Song of the Day #4,048: ‘Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’ – Neil Diamond

(I interrupt the normally scheduled Random Weekend for some thoughts on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Warning: Spoilers follow!)

It’s been a decade since I saw a Quentin Tarantino film I really loved. That was 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, a masterful blend of tension, action and melodrama that burst at the seams with daring creativity. It’s up there with Pulp Fiction as the most Tarantino movie Tarantino has ever made.

In contrast, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — for most of its running time — is the least Tarantino film he’s ever made. It’s also one of the best.

This mellow tribute to the Hollywood of Tarantino’s youth feels like the first film the 56 year-old has made for somebody over 25.

Tarantino arrived when I was in my early 20s, and his Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction detonated in my imagination like atom bombs. Over the years, though, his sensibility reminded me of the great Wooderson line from Dazed and Confused: “I get older, they stay the same age.”

The great (and adapted) Jackie Brown aside, Tarantino has never shown much interest in his characters as people. Rather, they are moving parts in the cinematic Rube Goldberg machines he builds around them. That’s true of even his best films.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is different. The theme and mood of the film mirror the headspace of its protagonists — melancholy, wistful, longing. Tarantino has always spent time with his characters, but usually to watch them chew on his elaborate, snappy dialogue. Here, it feels more like we’re just hanging out.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a TV star who didn’t quite make it on the big screen and now plays villains opposite bigger TV stars. Brad Pitt is Cliff Booth, Dalton’s stunt man, driver and only real friend. Both men are staring down their own professional irrelevance.

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, a rising starlet, wife of the celebrated Roman Polanski, and — of course — an eventual victim of the murderous Manson Family.

A large section of this film — its best part, by far — follows these three during a single afternoon. Dalton is on the set of a TV western, flubbing his lines and getting a harsh life lesson from an interaction with an 8 year-old actress. Tate is enjoying a sunny stroll through Hollywood before stopping at a movie theater to introduce herself and watch one of her films. And Booth takes a flirty hitchhiker to the Spahn Ranch, his former TV set, where the Manson Family has taken up residence.

Tarantino does a beautiful job balancing the action and tone of each of these sequences.

Tate’s scenes are charming and bittersweet, full of sparkling life but tempered by our knowledge of her ultimate fate. Tarantino has been criticized for not giving Robbie much dialogue, or her character much to do, but he’s also been credited for allowing Tate to be something other than a victim, to be beautifully alive. I see both perspectives. This film has little interest in most of its female characters, but I loved watching Robbie inhabit Tate at the most promising time of her life.

Dalton’s segment is a showcase for DiCaprio, who gets some good scene-within-a-scene time during the shooting of the western. Dalton is certainly not as good an actor as DiCaprio, and watching DiCaprio portray a lesser talent trying to find his groove is mesmerizing. His porch chair scene opposite the young girl (a fantastic Julia Butters) might be the film’s best moment.

Booth’s visit to Spahn Ranch gives Tarantino a chance to do what he does best — ratchet up the tension. The cult members mostly seem frail and spaced-out, but as they increase in numbers and congregate like pack animals, you start to fear for his safety. As he insists on paying a visit to the ranch’s owner, an old acquaintance, the scene balloons with dread.

The film’s action is driving us inevitably to the night of the Manson murders — one of the film’s first shots is an ominous pan from Dalton’s driveway to reveal that he lives on Cielo Drive.

I’m still not sure what to make of how Tarantino portrays it.

As in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, he rewrites history as a violent revenge fantasy. The Manson murderers decide to target Rick Dalton rather than Sharon Tate and instead run into the buzzsaw of Cliff Booth and his very well-trained pit bull. After a film uncharacteristically free of violence, Tarantino goes all out here, having Booth and Dalton dispatch of the would-be killers in sickening fashion.

Is this a commentary on our response to violence? Are these horrific actions heroic because they are perpetrated on the Manson Family and not a pregnant Sharon Tate? Are we expected to cheer — even laugh — at this “happy” ending, or be disturbed by it? What does it mean that I did both?

Part of me believes Tarantino isn’t thinking too deeply about any of this. He is simply a cinematic sadist who doesn’t know how to end a film without a symphony of violence. I imagine an alternate version of this film where the Manson Family is thwarted not by vicious bloodshed but because Booth and Dalton call the cops.

That film would serve its purpose of saving Sharon Tate and her friends, and offering a new career path to Dalton. It would still be the Hollywood fairy tale Tarantino so lovingly imagines, but without the detour into such ugliness.

