[Marxism] Once Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Hollywood | by J. Hoberman | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 20 08:52:13 MDT 2019

Once Upon a Time had its première at the Cannes Film Festival, where 
many in the audience were taken with its tone—wistful verging on 
elegiac. Tarantino was compared to John Ford. Others, less susceptible 
to cowboy romance, have found Tarantino’s nostalgia as reactionary as 
Trump’s, some even suggesting that, as displaced white men, Rick and 
Cliff are prototypical MAGA-hat heroes. (One need only step back from 
the story to see that insouciant roughnecks like these were not being 
phased out in 1969; it’s more that, fifty years later, they have become 
anachronisms replaced by the CGI cyborgs of Hollywood’s comic-book movies.)

Where the critique may be closer to the mark is that to be nostalgic for 
the Western is, in some ways, to be nostalgic for a particular 
regime—call it white supremacy, manifest destiny, or Hollywood über 
alles. Cliff’s casual disparagement of Mexicans is a deliberate 
inoculation, signaled by Tarantino to seem “old-fashioned”—however 
topical that bigotry may in fact be today. A more overt, explicitly 
comic example of nativist revenge is directed at the martial arts star 
Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh), in which he is mocked by Cliff, picks a 
fight with him, and gets his comeuppance.

Lee’s daughter has complained about what she sees as a slanderous scene. 
In actual fact, Lee, who was at the time a featured player on The Green 
Hornet TV show as well as a martial arts instructor to the stars, did 
brawl with a stunt man. But that was not until 1973, and it is unlikely 
Lee suffered the ridiculous mortification shown here.

It’s excusable that Tarantino chose to portray Lee, the only significant 
person of color in the movie, as an obnoxious braggart—showbiz is full 
of such types. We, in 2019, are meant to understand that Cliff is 
fighting to protect his status. But Tarantino seems to have little 
awareness of how his joke would have played in 1969. Back then, a 
murderous hatred of “orientals” and “gooks” was common currency and 
practically government-sponsored, given all the American grunts waging 
war in the jungles and paddy fields of Indochina. The scene is thus 
Rambo avant la lettre: by humiliating Lee, Cliff was paying back the VC.


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