8 things to know about Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood book
When Quentin Tarantino composes his movies, he tends to consume over the sort of minutiae that might never ever make it to the screen, expanding comprehensive backstories for tertiary characters, and often preparing whole movie scripts for imaginary TELEVISION reveals that exist within the world of the motion picture. His newest movie, 2019’s As Soon As Upon a Time in Hollywood, displays a few of that legwork, digressing consistently into voiceover wrap-ups about the acting profession of lead character Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tracking the arc of Rick’s fabricated filmography with IMDb-like uniqueness. Hollywood is a wholehearted hangout movie set in a fairy tale version of the Los Angeles Tarantino matured in, and the director takes his time in checking out every corner of it, from its bromances to its vehicles to its cinema. Still, the motion picture mean an entire iceberg of character backstories and modified Hollywood history below its surface area, so it was just a matter of time prior to Tarantino discovered a reason to hang out with Rick and his stand-in and buddy Cliff (Brad Pitt) simply a bit longer.
Branded to appear like a mass-market paperback from the 1970s, Tarantino’s very first book — the book variation of As Soon As Upon a Time in Hollywood — informs the very same standard story as the motion picture while broadening in every instructions. It includes brand-new backstories, letting him dive down historic bunny holes both genuine and created, juxtaposing Rick and Cliff’s experiences versus the darker corners of real Hollywood history. Tarantino being Tarantino, he likewise seizes the day to review a few of the movie’s more intriguing minutes, and to more mean a supposed fetish of his. Below are 8 takeaways from the book, which is readily available June 29.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for both the book and film version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.]
1. The book is a remix of the motion picture
Prior To OUATIH showed up in 2019, the concern of how Tarantino would deal with the historic elements of his duration piece loomed big over the motion picture’s release. Provided his love of exploitation movie theater, existed any possibility he’d inform the story of the Charles Manson murders with any regard or level of sensitivity? And how would he illustrate Sharon Tate? The movie toys with that nervousness, counting down towards the night of the murders prior to pulling the carpet out from under the audience and coming down into gleeful insanity as Rick and Cliff eliminate the attacking hippies. Given that spectators have actually currently had that twist ruined, the book does away with it early on, discussing that Rick’s hippie-incinerating fight with Manson’s fans made him something of a hero amongst Nixon’s “silent majority” — a function he was not above making use of on the late-night talk-show circuit.
In Other Places, Tarantino has a firm grasp on how and where to equate various series to the page. Cliff’s see to Spahn Cattle ranch, for example, is left practically as is, while scenes from the Western TELEVISION program Lancer are arbitrarily spread throughout the book, composed in the design of pulp Western books like the one Rick keeps reading set.
2. It’s pulp fiction (sorry)
Tarantino adjusted Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch into his 3rd motion picture, Jackie Brown, and Leonard’s impact looms big over the rest of his work also. Taking after Leonard’s prose, the novel’s third-person narration gets right to the point and often mimics the characters’ vulgar, pseudo-retro mode of speaking. (This occasionally results in some hilariously over-the-top clunkers. For example: “Cliff didn’t dig Jules and Jim, because he didn’t dig the chick. And it’s the kind of movie, if you don’t dig the chick, you ain’t gonna dig the flick.”)
3. Cliff Booth, mass murderer?
Tarantino almost did it. He almost gave the world Brad Pitt’s hottest, most likable character — a blue-collar everyman who loves his dog, needlessly takes his shirt off to do handiwork, and wants nothing more than to make his insecure friend happy. Cliff is all those things, but he’s also a rumored wife-killer, an ambiguity the book happily dispenses with, clarifying that Cliff indeed shot his wife with a spear gun.
Overall, the book cares much less than the movie about whether the audience likes Cliff. Tarantino’s book turns him into an invincible killer who mowed down dozens of enemy soldiers in World War II, earning two Medals of Valor and inspiring a movie (an actual Paul Wendkos movie called Battle of the Coral Sea). Cliff also leers at women, and his car ride with underage Manson Family member Pussycat is presented as more of a genuine temptation than it is in the film, with Cliff taking particular notice of — what else? — the size of her feet.
