Quentin Tarantino’s latest flick is a nostalgia oriented period piece that cascades a stylistic light on an aged era of American filmmaking—an era that’s just as beautiful as it is seedy and grotesque. Once Upon a Time’s throwback beauty is reinforced by a masterful wardrobe and set design. A broad collection of neon signs, spinnin’ records, cars, clothes, and even wristwatch accessories wraps the audience in its romantic embrace of the past.
In terms of plot, the film is loosely centered around the Manson murders. The two main characters are a dwindling Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his steadfast friend/stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). These two men act as a caricature of the old Hollywood man’s man—with a dynamic between them that feels almost like an Old West hero and his charismatic deputy. However, Rick and Cliff are far from being true cowpokes—as they’re living a pretty urban lifestyle both in and around Tinseltown. As well, their characters function more like anti-heroes—having few redeeming qualities outside of their talents—excepting one crazed and climactic encounter with the Manson Family youth.
Before digressing into a full film review, where this love letter to old Americana really shines—aside from the incredible casting and acting—is in every detail of its design. Elements like the 2,000 vintage cars they used on set, to the 4 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard that were rebuilt and re-envisioned, all the way down to Cliff’s striking leatherbound wristwatch cause a kaleidoscope of on screen immersion. Just like any truly “manly” men of the time, both Rick and Cliff sport fashionable clothes and timepieces. Full fringe, moccasins, aviator sunglasses, and more are galore as they fight, act, dream, and drive in the film. Despite all of this fashionable glory—Cliff’s watch gets the most facetime of any accessory; It is truly a standout for the horologically minded audience member. By name, the wristwatch model is an era appropriate Citizen 8110A Automatic “Bullhead” wristwatch.
Having a penchant for driving with the windows down and resting his hand on the outside of his boss’s 66 Coupe de Ville, Cliff gives this watch a lot of love during the movie. Being a (stunt)man of action—he would have needed something pretty tough on set through his years of taking all the hits for Rick. Having a real world stunt capable setup, his Citizen Bullhead watch has all the right stuff. Sporting a 40mm water resistant stainless steel case, a self-winding 23 jewel mechanical movement, and a full chronograph, his watch is a military grade machine. Citizen was making other tough as nails watches at the time but this one got its nickname due to the case design. Instead of putting the crown and chronograph pressers on the right side of the case (per traditional design)—they’re placed at the top. With the crown placed top and center of the case—bookended by the chronograph pressers—its horned facade gives it its namesake look.
Whether Cliff is scouring the city in Rick’s cream colored Cadillac, or speeding through the Hollywood hills in his ‘64 Karmann Ghia, his wristwatch is strapped in tight and ready for the ride. Though his all gold Bullhead would have originally come with a gold plated stainless steel band, his character has opted for a custom leather cuff band. Considering the Old West nostalgic leather outfits of the late 60s through the 70s, the custom leather cuff was a smart move on the part of the filmmakers. As male fashion trends moved toward their own brown leather Americana throwbacks (is this nostalgia Inception?), with an emphasis on wartime toughness, a watch like this would have fit a persona like Cliff’s. In fact, many stuntmen of Cliff’s time would likely have been Eagle Scout levels of military and survival trained—many of them at his age being veterans of either WWII or the Korean War. His timepiece shows the masterful level of research the whole crew did in designing his character look.
If you want to recreate Cliff Booth’s timepiece in real life, you’re in luck! Most of these now vintage workhorses are available online for about $400.00. Unfortunately, the cuff itself may take a little more work than clicking a button for purchase. 18mm is the size of the lug on these chronograph watches—as a heads up. Give that measurement a crack when considering pre-made or custom ordered leather straps. As well, if the Bullhead interests you, you may want to act sooner rather than later. Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time’s popularity may make this watch a new collector favorite. After all, just like a solid timepiece, Mr. Tarantino’s films seem to take on a life force of their own—that outlasts even their own time. Sure to be a controversial classic, we hope to revisit more watches featured in the film. With such a detailed oriented revisit to classic American filmmaking, there’s sure to be more to explore in the near future.
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