in a time of the general approbation of slavery. They by affirming human equality created the national contradiction between that value and the approbated institution. So it’s not right to say the US was founded on slavery. It was founded on a contradiction between professed ideals that made slavery impossibly problematic and that very institution. It was founded on principles that eventually and with massive tragedy (the Civil War) led to the evisceration of the institution. These documents, by the way, preceded the Rights of Man pronounced by the French Revolutionists by just under two decades. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Brief Question On Populism Using Illegal Immigration As An Example

Here’s something that’s crossed my mind lately: given a certain definition of populism, say along the lines of ...a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups...why is it an objectionable notion?

Given this definition, does the critique of it at bottom come to “my values are superior to yours”?

Take illegal immigration for example, where populism seems to want to insist on, among other things, sovereignty, border enforcement, proaction on illegal immigration and balancing the demands of national interests as against refugee humanitarianism by putting limits on the latter. 

Isn’t illegal immigration an example, where these latter emphases are assimilated negatively to “populism,” of the strident or self righteous assertion of the superiority of the critics’ values?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

An Addendum To My Thoughts On Kawhi Going To The Clippers

Hey buddy, one amendment: as these things go, the factor of the money seems to have in fact been on the lower rung of the ladder of what counted for KL: the Spurs had offered him a max contract of 220 million US for 5 years; the Raptors offered him 5 years at 190 million (I think US); and, so, it’s estimated all in all he left about 80 million US on the table. At these levels, these top tier guys are so affluent, making as much off the court as they do from the court, that the big money is an incredible given and while overarchingly it “frames and informs” all that goes on, in these discrete, specific decisions, the money doesn’t seem to matter that much. The Warriors offered Durant a five year contract for about 220 million US and he signed with the Nets for four years for 164 million US, which projected out an extra year comes to 205 million, and so a 15 million US difference plus a guaranteed year in case or career affecting injury. 

A Few Thoughts To A Friend From A Raptorian On Kawhi Going To The Clippers

Hi Ken, I think it was more than just money though that’s of course a big part of it.

A couple of two-three thoughts:

Kawhi stood tall, stuck to his guns, walks quietly but carries a big basketball stick, is manly in being immune to pressure—take for example the Spurs’ attacks on him when he didn’t feel good enough to play 2 seasons ago, in working and playing hard and then going home, eschewing the spotlight and social media culture of self and celebrity obsessiveness . I argue that in *basketball (and certain cultural) terms* he’s heroic.

It’s all a mighty blow to punditry, here of the sports variety. So many supposedly “in the know” were counting the Clippers out. So many “insiders” were 99% sure he was going to the Lakers or staying in TO—I wish. It reminded me of recent political prognostications laced with such utter certainty. And amazingly once upended, these self confident prophets—sports, politics, you name it—keep right on, unchastened. It’s quite amazing: true humility is a rare item.

Even as I and even my unsports-minded wife and my unsports-minded kids and son in law and grandkids and some friends got swept up in it all, the win, the hoopla, the mystery—will he stay, go, go where—the obscenity of the money, energy and intense preoccupation with it all—“It’s just a damn game”, as one baseball payer put on his epitaph—never stops eating away at me, resulting in a kind of very low level of double consciousness, if I’m allowed that significant phrase here, where in the midst of the sweep up I know how absurd and trivial it is. But that’s soft power for you: not for nothing is “power” attached to “soft” in that trope.

Look forward to your views.