Friday, August 30, 2019

Once Upon a Time There Was A Movie

Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the morning I can see them walking
I can no longer keep my blinds drawn
And I can't keep myself from talking

~~ "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)" by The Mamas and The Papas

Well, I've posted about it enough on social media and I saw it for the sixth time today, so I guess I should probably write about it. 

I'm talking about Quentin Tarantino's ninth (and supposedly penultimate) movie, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." How much do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. I'm going to start off with non-spoilers, but I'm going to end with a big fat spoiler...of course, I will warn you first! Trust me on this'll want to see it without knowing the spoiler, so if you haven't seen it and plan to, stop reading at that point, okay? 

If you've been living under a rock, the movie takes place in Hollywood in 1969 and tells the story of actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick is getting a little long in the tooth and feels like he might not have much of a future in Hollywood. Since Cliff's career is kind of dependent on Rick's, they're both wondering what the future has in store for them. A lot of stuff is happening in 1969, and some of it is happening at Spahn Movie Ranch. So here are a few of the things I love about this movie and why one friend said that I might be addicted to it. (Guilty as charged!)

1. The cars. There are classic Mustangs everywhere in this movie and they look and sound amazing. There are also tons of Beetles, a beauty of a sky-blue T-bird, Cliff's Karmann Ghia (I wanted one of those when I was a teenager), and Rick's bitchin' Cadillac Coupe de Ville. 

2. The music. Lawd have mercy, the MUSIC. Tarantino always puts a great soundtrack to his movies and he might have outdone himself with this one. Everything from Paul Revere and the Raiders to Deep Purple. Two of my personal favorites are unfortunately not on the soundtrack release: the song included in this entry, as well as "Out of Time" by The Rolling Stones. 

Tarantino combines the cars and the music with some fun sequences of various characters driving on the LA highways. I've seen some criticism of that, saying that it's boring and doesn't add anything to the movie, but I don't feel that way at all. Cars, music, LA highways in 1969? That was a happenin' scene, man! I think it gives great flavor to that whole experience. I love it. 

Even the radio ads add to the experience. Tarantino said that it reflects his childhood when there were only a few radio stations and you didn't change the channel looking for something else. The big station where I grew up was WLS out of Chicago and it was the same for me. I get it. 

3. The scenery/clothes. Tarantino transformed a couple of blocks of Sunset Boulevard to look the way it did in 1969 and it's nothing less than amazing. The neon, the signs, the storefronts. I love all the groovy clothes, from Roman Polanski's blue velvet suit to the anonymous dancer at the Playboy Mansion and her silver minidress and go-go boots. Far out! 

4. The story within a story. The movie, at heart, is about Rick and Cliff. We get to see Rick in some amazing scenes while shooting the pilot for "Lancer," and we get to see Cliff in a super cool fight with Bruce Lee on the set of "The Green Hornet." Tarantino has also gotten some flak for his portrayal of Bruce Lee, including from Lee's daughter. I can't comment on that other than that I've read that Lee really WAS a little arrogant, and Tarantino has said that Cliff Booth is a fictional character, so he can make him do whatever he wants. It's a movie, folks, not a documentary. 

5. The friendship between Rick and Cliff. As it says in the movie, Cliff is a little more than a brother to Rick, and a little less than a wife. They've been together for a long time and their easy camaraderie and support for each other is really fun to see. It helps a lot that it's Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. They're pretty amazing together. 

Now we're going to get into the big spoiler. 


The plotline that got a lot of press was that the Manson Family murders were part of the movie. Now, if you go to see this movie expecting that it's all about that, you're going to have a bad time. As I wrote above, at its heart, the movie is about Rick and Cliff. However, Cliff encounters one of the Manson girls on the streets of LA and ends up taking her back to Spahn Movie Ranch, where he shot some episodes of Rick's network show, "Bounty Law." He encounters people from the Manson Family like Gypsy (horribly played by Lena Dunham...sorry to all you Lena Dunham fans, but criminy, I could act better than that), Clem, Squeaky, and Tex Watson.
In one of those odd turns of events, Rick's house is on Cielo Drive, right next to the house Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski live in. The movie builds suspense beautifully, counting down the hours to when the Tate murders happened. We get to see Sharon and her friends enjoying their lives, Sharon is seeing her career taking off, and she is pregnant and happy. You feel a sense of dread as the clock ticks down because you know what is going to happen. These people are going to die horribly and it's going to happen soon.
But, but, but...Tarantino turns it all upside down. Instead of going to the Tate/Polanski house, Tex, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins go to Rick's house. There they encounter a tripping Cliff Booth who absolutely fucks their shit up with the help of his trusty dog Brandy, and when a damaged and screaming Susan Atkins falls into the pool, Rick breaks out his flamethrower from one of his movies and torches her. It's a stunning ten or so minutes of alternative history.
So why did that affect me so much? Why am I obsessed (if I'm going to be totally honest) with this movie?
I was only seven years old when these murders happened, so I remember nothing about them. I didn't learn about them until several years later when I read the book Helter Skelter. Since then, I've read quite a bit about it all. It seems to me that in conjunction with other things like the assassinations of MLK, Jr and Bobby Kennedy, the Manson murders were effectively the end of the '60s. No more peace, no more Summer of Love...just death and destruction. Altamont. Kent State. The deaths of Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin. They all followed in short order. It was a very dark time in our history.
For a few moments at the end of this movie, Tarantino makes that all go away. Sharon Tate theoretically goes on to have her baby and hopefully, she remains happy with Polanski for a long while. She goes on to have a lucrative career. Jay Sebring and the others in the house all live. They become friends with Rick Dalton. The horrible events of that night are wiped away by Tarantino's movie, thanks to Rick and Cliff (and Brandy!).
As someone who has been fascinated by the Manson Family and the murders for a long time, I found the final scene cathartic. I'm about the same age as Tarantino, so like him, those murders have been part of my psyche since I was a young adult. Until Manson's recent death, he had a real grip on the American psyche, in my opinion. I think Tarantino was exorcising his own demons with this ending, and while I'm not sure others feel the same way, he exorcised mine. Cliff and Rick don't just kill Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Susan Atkins. They make fun of them and take away the power and mystique they have had all these years.
Tarantino gave us a fairy tale that could only happen in...Hollywood.