Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (18)
For many people, the 60s didn’t end on December 31, 1969, but rather on August 8 of that year. That was the date Charles Manson and his ‘family’ butchered a number of people in 10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles.
The most famous of these was the 28-year-old actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski. She was heavily pregnant at the time. Both she and her about-to-be-born baby, as well as all the other people in the house, were ritualistically slaughtered in a series of actions that had Satanic overtones.
America waved goodbye the counter-cultural promises of the decade just gone by as Manson wreaked revenge on a country he felt had abandoned him. The ‘swinging’ 60s were over. His actions put the last nail on the decade’s coffin with his purposeless acts.
They were reminiscent of the Leopold/Lowe murder of 1924. Nathan Leopold and Richard Lowe, you might remember, were two precocious young men who committed a murder purely (or rather impurely) because they could. It would, they thought, be the perfect crime. They would become God by committing it. They subverted the Nietzschean idea of the ‘Superman’ in killing the 14-year-old Bobby Franks.
Quentin Tarantino has framed his 161-minute valentine to Tinseltown against the backdrop of the Manson murders. His films are usually violent. The present one has some kind of legitimacy in this department, though you’ll want a strong stomach for the final scenes.
Elsewhere this is a highly entertaining film about the relationship between a washed-up cowboy actor called Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). It’s an episodic snapshot of 1969, going from fairytale to nightmare.
Margot Robbie is a good lookalike for Tate but her part is thankless. There are cameos from people like Al Pacino and Bruce Dern and a hilarious send-up of Bruce Lee. Hollywood’s royalty are on top form. Pitt and DiCaprio play off one another beautifully. Genre-wise, the film lodges itself somewhere between comedy and drama, documentary and ‘mockumentary’.
At times it seems more Robert Altman (or David Lynch?) than Tarantino. It only becomes a Tarantino film proper in the last quarter where, as it were, a serpent enters the Garden of Eden. The first sign all may not be well with the hippie culture is when Pitt visits a ranch where Manson’s acolytes are living. A sense of errieness pervades it. This segues into the blackly comic finale.
Here whimsy mixes with terror. You know you’re in a Tarantino movie when a character (Pitt) gets more upset about what food he’ll give his dog than the fact of having to brutally kill a number of people.
We don’t get events as they happened but rather a ‘what if’ scenario. It isn’t Tate’s house that’s attacked but the one next door. This is a typical piece of Tarantino whimsy but it carries the basic message of the film: Manson killed the 60s.