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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Though the Manson murders serve as the hook – Tarantino‘s ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD is less about Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, and Roman Polanski and more about the myth of Hollywood.


Charles Manson after Adolf Hitler? Is Quentin Tarantino rewriting history again? Will he deal with the Manson family in his typical way, meaning in the most brutal, excessive way? The answer is yes and no, because even though ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD ends in violence of course – and revealing this really isn‘t a spoiler considering Tarantino‘s filmography - the brilliant writer and director deals with the brutal death of Sharon Tate and her friends on the fatal evening of August 8th 1969 in Roman Polanski‘s house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills in an astoundingly sensitive way.

Even though the 9th and probably penultimate film by Quentin Tarantino has been called his “Manson Film“ ever since the first reviews came out, it‘s less about Manson, Tate, and Polanski. It‘s not about the fictional characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, who play actor Rick Dalton and stuntman Cliff Booth, either. The protagonist of this film is Hollywood. Or more specifically, a myth, a cliche of Hollywood that never existed, but one that young Tarantino perceived it to be when he moved to LA in 1969 when he was 5.

The loose plot of ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD takes place over 3 days, the 8th and 9th of February 1969, and exactly half a year later, on August 8th. In February, Rick Dalton is still a has-been who found great success in a Western show years ago but has since gone downhill. His constant companion is Cliff Booth, who used to be Rick‘s stuntman and now functions as a jack of all trades. While Cliff lives alone in his trailer with his dog, in the shadows of a drive-in cinema, Rick lives in the Hollywood Hills, more precisely Cielo Drive. He has had new neighbors for several months: director Roman Polanski and his young wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) have moved in and are enjoying life among the palm trees and mundane parties. Rick gets an offer to play in a spaghetti Western thanks to his agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), while Cliff meets a young hippie girl (Margaret Qualley) and offers her a ride. They go to the former Western city “Spahn‘s Movie Ranch“ where a hippie clique has settled down, led by Charles Manson (Damon Heriman).

ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD is set during the last moments of summer and the inevitable end of the illusion, and Tarantino revels in the images and tones of a bygone era. He doesn‘t rely on his ability to write dialogue (that isn‘t as distinct as it was 25 years ago in the PULP FICTION era anyway), he shows it visually. There‘s a minute-long take with Polanski and Tate in their convertible driving along the Hollywood Hills as they head to the playboy mansion where stars like Steve McQueen and the bunnies let loose and dance. Tarantino uses bright colors to evoke the collective high of the era, which ended darkly with the Manson murders and the later events on the Altamont speedway. Tarantino can‘t let his film, which isn‘t called “once upon a time“ for no reason, end this way. The film‘s connection to reality is limited. Tarantino shows a more beautiful vision of a world that could‘ve been instead.


Translation: Elinor Lewy



  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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