Once…or Twice

Like my last post, this one was inspired by a movie I recently watched. I’ll get to what movie that was in moment. First, I’d like to go on a bit about what I understand of literature. Specifically, the literary genre.

Because everything written is basically literature, you’d think, hence, it is all literary. But no. Literary refers to works that are “considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” Sure. But who decides what constitutes superior, artistic merit? The mysterious and omnipotent “They?” The Illuminati? Kirkus Reviews? Some guy in his darkened basement in the Netherlands?  (And what about “lasting?” Well, only time answers that question.)

But, I’m digressing.

For my own tastes, I prefer writing (or storytelling, i.e. spoken) that has something going on below the surface; a story that’s driven by more than mere plot. This doesn’t mean it has to be wrought with lengthy sentences, flowery imagery, or highfalutin words. In fact, I’d rather read the contrary.

In my most commented on (and most misunderstood) post In Defense of Ron Bushy, I use Iron Butterfly’s classic song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida to make this point: Great art doesn’t come from high-minded pretensions, but from heart and guts, sincerity and passion. In regards to writing, a well-told, simple story with something to say goes a long way. Like a fairy tale.

Fables and fairy tales have morals (something to teach us) interwoven with action, conflict, heroes, and villains. What’s more, these tales have been shared orally, read, and passed down for centuries. You’ll be hard-pressed to find, I think, a  better example of all the aforementioned “literary” requirements than a fairy tale.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. In fact, the whole of his work illustrates what I’m trying to talk about here. His latest, in my opinion, is his best since Pulp Fiction; they both fit the literary mold perfectly. While all the films in-between those two are exceptional in their own right, we’re not taken much deeper than Tarantino’s signature dialogue, well-drawn characters, visceral situations, and violence.

Pulp Fiction and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood each gives us something to think about. What is in Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase? Gold? Wallace’s soul? The hope of mankind? All have been postulated and every speculation enriches Pulp Fiction with thematic mythology and depth far beyond, “Check out the big brain on Brad!”

With Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino gives us a nostalgic and sentimental look at the Hollywood in which he grew up. A time when the making of television shows and movies was like a fairy tale, before the anti-hero, when you could always tell the good guys from the bad guys. It’s an alternate reality through wide-eyed innocence and optimism with a touching, heartfelt, happily-ever-after ending that stays with you long after the movie is over. Like any worthwhile piece of writing should.

It’s probably no secret, then, that I look to Tarantino’s work as a model for the brand to which I am aspiring – thought-provoking novels that also entertain and move an audience. Time, and the opinions of readers, will tell if I ever truly succeed in this endeavor.

Gordon Gravley

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