Monday With Mildred: “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Once Upon A Time In...Hollywood movie poster

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

This week’s review is a bit of a fluke. A disk malfunction led to my having to run into the back room and choose something from my seriously impressive DVD and Blu-ray collection (not as impressive as the one at CFR’s house of course). It didn’t occur to me until then that I had never reviewed a Quentin Tarantino film. So then I had to think about why that is. He makes brilliant films, some of which I have watched more than a couple of times. But the man gives me the creeps. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies over the decades, especially of the undead variety, but his loving depictions of extreme sadism really push my boundaries. Unfortunately for my self-respect, his movies are so good that I’m willing to put that all aside.

Among my favorites are his fantasy revenge films. All of his movies are fantastical to some degree, but I’m specifically referring to the movies like Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and Death Proof. All of them feature closely rendered history with the ending that should have happened in a better world. My favorite of the type, though, is Hollywood because it has a very personal feel for me. My dad knew Charles Manson, and I remember reading about the Tate/La Bianca murders when they happened and being very affected by them. I’ve watched a lot of the tv shows and movies that the movie features and I didn’t want to watch a recreation of what I consider a huge tragedy in a setting I’ve read a lot about, but then of course I wimped out and watched it anyway. Dang it, I’m glad I did. This ended up being my favorite Tarantino film.

Hollywood in 1969 was a hugely transitional year. Players were not so much slaves to the film industry, television was beginning to change into something that didn’t so much mirror traditional movies (though they did, ironically, come back to that with the dawn of cable television), and the ugliness of the real world began to seep into the fictions. In the film, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) had been famous for early tv shows, especially one called Bounty Law (based on the real life show Wanted: Dead or Alive). His long-time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) drives him around, runs errands and is a friend and drinking buddy. Dalton lives right down the hill from Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) on Cielo Drive, who is a rising star as opposed to Dalton’s drunken, fading glory.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, because it’s hard to talk much about it without spoilers. The viewer does meet Manson and his fabled family, and Tarantino has lovingly recreated the time and space of LA in 1969 with a gorgeous pantheon of vintage cars, his usual amazing choice of music for the sound track, recreated street scenes, and a slew of actors who are fine examples of contemporary talent who are recreating fine examples of talent of the day. We see Mama Cass dancing and singing happily at a party, and that is melodramatic because she died too young, and Steve McQueen who also died way too young, and Bruce Lee who died too young holding forth about his own prowess as a fighter. A lot of people hated that portrayal and consider it racist. I don’t know if he was like that or not. As a rare Asian star in 1960s America it would be difficult now to know how much of that representation is based on racist news of the day. I fall on the “it’s too racist” side.

The verité nature both thrills me and give me the creeps. As an historian I love seeing such a deep dive recreation of a period of our history that is often overlooked and rarely depicted with anything

approaching the proper look and feel and complexity. At the same time, a lot of the people in the movie come to a bad end in real life, and some of us actually liked the old fashioned simple minded television shows and movies that were morphing into the gritty and downbeat stories that became so common.

There’s a lot to like about Hollywood, from the exemplary acting, gorgeous art and music and color and even the basic look of a film rather than digitally shot movie. There really is a difference. One is a lot prettier. It did make inserting Dalton into real film of the day more difficult, but of course knowing that you’re watching an actual episode of The F.B.I makes everything more fun. Seeing the actual Sharon Tate in clips from her film was wrenching, but added to the total Oh Wow factor.

I recommend watching this movie, as it’s my favorite Tarantino film, due to its amazingly detailed recreation of 1969 Hollywood. Because it’s Tarantino, of course watch out for some way over the top violence. I made my viewing partner go outside for that part, and of course it started raining just then but oh well. If you’re like me you’ll take some time to read about the people and places portrayed in the film. It’s a pretty deep rabbit hole. Enjoy.


CFR: In Addition: Ok, I apologize to everyone! Especially the awesome Mildred. I got COVID, I teach at a university and classes start, and OMG time got away from me. So I am sorry for missing last week and really sorry for this being late. I had scheduled it for 9:48 PM!!!!

Although I am a Tarantino fan, I cannot bring myself to watch this movie. The Manson murders are a bit much for me. I remember them when I was a very little girl.

So Mildred, THANKS!

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