4. Brandy, dogfighting champion
As if liberated by the medium to make Cliff’s backstory as fucked up as possible, Tarantino explains that when the stuntman first acquired Brandy the pit bull, he used to enter her in dogfights — which, to be fair, would explain how she got so good at fighting. Cliff later proves he’s still the same softie from the movie, though. After Brandy gets hurt, he refuses to enter her in another fight, and he murders an associate who suggests they purposely put her in a losing fight and bet on the other dog.
5. A history lesson
As with the movie, one of the book’s better tricks is utilizing Tarantino’s knowledge of film history to craft a plausible, insanely detailed career arc for Rick Dalton. While the invented history is impressive, the book also includes a wealth of stranger-than-fiction anecdotes from actual Hollywood history, such as the tale of Walter Wanger, a producer who suspected his then-wife, actress Joan Bennett, of sleeping with her agent. Wanger shot the agent in the groin, pleaded temporary insanity, served a four-month sentence, then returned to producing high-profile movies like 1963’s Cleopatra. While some of the history is superfluous to the book’s narrative, much of it (including lengthy digressions on Charles Manson) proves that actual Hollywood history is far more lurid than the fictional stories bouncing around in Tarantino’s head.
6. Hot takes on movies
Early in the book, Tarantino dedicates an entire chapter to Cliff’s moviegoing habits, which consist of weekly viewings of the latest arthouse offerings from around the globe. As a war veteran who’s witnessed the extremes of humanity, Cliff has little patience for American movies that lack ideas, and he has a particular preference for the films of Akira Kurosawa. (The book even lists his top five Kurosawa films.) At times, the chapter invites the question of whether Tarantino is using Cliff as his mouthpiece to fire off hot takes: Only the early Fellini is good, Truffaut is boring, Antonioni was a “fraud.” It’s the most indulgent chapter in the novel, and perhaps offers an early glimpse into Tarantino’s next book: Cinema Speculation, a non-fiction “deep dive” into the films of the ’70s.
7. It’s still personal
At times, the book reads like Tarantino taking the kiddie gloves off just for the sake of it, leaning into his baser impulses as a storyteller, because who’s going to stop him? That sometimes scans as cynical — for instance, the book’s brutal depiction of Cliff murdering his wife feels designed to put the reader’s affection for the character to the test. Thankfully, Tarantino also knows when to return to the warmth and nostalgia at the heart of the film. He ends the book with a late-night phone conversation between Rick and his 8-year-old Lancer co-star, Trudi Fraser, that doubles as a teary ode to the magic of Hollywood. (That scene was cut from the movie, but a recent trailer for the book offers a glimpse of it.)
As if to reiterate how personal the film was for him, Tarantino also writes himself into the book, revealing that Trudi goes on to become an Academy Award-nominated actress who receives her 3rd nod for a Tarantino-directed remake of John Sayles’ script for 1979’s The Lady in Red. Even more notable, perhaps, is the filmmaker’s inclusion of his own stepdad, Curt Zastoupil, as a late-appearing character. A bar musician whom Tarantino partially credits with his early love of movies, Zastoupil charms Rick in the book with a few performances of his son’s favorite songs. In exchange, Rick autographs a cocktail napkin and addresses it to “Quentin.” It’s a bracingly personal passage, and the kind of sentimental note that ultimately keeps the book from drifting too far from the warmth that anchors the motion picture.
8. Can Tarantino write a book?
In one of his many acts of self-mythologizing, Tarantino has suggested he’ll retire from filmmaking after making 10 movies. (He counts OUATIH as his ninth.) If that turns out to be true, then the novelization provides a glimpse into his future as a creative working on a smaller scale, offering up contributions once every few years that expand on his existing body of work without demanding the event status of a Tarantino film. Like most of his work, the book is best appreciated as a melding of highbrow and lowbrow culture. Its crude prose follows sometimes-despicable characters across a landscape that touches on everything from Kurosawa to Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?”
The book doesn’t quite stand on its own, but that’s part of the point: Tarantino desires readers to imagine it’s just like any other movie novelization they might have bought on a whim off a spinning rack at a 7-Eleven in 1978. To his credit, it exceeds those ambitions, particularly in moments when it recaptures the film’s contagious sentimentality. Mileage may vary on some of the more shocking revelations about beloved characters from the film, however the book’s low-stakes nature provides its own response: Who cares? It’s simply a novelization.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.