When the violent events in Quentin Tarantino’s debut novel were already picking up speed, a decisive sentence was uttered: “The only ones who don’t enjoy riding are the cowboys.” Because the director, an avowed fan of “books on film”, has one of these as his latest project for his 2019 film “Once upon a time in …
When the violent events in Quentin Tarantino’s debut novel were already picking up speed, a decisive sentence was uttered: “The only ones who don’t enjoy riding are the cowboys.” Because the director, an avowed fan of “books on film”, has written one of these for his 2019 film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” as his latest project – but artfully stretched the limits of this secondary exploitation mechanism: He swung himself into a book the Hollywood film itself with westerns as a focus. The 25 loosely interlinked chapters are about male friendship and what stands in its way, revenge, style, reparation, the eternally feminine and other myths in the films with the smoking guns.
For example, Rick Dalton in his mid-forties: he has achieved some fame as a cowboy actor, but now he doesn’t just enjoy riding anymore: he was always the villain who loses in the end. After going up for five years, it stagnated for a decade, now it’s going down pretty steeply. What remains above all is self-medication with alcohol. He has had the best time and is now having a good time with whiskey sour, which he drinks from beer mugs. After all, he still lives in a sizable property with a pool on Cielo Drive in the hills of Los Angeles, where Terry Melcher, the producer of the Byrds, was his neighbor before he sold the rock star of the new film to Roman Polanski. He now resides next door with the stunning blonde Sharon Tate …
We are at the end of the 1960s. Dalton had had a brief career flare with spaghetti westerns in Italy, but now the decline seems unstoppable. Some of my colleagues feel the same way about drinking because many of them were in World War II or in Korea and saw things that they couldn’t get rid of otherwise. Rick’s “mixture of self-loathing, self-pity and boredom” has other reasons. At a moment like this, Charles Manson is mistaking something. The ex-convict feels spiritually awakened on a former film ranch and has now made a “family” consisting primarily of willing young women dependent on himself. Actually, he wanted to send his willing subjects to Melcher, from whom he had hoped for a record deal – but he no longer lives there: The story of the murder of Sharon Tate by the Manson family is well known.
Actually. But because he is allowed and able to do that, Tarantino lets his Rick Dalton save her life by once again pulling out the flamethrower with which he “killed one hundred and fifty Nazis” in his best film: He torches one of the hippie girls who have invaded. That made him a hero and interesting again for roles. Always at his side is Cliff Booth, his stunt double, who has been battered differently and is now only his loyal driver and errand boy. He cleaned up like no other during the war among the Japanese, whereupon he is allowed to use weapons at home with impunity thanks to his heroic status.
Of course, when reading a novel, the faces of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as actors of Rick and Cliff in the film of the same name “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” from 2019 push themselves in front of the reader’s inner eye. But Tarantino’s first novel is, as I said, much more than just the “book about the film”. Fiery written new episodes that do not appear in the flick negotiate how the film industry once called “Boss Angeles” brings out the bad in people. There are insider glimpses of sets and settings behind the scenes, digressions and allusions, cross-references and excursions that almost add up to a cultural history of the genre. Tarantino juggles the historical facts with virtuosity until his other truth is established. He also goes on excursions to European and Japanese film beyond American sentimentalism. He swirls facts and fiction until he has reduced Hollywood and its westerns to absurdity to such an extent that the space is cleared for something new.
It’s fun to ride through this novel and follow the brilliant director on his astray. The reader feels like Sharon Tate, who learned from Roman Polanski that films can be art after all.
Tarantino: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” publisher
Kiepenheuer & Witsch,
416 pages, 25 euros.