But would it be less viscerally satisfying? Does a film set against the backdrop of vicious death still have to end with vicious death, even if the victims change? Does a Tarantino movie, for that matter, have to end in bloodshed to be a good Tarantino movie? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

There is much more to dissect in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and I might get around to doing that in future posts. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie in general and especially that ending.

Hot August night
And the leaves hanging down
And the grass on the ground smellin’ sweet
Move up the road to the outside of town
And the sound of that good gospel beat
Sits a ragged tent
Where there ain’t no trees
And that gospel group tellin’ you and me
It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev’ryone goes, cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show

Room gets suddenly still
And when you’d almost bet
You could hear yourself sweat, he walks in
Eyes black as coal
And when he lifts his face
Ev’ry ear in the place is on him
Starting soft and slow
Like a small earthquake
And when he lets go
Half the valley shakes

It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev’ryone goes, cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show

[Sermon]

Take my hand in yours
Walk with me this day
In my heart I know, I will never stray
Halle, halle, halle, halle
Halle, halle, halle, halle
It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
And grab the old ladies and ev’ryone goes
I say, Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
And grab the old ladies and ev’ryone goes…

23 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,048: ‘Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’ – Neil Diamond

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Call the police? That may have been the lamest movie ending of all time! What’s next? In Taken, Liam Neeson should call the FBI and wait patiently at home for the safe return of his loved one? In Die Hard, Bruce Willis should have just let the LAPD do their jobs while he waited in a cafe?

    Sure, the ending was gratuitously violent. Welcome to a Tarantino movie. But what a great, satisfying twist!

  2. Amy says:

    Every filmgoer, especially those who know and love Tarantino movies, went into this film fearing the ending, wanting to trust that Tarantino wouldn’t force us to see the horrific and tragic murders of Sharon, Jay, and their visiting friends, but waiting in dread that he might. The ending was cathartic for that very reason. I do believe he wanted us to feel a mixture of dread, relief, laughter and sorrow. Booth, casually tripping on his acid dipped cigarette, trying to remember Tex’s name as he seeks reassurance that this trio is, in fact, actually there and threatening him, showcases Tarantino at his best. I read years (decades?!) ago that Tarantino likes to place a tape recorder under a seat in a movie theater on opening night and later listen back at the gasps, guffaws, shrieks and screams that his film would elicit. I’ve seen the film twice now, and that scene elicits all of the above.

    You mention DiCaprio’s and Tate’s acting but neglected to also highlight what a tremendous job Pitt did bringing Booth to life. Daniel pointed out that he could listen on loop to Pitt’s cadence at the door of the Spahn ranch home as he indicates that he’s not leaving without seeing George with his own eyes.

    I doubt I was the only one crying when Sharon sweetly expresses concern over her neighbor and invites him up for a drink. The violence against the trio was over the top and absurd but actually less over the top and absurd – and less graphic – then what actually occurred that tragic night.

    I find few directors so utterly in charge of their audience, and I am one satisfied audience member.

  3. Clay says:

    Good points. But I, for one, was not at all expecting Tarantino to depict the Manson murders as they happened historically. I think the decision he made here was probably the least surprising he could have made. Nine movies in, I wish he would surprise us with something other than operatic violence. Especially in a movie that — to this point — did exactly that.

    For most of the running time, I felt like I was witnessing Tarantino mature into a more interesting and nuanced filmmaker, but during the last 20 minutes he seemed to chicken out and play the hits.

    Of course, the hits are great! And I agree that he staged that scene — particularly the beginning standoff — beautifully. I could have done without the repeated smashing of a woman’s face into every surface of the house, but I guess that just comes with the territory. Does it have to, though? Is Tarantino’s imagination that limited?

    I also agree that Pitt is amazing. I hope they put him up for Best Supporting Actor and he wins it in a walk.

    • Amy says:

      I agree about that one choice. I looked away during the face bashing both times. The rest of it was operatic, absurd, and grossly comical, especially the flame thrower bit, which was worth it just for the subsequent exchange between Rick and Jay regarding that torching.

  4. Peg says:

    I loved this movie! I was so relieved that we were not going to see the actual Tate murders. I would watch several face smashings to know that Pitt and his dog survived the attacks. I agree that the tensions increased during the visit to the ranch but all in all definitely my favorite Tarantino movie of all! Both Pitt and DiCaprio deserve nominations!

