I know people who take real umbrage at “revisionist” accounts of the Tate / Labianca slayings. It’s difficult to imagine how things could get any more revisionist than in Quentin Tarantino’s much-hyped latest offering, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, which interweaves the stories of fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his stuntman sidekick / personal support system Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) with the build up to the Manson Family’s visit to 10050 Cielo Drive on 09/08/69. After her initial misgivings, the film arrives with the blessing of Debra Tate, the late Sharon’s sister and you can kind of see why. It’s been billed as “the film that people who hate Tarantino will enjoy” and indeed, I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to. This is clever stuff but neither as ostentatiously nor obnoxiously pleased with its cleverness as some of its predecessors have been…
Predictably, the Quentster spurns no opportunity to rub women’s feet in your face. Is it true that his next film will be shot in 3-D, with scratch’n’sniff cards handed out at the box office? Maybe if he reads this it will be. If so, I expect a screen credit, OK Quentin?
OUAT…IH’s 161 minute running time doesn’t weigh too heavily on it, or the viewer. Some of the TV Western stuff wears out its welcome a bit, though when Dalton starts fluffing his lines and we’re dragged abruptly back into the world of Hollywood, 1969, you can see what Tarantino is doing. There’s a l-o-n-g and sappingly suspenseful sequence where Booth is poking around at the spahn Movie Ranch, under the disapproving glares of The Family, which makes you kinda wish the director would try his hand at a full-on Horror Film.
The way he intercuts fact and fiction, drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Film (and Pop Culture in general) to disrupt narrative conventions, owes more to European Arthouse Cinema than the exploitation mavens he is so fond of referencing (though the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure of Pulp Fiction demonstrated that Hollywood had finally caught up with Lucio Fulci, according to no less disinterested an authority than Fulci himself). There are loving tributes here to Sergio Corbucci and Tarantino’s talismanic Antonio Margheriti (he probably figures he’s bigged up Enzo Castellari quite enough for the time being).
The audacious historical rewrite which closes the picture is only the final of several pointed reminders that QT is an auteur and in the realm of his movies, he can do whatever he likes with culture and history, right? I can go along with this to a certain extent but the idea that there could exist, in any possible alternative universe, a stuntman (one who, moreover, seems to subsist on pot noodles) capable of licking Bruce Lee? Nah, you’re not having it. As for the idea that anybody could continue to ply their thespian trade in Tinsel Town while under ongoing suspicion of having murdered their wife on a boat? Actually, now you mention it…
P.S. Ten great tracks from 1969 that didn’t make it onto OUAT…IH’s certifiably groovy soundtrack… just off the top of my noble bonce. You’re welcome.
01) We’re Going Wrong – Rotary Connection
02) Soul Sister Brown Sugar – Sam & Dave
03) Touch Me – The Doors
04) Savoy Truffle – Ella Fitzgerald
05) Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
06) Cymbaline – Pink Floyd
07) I Want To Take You Higher – Sly And The Family Stone
08) In A Silent Way – Miles Davis
09) Thank You – Led Zeppelin
10) Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa