Some of these opinions sound perhaps too much like Tarantino’s own: “Once Fellini decided life was a circus, Cliff said arrivederci.” There’s a list of Cliff’s favorite Akira Kurosawa films. About the cinematography in the 1967 Swedish film “I Am Curious (Yellow)”: “Cliff wanted to lick the screen.”
We discover how Dalton and Booth became friends. Booth saved him from an on-set fire, telling him: “Rick, you’re standing in a puddle of water. Just fall down.” We learn how Booth got his pit bull, a star of the movie. He was given the dog, a champion fighter, to pay off a debt. Booth tags along on some of the fights.
In the movie, Booth refuses to let the dog eat until he takes the first bite of his own dinner: macaroni and cheese from a box. About that dish, Tarantino writes: “The directions say to add milk and butter, but Cliff thinks if you can afford to add milk and butter you can afford to eat something else.”
Oh, and Booth did kill his wife. In the film, that plot point is left hanging and has been much debated. Tarantino, happily, doesn’t care if you find Cliff to be lovable.
The murder scene is absurdist in its excess, of course. Tarantino rarely lets a killing go to waste. Violence is the wax his skis ride on. He knows how to fill the screen’s rectangle — or a page in a pulp novel.
The couple are on a boat. Tired of being belittled, Booth impulsively shoots his bikini-wearing wife with a spear gun, which essentially tears her in half. He regrets this immediately. He holds the two parts of her together for seven hours while they lovingly recount their whole relationship. When the Coast Guard arrives and tries to move her, she comes apart and dies.
If I longed at that moment for her — her top half, that is — to slowly hoist an enormous handgun and shoot the disbelieving Cliff in his bronze forehead, well, that’s a different novel.
In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Tarantino makes telling a page-turning story seem easy, which is the hardest trick of all.