09 August 2021 737 Views

Book Viral: Once upon a time in Hollywood

by James Murphy

Quentin Tarantino has written a book. It’s a ‘novel’ experience! 

 

 

 

Remember when there was an entire market for novelisations of film properties? It was an essential part of the hype. Countless kids would use them as a way of assuring parents /teachers that some sort of reading indeed went on in holiday / free time, whilst flying through content which simply matched the fun of the movies.

 

Batman, Terminator, Robocop et al enjoyed book translations of scripts as well as comic book adaptations, released in advance of the film in a pre spoiler obsession era. James Bond would get a novel tie in if the movie was not based on original Ian Fleming material. Doctor Who had the Target range (recently resurrected for nostalgia) and Virgin New Adventures. Jurassic Park was based on a book, already but had a movie tie in (as did Schindler’s List).

Things have come full circle in QUENTIN TARANTINO, novelising his own movie masterpiece, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. His work has always been a meta-textual comment on cinema, itself, and its tools. The guy learned his trade in video stores, years before he shot a reel of film.

Tarantino is an historian of the art-form every bit as much as he is an actual creative force and innovator in his own right. Resurrecting the product of movie tie in book pays tribute to old school marketing. And it allows him to indulge the kind of pulp writing which inspired some of his directorial efforts.

Indeed, one can now see how it did in fact make perfect sense for Quentin to be a director for hire on a franchise property such as Star Trek or 007 before he retires. Could he still do something like that before we see his final movies? I do hope so.

 

This book bodes well in that regard because it feels like an old school pulp novel of the kind one might read by the pool in the days before box sets and audio books on tap.

Incidentally, there is a deal whereby one can buy the novel and add Jennifer Jason Leigh’s first rate narration. I recommend that, without reservation or hesitation.

As a novel, in itself? As in without reference to the movie? ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD exhibits moments of Hemingway like genius: atmospheric, adventurous, world weary.

There is plenty of historical detail, too. This is the more literate, substantial Tarantino of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, as opposed to the – dare one say it – ever so slightly overrated movie nerd who loved violence on film in Resevoir Dogs /Kill Bill et al.

Now, if you HAVE seen the film before reading the book, what is there to recommend the literary experience? You certainly gain new insight to and explanation of the characters, their backstories and situations / motivations.

Cliff the stuntman (Brad Pitt in the film) comes off as less sympathetic this time round. Rick Dalton (Leeeeeoooo) is more or less unchanged, though there is a clearer logic to his career path and frustrations and a hint at his mental health.

Anecdotes are extended, akin to deleted scenes on a Blu-Ray, so you get greater texture for the Bruce Lee /Steve McQueen /Polanski cameos.

 

Drawbacks: it’s a deeply indulgent novel and could have used an edit or two. Childlike, even, for all the relish it takes in nasty language, whilst failing to capture the true thrills of ‘pulp’ (ie: sex, grit, smoking, drinking etc?).

Multiple film within film stories feature, and those are far less interesting than any set round the actors depicted. I don’t care about Rick Dalton’s character in X western. I want to hear more about the real life counterpart actors etc. Quentin also teases a bit of sequel bait, though it turns out to just be a structural variation to distinguish book from film.

 

 

Is this a ‘must read’ for book lovers? No. You will miss nothing and frankly, it’s not all that well written. But that’s conversely the novel’s strength. If you are an academic critic of pulp styles then it’s an ESSENTIAL buy because Quentin has summarised the style of the genre, in its flaws and strengths. Movie fans will FLY through this and love most of it.

Needless to say, those who loved the film ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (as did I, in fact) will enjoy the experience of simply living/reliving the world Rick, Cliff and co. It’s akin to an extended universe of special features, with possibilities for further adventures on the page if not in cinema. Unique as it’s authored by the actual creator of its own unique idiom.

An endearing curiosity.  Grade B (movie) + 

 

 

 

 



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