This week brought us the 92nd Academy Awards, which celebrates the best actors, actresses, directors, writers, designers and films in today’s moviemaking industry. Among the films nominated for Best Picture include “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women,” “Joker,” “Marriage Story,” “1917” and “Parasite.” However, the Best Picture nominee that seems to stand out of the crowd is Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” featuring Academy Award-winning actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, and Academy Award-nominated actress Margot Robbie.
The film proved to be quite successful, winning two Oscars this year. What makes this film unique, as opposed to the other incredibly moving films nominated for awards this year, is the message that “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” sends regarding the relationship between actors and the moviemaking industry and the history of Hollywood as a whole. The film, while functioning as a visual testament to Hollywood itself, deserves to be taken more seriously as a message to the audience and the industry it comes from.
Set in Los Angeles during the late ’60s, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” follows the story of middle-aged television actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double, Cliff Booth, as he attempts to make a name for himself in the intensely intimidating and competitive world of the filmmaking industry. The film is incredibly representative of the filmmaking industry and the challenges and oddities faced by influencers during the so-called “golden age” of Hollywood, which spanned from the early 20th century to the 1960s. While the movie takes place in a seemingly carefree Los Angeles, it also acts as a deep social commentary on the negative sides of society at the time, most notably the emergence of West Coast cults, such as the Manson Family.
The movie takes on a very “meta” approach to cinematography and filmmaking, as a large portion of the movie follows the main characters as they navigate the moviemaking process. We’re able to watch the characters being scouted by producers, acting on set and even watching their own acting on screen, giving an in-depth view of the life of an actor. Most importantly, viewers are able to watch actors and actresses both fail and succeed in their careers, and see the emotions that accompany their wins and losses.
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” does not only examine the values which actors and actresses hold to themselves in the film industry, but also smartly displays the complex relationship actors have with their industry. In one scene, Dalton is forced to redo a scene too many times to count, just to get that “perfect” shot. The film also depicts the behind-the-scenes conflicts which occur in filmmaking. Numerous times, Dalton feels repeatedly discouraged in his own abilities by younger, smarter and more successful actors he works with. Throughout the movie, we are able to see the violent emotions which may plague a struggling actor. Following his inability to act in a certain scene, Dalton finds refuge in his on-set trailer, where he loathes himself, his alcoholic tendencies and the pressure to perform on par.
The film is incredible because it highlights the often-ignored challenges faced by those working in the film industry, while most viewers like us, when watching a movie, fail to realize the difficulties laborers have gone through to create what we may consider to be just an “average” film. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” addresses this issue straight on, forcing the audience to confront and consider the history and calamities which have gone into making good cinema. For this reason, the movie can, in a way, be considered an attestation to the forces behind products like the movie itself. Throughout the movie, we see a young Sharon Tate go through training to perform kung fu for a new movie. Once production is finished, she finally goes to a movie theater to see the movie for herself, where she is unrecognized by staff. This film deserves to be critically acclaimed for its ability to challenge our average view of Hollywood, showing that actors and celebrities are prone to being hurt and discouraged quite easily, just like everyday people.
Brimming with the bright lights of 1969 Los Angeles and hit singles from the time period, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” certainly is a “love letter” to the filmmaking industry, and it’s for this reason the movie stands out from many others made beforehand. The film shows us the triumphs and complications of the industry, proving it to be a valuable movie and asset in the history of Hollywood to come. As the 2020 Oscars shined dazzling on our TV and laptop screens this past weekend, hopefully viewers were able to stop and realize the personal challenges, efforts and sacrifices that go into making each one of these brilliant films and allow us to continue with our lives daydreaming about the fantasy of a perfect, shimmering Hollywood.
David Hatami is a sophomore majoring in political science.