  5. Clay says:

    I guess Tarantino is content to be a genre filmmaker, or at least a filmmaker who works with the same palette every time. It’s an exciting palette, no doubt, but I’d love to see him broaden his scope.

    Martin Scorsese is a master of violent gangster movies, but he has also made The Aviator, Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence, After Hours, etc.

    Steven Spielberg was the king of grand fantasy before he made Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, The Post, and so on.

    I’d love to see Tarantino’s musical, or his non-Western costume drama (The Favourite by QT!), or an L.A. period “hangout” movie that doesn’t culminate in a bloodbath. That’s what I would find truly welcome and surprising from him at this point in his career.

    Of course, he has hinted that his next (and last?) movie might be a Star Trek installment. So that could be fun!

    • Amy says:

      I disagree that this isn’t Tarantino demonstrating other facets of his talent. Something that makes him so great is his exhaustive encyclopedic knowledge of the history of film and television and his desire to pay respect to those who come before him. He can hold his own in a conversation with Scorsese about those unknown to us talents that they both revere. That’s not so merging an immature filmmaker knows or cares to know. Watch his bit with Leo where they discuss/deconstruct Rick Dalton. You’ll wonder how Leo put up with him, but you’ll also be reminded of what a thorough and committed writer and director he is. Opting to or not to have a violent scene in your film shouldn’t be the sole factor distinguishing whether an artist has new or more mature tricks up his sleeve.

      • Clay says:

        No, I agree with you. I think this movie shows Tarantino exploring a lot of new territory. As I said high up in the review, I consider it the least stereotypically Tarantino film to date, and his most mature since Jackie Brown. That’s why I was a bit deflated when he didn’t see it all the way through.

        I also laughed, cheered, cringed and gasped during that scene. It works in the moment, but I think it diminishes the movie I’d been enjoying up to that point.

        Is it necessary that the Cliff Booth I found so effortlessly cool and attractive also be a vicious killer? Did we have to see him probably murder a nagging wife, or smash a woman’s face into every surface of his house? Did the insecure, struggling but hopeful Rick Dalton have to burn a dying woman alive? Does that make either character richer?

        • Amy says:

          I would have cut ten seconds of face bashing and the flashback innuendo about Booth’s wife, but I do think Dalton’s reaction to the flailing violent screaming intruder added to his character. His shock, fear, and, ultimately, confidence that he could take action were nuances beautifully portrayed by DiCaprio that deepened my understanding of his character and what that character represented in the overall film.

  6. Amy says:

    Oh, and let’s not neglect to mention the music!! Lots of filmmakers appreciate the difference that a perfectly unexpected song can make to their scene, but few nail it quite so spectacularly. Today’s SOTD is a gem, as is the Feliciano “California Dreamin’l we’ve had on repeat since Friday.

  7. Andrea Katz says:

    I’m glad to be back to the blog, particularly as I really wanted to comment on this post. First off, it was a pleasure to read your review as this, for me, was a joy ride from start to finish. Where should I begin?
    In 1969 I was 14. The music at that time is loved and imprinted in a way that made Tarentino’s use of it exquisite for me in all the good ways possible. Basically, I was in heaven watching this movie from start to finish.

    While diversity in a director may be an admirable skill, I prefer a master auteur who delves into the themes which fascinate him and draws us in to the Tarentino-ness (or Felliniesque, Hitchcockian-ness) of the work. It’s really okay with me to immediately grasp that I’m seeing a Renoir, hearing Bach or the Beach Boys. I enjoy seeing a master create brilliant work within their distinctive style.

    I loved your critique of the movie. There’s nothing I enjoy more than an insightful discussion of a movie I love. I appreciate your observation about the more nuanced insight into the souls of the two main characters as contrasted with his past work. That really is new and delightful. It helped me to care and identify with them even as I marveled at the depth of their acting skill and incredible physical beauty. (Hubba, hubba!)
    I find this reimagining of history idea very satisfying. I get what you’re saying about a departure from his old hits of over the top violence but then I wonder why he chose this ending.
    Once upon a Time sets us up for a fable but I think the relevance of that time to ours may also be in play. The struggle which you so aptly point out, of these men facing their lack of currency and the battle to conquer the demons of their dark sides against the time when idealism is confronted with its own dark side. Flower children contrasted with the rise of the cult, the continuum of light into darkness, health and beauty contrasted with decay. Playboy mansion parties, wealth in incredible homes and cars against the rats, filth and garbage of an old movie set inhabited by a menacing counter culture. The hippie idealism moving into the harder political rhetoric against the dark side of capitalism. Our admiration of American rugged individualism conquering evil as the stuntman of old Hollywood smashes evil saving us from the reality of history where the U.S, is clobbered by the dark forces of corruption, where money lust replaces our humanity.
    It’s good vs evil and America of yesteryear is the good. But like these characters, a movie made in the age of Trump no longer allows us to retain the moral high ground. In that sense, this is truly a fable of a time gone by.

