The great thing about a film festival like Cannes is the sense of discovery, that we all sit in the same room and see something for the first time, unencumbered by social media leaks (hopefully) or any other distractions. That is what is going to happen Tuesday when Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has its much anticipated world premiere on the 25th anniversary of the Cannes debut of Tarantino’s 1994 Palme d’Or winner, Pulp Fiction. It is without a doubt the hottest ticket of this Cannes — or, quite frankly, any I can think of in recent memory. But can an entire festival keep a secret? Today, as Deadline first reported, Tarantino put out an impassioned plea to festgoers not to reveal spoilers. “I only ask that everyone avoids revealing anything that would prevent later audiences from experiencing the film in the same way. Thank you,” he wrote on Instagram.
I can hardly begin to reveal spoilers on this film, nor would I. Other than a few lines of non-descriptive description, it successfully has been kept under wraps by its writer-director, studio, crew, stars — you name it. The preliminary press notes just delivered by Sony don’t offer anything close to spoilers, but they do give the gist of what Tarantino is going for:
“It is a character-driven story, dealing with mature issues of unfulfilled expectations that inevitably confront us all as we age. In Hollywood, this struggle is particularly dramatic, as success and failure live side by side. In Once Upon a Time…, they do so literally as well as figuratively. Uniting two of today’s greatest stars in a first-ever pairing and recreating an entire lost era, the film is big cinema made for the big screen. A true original in a landscape of sequels and superheroes. Set in 1969, Tarantino recreates the time and place of his formative years, when everything – the United States, the city of Los Angeles, the Hollywood star system, even the movies themselves – was at an inflection point, and no one knew where the pieces would land. All this is not entirely dissimilar from the changes buffeting Hollywood today.”
You got my interest with that. As a native Los Angeles kid who was obsessed with movies at a very early age, learned to read from the marquees of the Village and Bruin theatres in Westwood according to my mother, and as a guy who then moved to the South Bay and used to go in to the very cool Video Archives store where Tarantino legendarily once worked, I don’t want to know much else. I just want to experience whatever he’s got to show here, because as a kind of memory play it just might trigger mine too. All I have been told by someone who has seen it and is connected to the film’s campaign is that it is “not what you expect it to be” and then describes it rather mysteriously as a “fairy tale.” Intriguing, but they said nothing else. That would explain the title Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I had assumed, like others, was a homage to Sergio Leone film titles, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America.
Tarantino has been visible at various events and movies around Cannes since the weekend. I talked to him quite a bit at the HFPA party Sunday night, but we mostly talked movies, not this one so specifically, though he said he is really excited to show it here, and that it is on film — a huge deal for him. His producer Shannon McIntosh told me they were in Paris last week readying the film prints that will be shown at the three staggered screenings Tuesday including the gala unveiling, which launches at 6PM local time.
The big question as to whether the film would be ready in time for Cannes (it wasn’t in the original announcement) had to do with getting the prints in shape. They have brought three separate film prints to Cannes, rather than bicycling reels from one venue to another, which is done with staggered screenings sometimes. Not this one. I told Tarantino if the film — which doesn’t open until July 26 — was not ready for Cannes, the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux would probably break down in tears. It is that big a deal to have it here 25 years to the moment where Pulp Fiction changed everything. And it is a big deal to show on film, the only competition entry to do so.
I did ask Tarantino about the re-creation of 1969 Los Angeles and how it was done. The film’s crew essentially waved a magic wand and brought the very particular era back to life, but it wasn’t the usual CGI trickery. Tarantino wanted it done for real, so when you see the Cinerama Dome outfitted with Krakatoa, East of Java that was playing there then, it was re-created to the last detail, from what I understand. Tarantino says they used photos whenever they had them. He told me this is likely the last time a re-creation of Los Angeles on this scale, done this way, will ever happen due to the changing nature of the city. It will be part of the fun to see how they did it.
I also told him I had talked last month to Margot Robbie, who co-stars as Sharon Tate in the film with Leonard DiCaprio and Brad Pitt and a large, starry cast. She was being interviewed about the Tribeca Film Festival, where she had a small indie called Dreamland that she produced and starred in, but I asked her about the experience of doing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and she had nothing but praise for Tarantino. In turn he says she was remarkable and that he couldn’t imagine making the film without her.
Robbie had yet to see any of it when we spoke. “It was an amazing, amazing experience on set, so, I’m certain it will be an amazing film as well, but if nothing else, the journey itself has already made it so worthwhile to me,” she said of her experience working with Tarantino. “It’s my first film with him and he’s one of my be-all, end-all idols. I adore Tarantino films, so I just couldn’t have been more thrilled to see him work firsthand. It was fascinating. And directors just work so differently. Like, every director you work with, their process, their methods of what they gravitate towards, the way they kind of articulate their ideas, or execute their vision — it’s so wildly different and it’s such a gift as an actor to see it firsthand.”
Right now about all we really know is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood runs 2 hours 39 minutes according to Cannes, a running time about on par with Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, and that you can expect a lot of tweets to start happening immediately following its debut screenings. Stay tuned.