Friday, September 13, 2019

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ and the ’60s Filmic Simulation

Joan Didion wrote in her book of essays White Album (1979): “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, at exactly the moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brush fire through the community.” Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) is divided into two parts: the first one surrounding the (mostly fictional) events of February 1969, and the second part—August 8 and 9, 1969—reinventing the fatidic Charles Manson’s massacre in semi-comical fashion, after the Rolling Stones’s Out of Time tune plays as a nostalgic swan song.

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is a stuntman, a WWII vet, and a close friend—”a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife”—of Rick Dalton (Leonardo di Caprio), a former 1950s film star whose popularity in war films and westerns has been fading while the ’60s counter-culture is booming. For the very first time, Rick is experiencing crippling doubts about his career, especially when his agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) warns him he must stop playing the villain in TV shows, because if he continues to do so the audience will forget his “heroic” filmic background.

“What he’s dealing with is even more than the TV and movies transition. The culture has changed underneath him, the entire Earth has gone topsy-turvy as far as a whole era of leading men is concerned,” Tarantino explained on the Pure Cinema Podcast. Rick Dalton’s screen persona is kind of a composite of such yesteryear actors as Steve McQueen, Edd Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip), Ty Hardin (Bronco), George Maharis (Hullabaloo), and Pete Duel (Bonanza). Dalton’s fictional Bounty Law show is sort of a duplicate of Steve McQueen’s Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-1961).

Rick Dalton’s nervous breakdown at his trailer—after having failed at a rehearsal—connects intimately to Pete Duel’s ghost, since Duel (an undiagnosed bipolar alcoholic) was the TV western Alias Smith and Jones‘s star and he took his own life in 1971. This is indeed a traumatic scene for the viewer, when Rick experiences both alcoholic confusion and suicidal ideation in one of the film’s few dramatic moments. Among the multiple fan homages, Sergio Corbucci (director of The Great Silence) is mentioned when Rick decides to try his luck acting in spaghetti westerns in Italy. 

Corbucci also directed Django in 1966, which inspired Tarantino’s racially-themed neo-western Django Unchained. While Rick enjoys Italian food and a shotgun wedding to co-star Francesca Capucci (Lorenza Izzo), Easy Rider hits US theaters in July 1969. After Rick’s comeback home, we’ll witness an uncomfortable wink to Easy Rider‘s star Dennis Hopper, when Charles Manson’s right hand Tex Watson (Austin Butler) confronts a drunken Dalton in his private driveway.

Steve McQueen (Damien Lewis) allegedly had a crush on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie)—as he confesses to Connie Stevens at the Playboy mansion—and he pondered attending Tate & Polanski’s home at Cielo Drive the night of the Manson Family murders. Rick fantasizes about reaching McQueen’s level of stardom (we even see a playful insertion of Rick as Captain Virgil Hilts in the classic The Great Escape). Therefore an inevitable erotical tension is subliminally established between the ascendant starlet Tate and the “has-been” Dalton, who symbolize New Wave and Golden Age Hollywood respectively.

There are two consecutive stunning scenes in the middle section of the film that bestow a touching humanity upon Rick’s and Cliff’s personalities. First, Rick has an epiphany while shooting an episode of his TV show Lancer when a child actor (Trudi, played with relish by Julia Butters) praises his improvisation technique: “That is the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life!” Trudi’s affability and her helpful guidance to Method acting have operated wonders on Rick’s self-esteem. Second, Cliff’s visit to Spahn Ranch—after flirting with a member of the Manson Family named Pussycat (played expressively by Margaret Qualley)—takes on a different meaning about a real threat on the horizon.

Intertwined with Rick’s and Cliff’s professional and personal challenges, we become enthralled (although progressively worried about her safety) by a radiant Sharon Tate—strolling around the City of Angels—whom the camera follows in such an affectionate and palpitating detail that it has an electrifying effect. The pounding of Sharon’s white boots on the bygone L.A. pavement is mirrored by our heart beating in response, the decades in-between collapsing onto our mental collages of her memory. She manages to sneak cost-free into the theatre, where she delights in her own comedic performance in The Wrecking Crew while surrounded by unsuspecting fans. It’s such a beautiful, zany, and powerful scene we sense the audience is irremediably, completely siding with Sharon from that moment on.

The fictitious 14 Fists of McCluskey (echoing a sequence from Inglourious Basterds) is a homage to Roger Corman’s war film The Secret Invasion (1964). Also, I infer Tarantino was influenced by Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) by Vincente Minnelli, since its plot is built around a washed-up actor (like Rick Dalton) who accepts a role in a minor production in Rome after spending three years in an asylum, looking for some type of redemption.

The nostalgic references keep piling up. All the glamorous faces, shady outsiders, vibrant marquees, hot spots, and shindigs reverberate as though conjured up by a cinephile’s wistful spell. The breezy and sumptuous tone used to rebuild this legendary dream factory—where so many ambitions turned sour—might even connect Once Upon a Time in Hollywood thematically to other similar radiographies of the industry, like The Big Knife (1955) by Robert Aldrich or the screwball comedy Bombshell (1933) by Victor Fleming.

It’s odd reminiscing about the nightclub scene from Bombshell, filmed at the now demolished Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, or about The Motion Picture Herald‘s review of Bombshell as “one of the funniest, speediest, most nonsensical pictures ever to hit a screen.” Indeed, Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy’s characters share a similar relationship dynamic to Rick and Cliff’s. Bombshell is partially a satire of the stardom years of Clara Bow (Jean Harlow’s Lola Burns), arguably the first Hollywood “It girl.” Lee Tracy’s E. J. Hanlon invokes the pioneer film producer B. P. Schulberg, whose last film was City Without Men (1943). Schulberg also produced Clara Bow’s Wings, which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture at the first Oscar ceremony in 1929.

In his ninth film, Tarantino has again incited abundant controversy—over his treatment of Bruce Lee, over Sharon Tate having little dialogue, along with accusations of being “obscenely regressive”—but I see it as his most sincere and optimistic film to date, despite its puzzling flashbacks and Cliff’s unreliable memory. What distinguished a typical Tarantino film was its sarcastic tone and fetishization of violence; in that regard Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is atypical, because its approach mimics those “good times” of the ’60s.

What remains a constant is Tarantino’s avoidance of melodrama, which differentiates him from Scorsese, Stone, or Paul Thomas Anderson. More in that line, of mixing nihilist hilarity with violent situations, is Matthew David Wilder—an underrated screenwriter who combined underground crudity with absurdist humor in Paul Schrader’s insane thriller Dog Eat Dog (2016). Within his often effectist style, this is somehow Tarantino’s Roche limit, the closest distance a celestial body can come to a planet like Earth without getting pulled apart.

The song Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon by Paul Revere & The Raiders marks a pivotal sequence, the clash between the inscrutable American (symbolized by Cliff) and the destructive subculture (symbolized by the Manson clan) that darkened and dimmed our immediate future. By the way, there is a Saturn’s Moon named Mimas, also known as Saturn I or the Death Star, whose existence is something of a miracle after it suffered a huge impact that caused its giant scar of a crater, called Herschel. Fractures are visible on Mimas on the opposite side of Herschel, indicating that the impact had the potential to disintegrate the moon. But it didn’t.

How big a hit can a planet or moon or scenario take before being utterly obliterated? Incomprehensibly, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the maniacal potential to disintegrate the Hollywood scene crashes against its own madness and perishes. Momentarily, Mimas seemed to be crashing into Saturn’s rings. But this proved an optical illusion caused by the way the image was taken. Likewise, cinematic illusion or simulation can make us appreciate things that are not actually there.

