By Robin E. Simmons
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is a virtual time machine that visits 1969 Los Angeles, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley with a retro feverish, fetishistic obsession that includes media, fashion and music. In fact, that is the over-riding attraction especially for movie fans like me who lived in the heart of the movie’s time and place before, during and after the horrific nightmare of the bloody Manson madness exploded.
Director Tarantino was only 6 years old in 1969, but his love for the era transcends his own first-hand experiences and memories of the time. His passion for B-movies of the60s and 70s comes alive in this beautifully crafted and undeniably entertaining, and long (clocking in at almost three hours) celebration of a time when the film industry was undergoing big changes. The resulting movie is much more about feelings than plot.
The story focuses on fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his close friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they meander through and around an industry landscape they hardly recognize.
The terrific ensemble cast and their fragmented parallel storylines are not so much a tribute to Hollywood’s so-called “Golden Age” but rather a lament and muted celebration for an innocence lost that is clearly symbolized by Margot Robbie’s heartfelt portrayal of Sharon Tate.
This evocative film is much more than a love letter to Hollywood, it’s also a tapestry about a dark counter culture that surrounded, infected and pursued a place in the factories that fed our shared dreams. Don’t miss this beautiful and grotesque nightmare that is best experienced in 70MM.
NEW BLU FOR THE HOME THEATER:
THE CHAIRMAN (1969)
For their final film together following The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962) and Mackenna’s Gold (1969) star Gregory Peck and director J. Lee Thompson team up for this still timely story about securing a game-changing agricultural enzyme formula. Peck is a Nobel Prize-winning professor visiting Red China where, equipped with an implanted transmitter (something Elon Musk is currently designing), he will meet the titular Chairman Mao himself. Also placed inside him: an explosive device to be triggered in case of failure. Written for the screen by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle) and scored by the inventive Jerry Goldmsith. Shot in Panavision. Twilight Time Limited Edition.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939)
Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel has been adapted for film and television over a dozen times, including the 1923 silent classic starring Lon Chaney, the “man of a thousand faces.” The second remake aspired to outdo Chaney’s version in every respect, not just with sound but also with scale. To play the grotesque title character Quasimodo, Charles Laughton endured hours of daily makeup and wore layers of latex and other paraphernalia during one of the hottest summers then recorded to create an enduring image of suffering.
With a budget just under $2 million—an enormous sum at the time—the production recreated 15th Century Paris on RKO’s ranch in the San Fernando Valley! Its simulation of the famous cathedral stood 190 feet tall, complete with gargoyles and stained glass windows. Crowds of extras were recruited to populate the Parisian streets. Producer Pandro S. Berman, for whom Hunchback was a passion project, hired director William Dieterle because of his recognized skill in sculpting crowds for the camera. Laughton urged (demanded) RKO borrow British makeup expert Perc Westmore from Warner to oversee his “deformed” makeup.
Warner, owner of the RKO library, is releasing The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Blu-ray both singly and as part of The Golden Year Collection. While the negatives for many RKO films have been lost, Hunchback is one for which the original camera negative exists. Warner’s MPI facility has performed a new scan, with stunning results. A must have cinematic masterpiece for the digital home video library. Extras include a conversation with co-star Maureen O’Hara who was just 18 when the she got the iconic role of the gypsy Esmeralda. Warner Bros.