Whether he’s speeding down Cielo Drive, skipping across lanes on the 101, or rambling along Hollywood Boulevard in a sun-kissed haze, Brad Pitt’s irresistible, gold aviator-glasses-wearing stuntman serves many roles in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” But perhaps his most unexpected is as guide to Los Angeles.
Much has been written about how the director Quentin Tarantino’s latest nostalgia-drenched film is a love letter to movies — spotting all the cinematic references requires multiple viewings. But “Once Upon a Time” is also a love letter to the city itself.
El Coyote Mexican Cafe, the Regency Bruin Theater in Westwood, the Spahn Movie Ranch and Playboy Mansion are just a few of the real-life spots that surface in the movie. Taken together, the landmarks and locations help bring to life the pop-infused heady days of the late ’60s and the culture that defined California’s special role in that moment in American history — recalling the historianKevin Starr’s line that “Los Angeles was the ‘Great Gatsby’ of American cities.”
“Once Upon a Time” may be Tarantino’s most overt homage to Los Angeles, but it’s hardly his first. Though he was born in Tennessee, the director grew up in Torrance, Calif., a sleepy middle-class suburb known more for skateboarders than red-carpet goers, and cultivated his encyclopedic knowledge of films while working at a video store in nearby Manhattan Beach. The influences of those South Bay cities and many other parts of the region are apparent throughout his films. In fact, if you were to get in your car and drive the streets and highways of “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill,” you’d get a pretty decent sense of Los Angeles, the glamour but also the grit that make it so unlike anywhere else.