Quentin Tarantino has stated in interviews that his novelistic version of his own movie Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is borne of an intriguing conceit: that, as a reader, you’re meant to imagine that the book came first, and the movie is the movie adapted from the book by a director called Quentin Tarantino. Depending on how much time you have for the man (and I have a lot), it’s either a delicious or a slightly twee conceit, but knowing it going in makes the book more fun.
For a start, there are differences. A good example is an early scene (in both the book and film) between Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie) and his potential new agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino). In the book – which is meant to have been written first, remember – that scene occurs in Schwarz’s office. In the film, it’s at Musso and Frank, a fabled Hollywood restaurant, as though Tarantino as director (and adapter of the book) re-set the scene into a more lively, cinematically interesting location. It’s gamesmanship, and it’s fun.
More importantly for serious fans, there’s more information, such as a biggie: we find out explicitly whether Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) knowingly killed his wife. Indeed, we find out a lot more about Cliff, and it’s enough to raise Pitt’s eyebrows: he may not have knowingly been playing the character we find in these pages.
These are both entertaining and lively elements and make the book worth a read. There are about three chapters, however, that elaborate on the mythology and backstory of Lancer, the western TV show Dalton guest stars on. These sections see Tarantino writing in a pulp fiction western style for his own amusement, but – for me at least – they committed a sin found nowhere else in the entire body of the man’s work: they were boring. Fear not; they’re easily skipped, without disrupting the rest of the book.
It’s a fun experiment that will clearly appeal almost entirely to fans of the film. There are many of those – it was a massive hit, making three hundred and seventy-five million dollars worldwide – and they will likely be as entertained as I was. Plus, now they’ll know whether Cliff pulled that trigger deliberately.