ONCE UPON A TIME…in HOLLYWOOD

Film Poster: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Film Poster: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Really? Not one moment of insight into what happened on Cielo Drive? Tarantino drank the Hollywood Kool-Aid. DiCaprio and Pitt get to hang out and do a lot of driving around.

Does writer-director Quentin Tarantino know that the Tate-La Bianca murders – murders that defined a generation – were based on a ludicrous scenario created by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi? Okay, so Tarantino must also believe in the lone gunman and the magic bullet.

Me? I’ve always gone with Lee Harvey Oswald’s public outburst: “I’m just a patsy.”
Since it is widely accepted that Manson had “Mafia godfather power” to order a killing and have it faithfully carried out, he chose a house for his target? Manson’s supposed enemy was Terry Melcher, who did not own the house. Melcher merely rented the house for three years (May 1966 to January 1969) and was living in another state at the time of the murders. Manson knew who was living at 10500 Cielo Drive the night he ordered his followers to the house.

On June 9, 1994, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC took a match and gasoline to her boyfriend’s mansion. Atlanta Falcons football star Andre Rison had gone out clubbing without her. When Rison returned to the home, Lopes, who had also spent the evening clubbing with her friends, confronted Rison in the driveway of the flaming mansion. Lopes was angry because Rison had bought himself lots of new sneakers without getting her any.

Rudolph Altobelli owned 10550 Cielo Drive. Charles Manson visited the house in late 1968, when it was occupied by Melcher and then again when it’s new renters were Tate and Polanski. 

Tarantino’s core audience was breathlessly waiting for his penultimate film but the title should have given us the information we needed. All the Brothers Grimm fairy tales begin…once upon a time. Tarantino did not have any “insider” information to reveal. Sadly, we now know that a) Tarantino is not a Hollywood player and b) after years of working with producer Harvey Weinstein, Tarantino was blissfully unaware that the movie mogul was raping hopeful actresses in his hotel suites and had once – let’s hope it was only once – trapped a woman in the hallway of a restaurant that was closed to the public and masturbated in front of her until he ejaculated in an ornamental plant. 

Instead, Tarantino presents the circumstances – pundits would say the murders had an impact on the cultural milieu – like The Rolling Stones at Atamont – as gospel: The Tate-LaBianca murders were intended to start a race war. But of more significance to Tarantino is the lives of TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his devoted sidekick-stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The drama ignites when Dalton cannot remember his lines and hates the cut of his costume.

There is an agonizing long scene between Rick and a child actress, Trudy (Julia Butters). It’s creepy, intentionally creepy. It’s either an initiation rite into a secret cabal or its just creepy.

 That “foot fetish” trope needed an upgrade.

What was happening next door to Rick? His famous neighbors were break-out star Sharon Tate (Margot  Robbie) and her newly certified auteur director Roman Polanski (Rafael Zawierucha). Whatever the couple’s private life entailed, and Polanski’s appetite for anal sex with a female child would eventually make him a U.S. fugitive, was purely mundane. The only complaint Dalton had was his neighbors did not clean up their dog’s poop in the driveway to their house. 

Film Image: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Film Image: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Sharon is presented as an angelic victim decorating the nursery and planning her baby shower! 

Apparently Tarantino never read the classic The Family by Ed Sanders or the latest book, Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Dan Piepenbring and Tom O’Neill.

The night after the Tate murders, Manson drove around and picked a house at random. The house belonged to Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

It’s freaky – apparently only to me – that Manson just happened to drive around and pick a house owned by a woman who had the first name of Polanski’s huge Hollywood film, ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). 

The Hollywood Reporter, July 30, 2019, ran this revealing story: Manson Victim’s Friend Posits Alternative Motive: “I Never Bought Into the Race War Theory.”Jim Markham, a hairstylist, protégé and  business partner to victim Jay Sebring finally offers his theory. As a business partner and “heir apparent to Sebring’s 400-plus clientele”, it’s about time someone from the inside told the real story offering some information on the victims behavior that led to their horrific deaths. Were they innocent passengers on a plane that went down under mysterious circumstances?

The rule is not to speak ill of the dead, especially when their murders were so gruesome and designed to shock the world. Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s view that the cult leader ordered the Tate murders in hopes that it would spark an apocalyptic race war was pure invention.

Though Markham is reluctant to denigrate the memory of his business partner and mentor, Markham offers a glimpse into his intimate knowledge of Sebring’s lifestyle. Markham tells writer Tatiana Siegel that the murders were the result of a drug deal gone bad. Sebring knew Charles Manson. Back in 1969, Sebring was nicknamed The Candyman and was said to have used his salon to peddle drugs to stars. Sebring was once engaged to Sharon and was her constant companion.

