First foray into the novel of what, perhaps, is the most iconic filmmaker of recent decades, Quentin Tarantino (Knoxville, Tennessee, 58 years old). Keeping a promise – which his millions of followers hope he won’t keep – to stop directing after his tenth feature film, he tackles literary fiction. He does it in the form of a novelization of pride Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Once upon a time in … Hollywood), which premiered in 2019, sweeping everything: critics, spectators and awards, leaving almost no arguments for its – also – many detractors. The novelization of an already released film was a common format in Tarantino’s childhood for successful feature films. These were novels that, on many occasions, it was the film’s scriptwriter himself who wrote them, in an attempt to satisfy the hunger of all those who had been left with the good taste of their viewing. Novels written with total freedom and license to expand the list of characters, investigate the biographies of those already presented on the big screen, change scenes, insert new ones and clarify those open endings that gave rise to imagination or leave the door open to future aftermath.
In the same way that, on many occasions, Tarantino gives us a cinema that corrects reality, either by shooting Hitler or making the wrong goal and floor of Charles Manson and his bloody family, the novel takes its liberties with that same reality and also with the film from which it was born. This is one of his best achievements. Thus, the spectacular and cathartic violent ending of the film is dispatched in a paragraph on page 114. In the same way, other scenes that we would choose, a priori, as candidates for the novel and that Quentin Tarantino almost always does not include with good judgment. It is not, in any way, an expanded script, but rather its aspiration is both novel in style – very Elmore Leonard, author on whom it is based Jackie brown (1997) -, always avoiding a mannerism or attacks of appearing to be a writer, as well as in descriptions of environments and choreographies. Tarantino succeeds in understanding that it is a new format and steals, on many occasions, the predictable. Narrated from a very free third person, who speaks so much to the reader, translates the thoughts of the dog Brandy or the sounds of a baby, it is a fast text, but not crazy, neither skeletal nor encompassing. It is a book with the vocation of a pocket edition to entertain and it ensures that its reading does not offend the intelligence of the reader and surely in the same way – ready as the most for marketing– can also stand as a fan fetish book in a future hardcover.
The plot is well put together and broad aspects of the two main characters – Rick Dalton and, especially, Cliff Booth – and some of the secondary characters. Of characters based on real people, Sharon Tate, Charles Manson or Roman Polanski, a little more meat is missed, even cinematic, and more invented truth from others, Steve McQueen or Bruce Lee, for example. We would have allowed it. In fact, we would have enjoyed it, whether he wrote us true, plausible or a aventis well contrived.
Of course, the novelization remains, like the film, a hymn to the new golden Hollywood that was born in the late 1960s. To a profession of madmen and for madmen, dangerous or perhaps suicidal in the medium or long term: almost no one comes out safe and sound or at least sane. There are funny chapters, of a Tarantinian orality, like the episode of the murder of Cliff’s wife, Rick’s lost opportunity in The great escape, or the harsh working conditions if you want to be a pimp in Paris. However, on occasions, there is an excess of narrating over what is narrated, clumsy jokes, a Western novel that we still did not deserve to be placed between our chest and back, and a superficial excess of cinephilia. He wastes, perhaps with the latter, a Tarantinian canon on films, directors and actors that goes further than a simple list of figures and dates, gossip and titles, but it is obvious that it is a decision of the author (or it is possible that he keeps it for another essay volume).
In short, a pleasant reading only if you have seen and enjoyed the film, and even so, the novel goes nowhere without a heart all the time, with the demerit of thereby stealing the heartbeat of the scenes of, for example, Rick and Melissa, by Cliff and Bruce Lee and, the greatest of grievances, neutralizing that rocky, basic, but exciting modality of male loyalty among the protagonists, which in the novelization is not even intuited.
Once upon a time in hollywood
Translation of Javier Calvo
Reservoir Books, 2021
400 pages. 19.90 euros