Charles Manson, Public Trauma
Sharon Tate and four unrelated individuals were tragically murdered on August 9, 1969, despite having no connection to the film industry. However, the brutal killing of the pregnant Sharon Tate sent shockwaves across the world, leaving a lasting impact on public consciousness. The murder of this young actress, at the age of 26, evoked a sense of public trauma, which intensified as the killers managed to evade capture for some time.
Charles Manson, the mastermind behind the crimes, lived until the age of 83 before his death in prison. Manson and his surviving gang members achieved decades of infamy in popular culture. However, their actions remain one of American history’s most senseless and unforgivable crimes. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood significantly conveys a long-standing belief in the importance and uniqueness of the year 1969.
However, the film does not explicitly transparently articulate this notion. The auteur theory, initially introduced by François Truffaut and André Bazin, plays a relevant role in understanding Tarantino’s work. This theory emphasizes Tarantino’s position as the actual “author” of his films, as he consistently incorporates personal concerns, themes, and a distinct style throughout his filmography.
Many argue that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino’s ninth film explores sentiments of beauty but also reveals a sense of incompleteness. As expected from a renowned director, the film captivates the audience with its visually stunning elements. According to reports, Tarantino had been developing the script since 2009. However, a film taking 10 years to complete raises skepticism regarding its conceptual integrity.
Some view such a prolonged production timeline as merely marking time or remaking previous works. Despite this criticism, Leonardo DiCaprio’s exceptional performance as Rick Dalton—an actor heavily influenced by Clint Eastwood’s persona—cannot be overlooked. The film often serves as a nostalgic reflection on modern times, portraying the harsh realities of Hollywood as a demanding industry catering to a fickle public.
It explores the rise and fall of stardom, depicting Rick Dalton as a victim of the industrial atrocities prevalent in the business. Tarantino subtly suggests that Rick’s waning success may result from his choices—excessive drinking, taking jobs for granted and feeling resentful after being upstaged by a young actress. While rumors surrounding actors are common, the film humorously presents a comical yet peculiar plot revolving around a stuntman’s rumored reputation.
Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth
In contrast, Cliff Booth’s character is portrayed as being in a humbling position, taking on lesser jobs to sustain his career in the film industry. He feels less authentic and more like an actor temporarily borrowing a role. Nonetheless, this persona becomes instrumental in Cliff’s efforts to protect Sharon Tate. The film explores the dynamics between Cliff, Rick, and Tate through contrasting characters.
While Cliff and Rick are facing the decline of their careers, Tate effortlessly enjoys the benefits of being an A-list celebrity. Tarantino deliberately underutilizes Tate’s background, implying that she does not rely on it for her success. The film suggests that Tate is far from being just an actress and more of a symbol of wealth, lacking admiration for her own assets. Thus, the essence of the film emerges as Tarantino’s keen admiration for presenting tragedy and humanity.
It affirms that viewers cannot simply become the characters or famous figures but rather presents a conflict that must be resolved within Rick Dalton’s pool. The auteur theory asserts that directors possess complete artistic control over the film production process and ultimately present a consistent personal vision in their works. Proponents of this theory argue that although filmmaking is a collaborative effort, the director plays a dominant role in shaping the final outcome.
Implifiying Auteur Theory
Directors infuse their films with their characteristics. Tarantino exemplifies this theory through his consistent style, motifs, and emerging patterns throughout his work. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood aligns with Tarantino’s distinct directorial style, characterized by a non-linear narrative structure, intertwined storylines, and the incorporation of popular culture references—a departure from his previous films.
Set in the late 1960s Hollywood film industry, the film includes numerous references to the popular culture of that era, such as songs, television shows, and movie posters. Tarantino’s fascination with popular culture and film history is evident in his own appearances in the film, and he pays homage to various genres from that time, adding his personal touch and vision to create an engaging interpretation of history.
By blending elements of reality with fictional narratives, Tarantino presents an alternative story that challenges our expectations and provides a rich intertextual approach to history. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood exhibits Tarantino’s consistent nostalgia, capturing the atmosphere of 1960s Hollywood with meticulous attention to detail while blending fiction and reality. It reflects Tarantino’s interest in historical periods and his passion for celebrating past popular culture through nostalgia.
Undoubtedly, Tarantino is considered an auteur in the film industry, and the critical acclaim surrounding Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, comparable to his previous works like Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, solidifies his status.
Although the film reflects Tarantino’s personal experiences and contemplation on creative obsolescence and aging, it should be understood as a personal film rather than an autobiography. It skillfully evokes the idea that something is intriguing about 1969, albeit through the lens of films being the only fascinating aspect. Ultimately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood creates a cinematic experience that taps into the audience’s nostalgia and provides a shared community experience in a world where distractions like cell phones, the internet, video games, and streaming services often isolate individuals.
Critics have long recognized Tarantino’s recurring themes of aging and the battle against time in his work. With its unique history and significance, Hollywood holds a special place of reverence in the film.
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- Rosewarne, L. (2012). Periods in pop culture: Menstruation in film and television. Lexington books.
- Wollen, P. (1969). The auteur theory.