How deeply involved was Markham in Sebring’s illegal business?

Markham: “I don’t want to get into the drugs, but I never bought into the race war theory. I believe Manson had gone up to the house” — Polanski was away shooting a movie — “and Manson wanted to sell cocaine and marijuana,” he says. “He showed Jay and Wojciech [Frykowski] the product. They were going to buy some of it, but the two of them beat him up at the gate. The next night, Manson sent the Family up [to kill them].” Markham adds, “I’ve lived with that for 50 years. I still believe that.” He declines to elaborate further.”

The killing spree that ranks as a societal headstone to an era claimed seven lives.

Rick has not made the jump from television to movies. He has had a successful career with the series BOUNTY LAW – just like Clint Eastwood back in the day – but now is playing the “guest villain” on other star’s shows.  His agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), suggests he go to Italy to make a string of “spaghetti Westerns” – just like Clint Eastwood back in the day. Rick has all the trappings of a well-known working actor whose momentum has passed. 

Rick’s stunt double Cliff is his chauffeur (Rick’s DUIs have finally caught up to him), buddy, houseman, champion and 24-hour companion. Being Rick’s “everything” pays lousy – unless Cliff has huge gambling debts or is paying off a blackmailer. He lives in an abandoned trailer with his dog, Brandy (Sayuri).

Sayuri won the 2019 Palme Dog Award at Cannes and IMDb.com credited even the Red Vines licorice wrangler but Sayuri’s trainers were not mentioned. I went through the list twice. Or, were the dog trainers listed as dog sitters?

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3: PARABELLIUM had two amazing Belgian Malinois dogs. Praise must be given to their trainer, Andrew Simpson. The dogs were fantastic.

It is Cliff who picks up the exaggerated hippy, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), whose casting description was: Girl Who Wiggles Her Ass. She takes Cliff to Spahn Ranch where he meets Sadie (Mikey Madison), Tex (Austin Butler) and Patricia (Madisen Beaty). An exciting scene between Cliff and Manson (Damon Harriman) never takes place because DiCaprio is the star of the movie.

What would a Tarantino film be without a gory, over-the-top, blood-soaked finale? Pitt once again takes a device to bash-in a face. Unlike in real life, savagely killing eight-months pregnant Sharon was a Bridge too far for Tarantino.

When Tarantino resurrected John Tarvalta career with PULP FICTION, he became The Casting Wizard. Anyone he wants, he can cast. Even non-speaking parts! It’s hard to pick a favorite but I’m going with Damian Lewis’s brief scene as Steve McQueen. In Steve McQueen: King of Cool, Tales of a Lurid Life by Darwin Porter, McQueen’s hairdresser was Jay Sebring. Porter writes that McQueen “believed” that Sharon’s baby could be his or Sebring’s. McQueen and Sharon were very close and he was supposed to be at Cielo Drive the night of the murders. As was all of Hollywood. Susan Atkins – according to Porter’s book, told her cell mate that Manson had a hit list and planned “an excruciatingly horrible death” for McQueen because he had rejected his screenplay.

Is ONCE UPON A TIME any good? It is clever how Tarantino merged the old Hollywood stuff into the film and placed his actors in iconic scenes. The vast cast is wonderful but the director slides away from Sharon and her entourage. They were more interesting then Pussycat and her friends.

DiCaprio is sensational, giving Rick a slight speech impediment when not on a set. His scenes with Pitt are warm and easy – they could be in a buddy-cop franchise.

Overall, as you can tell if you have gotten this far, like most, I know the story of the Tate-La Bianca murders and expected much more from Tarantino. He has mellowed and delivered – not a Tarantino film but a film that would give him Hollywood box office numbers.There comes a time when commerce is more important than creativity.

For daring filmmaking, see my two favorite, highly original best films so far for 2019: CLIMAX and THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. Neither film had Tarantino’s budget or stellar cast. But they are the strongest films this year.

Chris Rock, Feel the Pain (HBO, 1996). Maybe Chris knows something relatable to the Manson murders:

“So you gotta look at OJ’s situation. He’s paying $25,000 a month in alimony, got another man driving around in his car and fucking his wife in a house he’s still paying the mortgage on. Now I’m not saying he should have killed her… but I understand.”

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About Victoria Alexander

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/author/author-3571/ Contributing to: FilmsInReview: http://www.filmsinreview.com FilmFestivalToday: http://www.filmfestivaltoday.com Las Vegas Informer Group: LVInformer.com Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org
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