[Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for both the book and movie of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood]
When As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood was launched as a guide, there have been those that seized on a specific chapter the place it was revealed that Cliff Sales space killed his spouse on goal. Within the film, this occasion is left ambiguous, however within the guide, writer/screenwriter/director Quentin Tarantino reveals Cliff purposely lower his nagging spouse in half with a speargun, after which instantly felt unhealthy about it. Such a reveal would seemingly undercut the character, turning him from a likable however mysterious determine right into a cold-blooded assassin. However Tarantino is aware of that the problem he’s posing for himself, and he’s utilizing a distinct medium—the novel—to alter his method fairly than merely repeating the beats of the film in longhand.
What’s irritating concerning the response to this chapter of the guide is that the guide by no means units out to “reply” something concerning the film. It’s clear from the start that Tarantino, fairly than merely “novelizing” his movie by turning scenes into written chapters, is utilizing the type of the novel to inform the story of As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood in a brand new manner. To say that one model “detracts” from the opposite is a refusal to simply accept them as related entities working on totally different wavelengths. Tarantino admits as a lot within the opening chapters when Cliff, who within the guide is revealed to be a significant cinephile, displays on what novels permit an writer to do:
“Overseas movies, Cliff thought, had been extra like novels. They didn’t care should you preferred the lead characters or not. And Cliff discovered that intriguing.”
This sentiment follows a earlier remark from “Cliff” (going full-on as Tarantino’s mouthpiece for a wide range of opinions relating to cinema) the place he notes that Hollywood motion pictures too usually portrayed killers in a sentimental mild when in actuality these “these mercenary fuck faces didn’t have a sentimental bone of their physique,” which is how Tarantino chooses to put in writing Cliff within the As soon as Upon a Time guide. On the web page, Tarantino doesn’t have the benefit of Brad Pitt’s terrific and endearing efficiency, however he has on a regular basis on the planet for facet tales about how Cliff acquired his canine Brandy through the use of her in dogfights and ultimately killing her earlier proprietor.
Within the guide, Cliff is a struggle hero was superb at killing, understands it intimately, and in his post-war profession he will get away with homicide a number of occasions. You’ll be able to whine that this isn’t the Cliff of the film, however that ought to be apparent as a result of the Cliff on the web page might by no means be the identical character, and that’s what Tarantino is utilizing a novel to discover. It’s not merely about “getting contained in the character’s head” however fairly seeing how a reader reacts otherwise than an viewers. Once we’re all watching Cliff on display screen, he must illicit a sure response or else Tarantino would possibly lose us for the 2 hours and forty-one minutes that he has us. However books are totally different animals, and I’m glad that Tarantino chooses to push our boundaries a bit on the web page and check our funding in a personality like Cliff. It’s straightforward to love Cliff when he’s performed by Brad Pitt and he beats up Manson Relations. It’s tougher when he thinks to himself about his begrudging respect for Charles Manson’s means to pimp out underage ladies.
This darkness is the place the guide runs into bother, not as a result of it fails to be the film, however as a result of Tarantino inserts himself a lot into his work that you simply begin to turn out to be uncomfortable on the place he’s drawing the road between himself personally and as a storyteller. When you’re in search of his ideas on the 1967 Swedish erotic drama I Am Curious (Yellow), that’s most likely Tarantino. When you’re in search of his ideas on pimping out ladies, that’s more durable since you get stuff like this:
“You’ll be able to’t fuck ‘em such as you fuck your greatest buddy’s girlfriend. You’ll be able to’t fuck ‘em such as you fuck your father’s mistress. That’s fucking for enjoyable. That is work. For work, they fuck prospects for cash. For work, you fuck them for cash. And belief me, they’re tougher to please. If you wish to maintain ‘em in line, you higher fuck ‘em good, and also you higher fuck ‘em quite a bit. Which suggests you’re gonna haft fuck ‘em while you don’t wanna fuck ‘em, and also you hafta fuck ‘em good. And the extra bitches you will have, the extra fuckin’ you’re gonna do. Extra bitches means extra fuckin’. No sleepin’ on the job. You get lazy even 4 goddamn days, that bitch is gonna wake the fuck up.”
After all, this problem of the place does “Tarantino the Auteur” cease and “Tarantino the Particular person” start is an enchanting query, and has been since he grew to become the extremely public face of all his motion pictures proper from the opening scene of Reservoir Canines the place he’s pontificating concerning the true that means of “Like a Virgin.” The novel of As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood makes this problem extra fast since as writer we’re drawn additional into his phrases and mindset, and but I don’t need to make any proclamations about I man I’ve by no means even spoken to not to mention know as a person. I can say that scenes just like the one above actually make me really feel icky, however that feeling additionally helps the guide separate itself from the film.
What I appreciated most about As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood as a guide is that it didn’t learn as an “prolonged lower” of the film. Sure, there are “new scenes”, however there are additionally scenes that happen in utterly new settings, and the order of the narrative is modified to the place the ending is totally totally different (the guide concludes with Rick feeling like he actually nailed an upcoming scene with Trudi fairly than Rick getting to hang around with Sharon Tate and her buddies). That is along with Tarantino’s means to incorporate little detours like his ideas on the movies of Akira Kurosawa or writing out a complete backstory for the TV sequence Lancer.
To go searching within the As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood guide and utilizing it to someway decrypt the film does a disservice to each. It’s truthful to carry one model in greater esteem than the opposite, however one should additionally acknowledge that they’ve totally different functions as a result of the medium dictates totally different outcomes, and to try to replicate the movie into the guide could be a folly that will serve neither. As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn’t have any “solutions” to the film; as a substitute, it presents a recent option to expertise the story that honors its new format fairly than merely transcribing the film.
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