Set at a time when the breezy irresponsibility of the 60s was about to morph into something darker, Tarantino’s latest film manages to capture something that his previous projects did notby Lucinda Smyth / August 16, 2019 / Leave a comment
A very young actress, with braids in her hair and a massive tome on her lap, is sat reading on set when the ageing cowboy movie star Rick Dalton strolls past. Rick is having a bad day. His management have made him wear his hair longer, after the style of those slubby hippies he hates, and they’ve put him in a casual tan jacket with tassels. He feels increasingly like he doesn’t fit into the cultural environment anymore. His twee western approach isn’t pulling in audiences. His star is fading, he’s lonely, he’s dejected, and (deep breath) a film producer recently suggested he move to Rome to make action films in Italian. When he asks the child actress shyly “if he’ll bother her” by sitting down nearby, she lends him a withering look. “I don’t know,” she drawls. “Will you?”
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Wednesday 14th August) is a film about neurosis. Set in 1969, it documents a time when Hollywood was caught between the slick gloss of the established mainstream (see: Sean Connery’s Bond, old-school westerns), and the rough-edged style of independent film-makers like Martin Scorsese and Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider was released in July that year). It’s also set at a time when the breezy irresponsibility of the 60s was about to morph into something darker. On 8th-9th August 1969, the actress Sharon Tate and four other people were murdered at the house of Sharon’s husband, Roman Polanski, by members of the Charles Manson cult. This was seen by many as the event which marked the end of the era.
In February 1969, Rick (Leonardo DiCaprio) is feeling the effects of these shifts. He lives next door to Polanski, hot-ticket director and toast of the town. But if Rick’s professional life is crumbling then his social life has completely dissolved. He might yearn to hang out with Polanski, but the only person he spends significant time with is his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt): a chiselled WWII veteran who drives him around, picks fights with Bruce Lee, and who may or may not have killed his own wife. Interactions with other people fall by the wayside. When the child actress reluctantly agrees that he can sit by her, they strike up a conversation that he finds impossible to respond to…