This Summer We’re Channeling: Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”. Photo by Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

The Hollywood of my mind… The Hollywood I would have loved to see is not the Golden Era Hollywood, nor the modern day Hollywood, but that very Hollywood depicted in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. A Hollywood trying to make peace with itself and move forward, a Hollywood that reflects the changes taking place in those times, in America and in the film industry, a time of changing identities and manhood perceptions, a time of decline for the old studio system and of rise of the independent cinema. But also a Hollywood that for sure is not just one of reality, but one of Tarantino’s imagination as well. And I find that even more fascinating. Another incredible thing about this Hollywood is that the two main characters, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, are themselves voyeurs of the glamour of Hollywood. They are like you and me. Even Rick. He may be working there, and even be living there, but he isn’t living the high life. He is mesmerised by it, but keeps it real, he’s there to do his job, and his job is acting, not being a star.

Delirious, funny, shocking, exhilarating, beautifully crafted around movie lore and history, blending fiction with reality, brimming with pop culture detail and an idiosyncratic soundtrack that takes you to another time and another Hollywood. You can not remain indifferent to Quentin Tarantino’s black comedy crazy bravura and auteurist excursion. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is ultimately about what it is like to live and die in L.A., by way of Tarantino’s liberal take on history and freeing visionary mind.

It’s the diffused LA light that seems to always remind you, even if it’s just in the back of your head, of the most notorious light, the dream-effect and disillusioned limelight of Hollywood. It’s the homage payed to Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), depicting her, through scarce dialogue and infused with optimism, joy and a luminous aura, as an angelic, surreal creature, looming over the entire film. It’s the 60s, in time and place: posters-within-the-film, some sourced from the director’s impressive personal collection, some commissioned to the renowned Renato Casaro, vintage cars, the recreation of entire parts of Hollywood Blvd. and other cultural fixtures, bookstores, shops and bars. It’s the music: Every time a car starts, the music starts blasting from the radio. It was the 1960s. Music was very much part of the culture, and there was a car-based culture, and music was mainly listened to on the radio in the car. It’s, after all, Quentin Tarantino, one of the last purveyor’s of movie making. And there is just one definition of movie making: that in which artistic freedom is still possible, when a director still thinks in terms of making movies just for himself, with every thought and every sense and every emotion put into making a film, when he does what he likes and says what he thinks.

Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”. Photo by Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

And it’s the 60s style made timeless.

When it comes to the costumes, there is a lot to take in, from Rick Dalton’s bellbottom-trousers-turtlenecks-golden-chains outfits (slightly out of fashion even for the late 1960s, thus keeping with his washed-up career), to Sharon Tate’s go-go boots, mini skirts and snake skin print coat (inspired by Sharon’s own personal style, but adding a fictitious element to it as well). Costume designer Arianne Phillips had most of the costumes made, but also sourced some of them at costume warehouses, flea markets and vintage sales.

But it is Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth who takes costume design beyond ‘60s fashion and transforms it into timeless style. He makes the Hawaiian shirt worn unbuttoned over a sun-bleached Champion white t-shirt (the logo belongs to the Champion auto parts brand, not the clothing brand by the same name) tucked into his vintage blue jeans and cowboy buckle look cool and current. The look is completed with suede moccasins, gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, leather bracelets and a gold Citizen 8110 Bullhead watch. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it also shows that he is keeping with the changing times, something Cliff is far more willing to accept than Rick. It’s both his attitude and clothes, modern yet very much of those times, that project this California cool which everybody has been so eager to emulate since the film’s release. He is the stuntman of an actor of the old guard in decline, he lives in a trailer next to a drive-in theatre, and has no perspective whatsoever. Yet, he is content with what life offers him, he lives in the moment, he is optimistic. That very much captures the end of the decade’s uplifting, freewheeling spirit – it was a time of change.

There have been other memorable Hawaiian shirt moments in cinema – most notably Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet, Montgomery Clift in both From Here to Eternity and A Place in the Sun, or Al Pacino in Scarface. None of those had the timeless appeal of Brad Pitt’s yellow shirt in Once Upon a Time. It’s the whole blue jeans – white tee pairing that does the trick, and the Southern California setting (bathed in that warm light that envelops Robert Richardon’s overall photography as well as these film set stills of Brad Pitt shot by unit photographer Andrew Cooper) that creates an imprint and nostalgia for a certain open and bright lifestyle, and a collective yearning for a less complicated life. Little did we know when the film came out, in 2019, how soon and how much we would collectively start to yearn for it.


Colour and costume: Jane Fonda in “The Morning After”

Taking a shot at Paul Newman

The undersigned outfit, the new symbol of American maleness:
Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

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