    • Amy says:

      Intriguing observations, though I can’t help note the irony that the Manson family was theoretically killing those corrupt capitalistic “pigs.” Perhaps Tarantino wants to challenge all of these notions simultaneously?

      Meanwhile, I completely agree with you about the joy of being able to recognize an artist’s work from all of its unique qualities.

      • Clay says:

        I’m a huge fan of auteurism as well, especially when it transcends subject matter. The Coen Brothers are probably my favorite filmmakers of all time. You will never mistake their work for anybody else’s, yet they have covered so many different kinds of plots, characters and subject matter.

        My hunch is that Andie spent more time thinking about those thematic societal threads than Tarantino did when writing the film! I think his primary interest in the Manson murders was the chance to avenge them through the power of cinema, just as he did with Hitler and the Nazis in Inglourious Basterds.

        I do want to stress again that I really loved this movie and consider it one of Tarantino’s best. And additional viewings will probably sell me on it even more. I just can’t help but feel that its own creator is working against it to some degree.

  8. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    I thought this movie was fire! I loved the way it delved into its characters at a place that truly allowed for each individual to have their nuanced selves portrayed to the audience. I feel that with Sharon Tate, her lack of lines was more a reflection of Tarantino using expressions and understatement to its most effective degree to handle that character rather than dialogue. I think her scene of reacting to the audience laughing at her performance as “The Ditz” and reminiscing on what it took to make those scenes happen, to me was just as endearing and memorable as any other scene with however many lines other characters were given. To me, before the ending I was going to walk away from the film having loved a well paced, dialogue driven, retrospective film that encourages contemplation, but then that ending took this film even higher in my estimation! I was scared to look as the Manson murderers were climbing up the hill and that’s what made the pay off so great and I found myself laughing and looking away and responding to every last movement. I think it had to be such a grandiose defeat in order for Tarantino to feel he truly rewrote history. Instead of the Manson murders taking Sharon Tate and rewriting the innocence of Hollywood, instead when they were handily defeated, it became a more open time which Tarantino demonstrates with the symbolic opening of the gate from New Hollywood to Old Hollywood when Sharon Tate lets Rick Dalton into her house. I wouldn’t want the scenes in Django Unchained to be any less gruesome or visceral when Django blows up his former slavemaster’s house. I felt very similarly here. I’m not saying it was a scene equal to “A Whole New World” of course, but up there in one of my favorite scenes of the year as well. For that scene and all the aforementioned reasons, I loved this movie and it is very near to the top of my list. It has a high chance of staying there too!

  9. Maddie says:

    I loved reading all of this and it made me excited to go back and have a second viewing soon. I’m not sure what else to write here other than that I love movies that inspire this level of passion and discourse. It’s exciting and I’m proud to have a family so enthusiastic and great at expressing their thoughts so eloquently.

  10. andrea katz says:

    Saw the movie again last night and had new thoughts to explore. This time I was more taken with the layering of different aspects of the TV and movie industry, from commercials about the show, interviews about it, into the characters as actors, the zeitgeist of the period and so on. Even when we were not in a movie scene the music very much mirrored the way older movies led/manipulated the viewers emotions along with the action so that “reality” seemed like a movie within a movie. The interaction between artifice and life is carried out through to the end of the tale which is tantamount to “and they all lived happily ever after.”
    Loved Daniel’s perception about the gate welcoming old Hollywood into the new. The New Hollywood also was relatively smoke free!
    Do I have too much time on my hands now?

    • Dana Gallup says:

      I think it may be time for my retired sister with time on her hands to take over as a guest blogger for a week.😊

    • Amy says:

      Andie, I loved the first shot on the old west set, as Rick walks past all the cameras to get to his saloon, while Cliff was setting off on his own adventure on an old west set that was occupied by the real life “bad guys.” It’s interesting to think of Tarantino planning to retire from filmmaking after his 10th film… I wonder if he’s already imagining where and how his chapter fits into the overall history of film that resides in his brain.

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