A film doesn’t have to hold all the answers, but it should have that almost-destroying impact when it depicts such a dark period of social upheaval. Despite its self-indulgence and banality, Tarantino’s ninth film establishes itself as another of his absurd masterworks. “Every actor in his heart believes everything bad that’s printed about him,” Orson Welles once said. And Rick Dalton may have believed so. But as Cliff retorts to him: “You’re Rick Dalton—don’t ever forget it.” Source:

Kim Morgan's interview (excerpted from Sight & Sound, September 2019): As Tarantino said, “Sharon does her pratfall, our audience in the theatre laughs. So, I love that Sharon’s getting a laugh. The real Sharon Tate gets a laugh... When Sharon’s on screen we need to slow everything down. Just slow the whole damn thing down and just hang out with her… it’s about behavior; it’s about what people in Los Angeles do. You throw the things you don’t care about out of focus and you throw sharp focus on the things you care about – so… I’m looking out the window and see Los Angeles out in front of me and I’m being more selective about what I’m looking at as opposed to Jacques Demy in Model Shop (1969).”

QT: “Rick Dalton would have worked with guys like Paul Wendkos… If he was lucky, he would have worked with Phil Karlson, Leslie Martinson, people like that. One of the things about the actors of that era [and Rick Dalton], like I said, they were status conscious, so they would love to be in a Burt Kennedy western. Not because they think Burt Kennedy is the greatest director in the world, but because he makes movies for Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox.”

Rick has a William Witney's The Golden Stallion poster hanging in his house. QT: Well, people have given me some things – like Films in Review, in the 1970s – had a piece on Whitney that was really cool. And somebody sent me a Cahiers du Cinéma article… but they were talking about random things… It was kind of funny because I went to a big event in France and Bertrand Tavernier spoke about me at the event and he said, “Quentin is a film fan and a film scholar. And I am a film fan and a film scholar. And we have similar tastes and similar obsessions and interests. However, I have one thing over Tarantino that he will never have! I have it and I’m very proud that I have this over him. I have met William Witney! And he will never meet William Witney!” (laughs) His family passed on to him my admiration… But he was so unknown that he wasn’t even included in the Oscar Farewells.

QT: I actually don’t think Roman [Polanski] would have cottoned to Rick. I think Roman would have been immediately suspicious of a guy like Rick… Polanski had problems with John Cassavettes, he had problems with McQueen too… He hated McQueen, and McQueen didn’t like him. When they, Roman and Sharon [in the movie] show up at the Playboy Mansion, and Sharon runs up to Steve, Roman didn’t like it, but Steve was one of her big friends when she moved out here, so he had to put up with it. But the first thing McQueen does is he picks her up and spin her around… so that’s the kind of dynamic they have. If you also look at Edd Byrnes, his Italian western career is, more or less, what I modelled Rick’s career on – his Italian spaghetti western career. And when he came back it was like he wasn’t even famous anymore… His name didn’t mean anything. And it was pretty degrading frankly.

But then that changed when he was put in Grease, because his whole persona was brought up again, and you have the whole aspect of mothers taking their daughters to take Travolta, and saying, “Well my Travolta in my day was that guy.” And then that actually made him famous again.

QT: Burt Reynolds' joke used to be “Navajo Joe, a movie so bad they walked out on it on airplanes.” Even when I got on the phone with him, I was like, “OK, I got a bone to pick with you, you’ve talked shit about Navajo Joe forever and you’re wrong.” [He asks], “What movie?” [I say], “Navajo Joe.” [Burt says], “You can’t like that movie!” “[I say], “Yes, of course I like that movie, it’s fantastic and Sergio Corbucci is like one of the great western directors of all time.” [And Burt says], “Well I didn’t say I didn’t like Sergio! Sergio was great!” (laughs) Rick and Cliff are the Hollywood insiders who have become outsiders.

KM: And I love that Cliff lives right next to the drive-in (and that gorgeous shot) – movies all around… I also thought, wow that would be great!

QT: That’s the One from the Heart section of the movie (laughs) where everything is slightly larger than life… but I love that about it. The thing is, Leo’s around ten years younger than me or Brad. Leo didn’t grow up watching The Rifleman or anything like that, so those kinds of shows were all brand new to him. So, I watched a bunch of Wanted: Dead or Alive [starring Steve McQueen] so I could cherry-pick the episodes [for Leo] because it was the closest to Rick Dalton’s Bounty Law. But the guy and the episode he went nuts over – and you’re gonna get a kick out of this – is the Wanted: Dead or Alive with Ralph Meeker and James Coburn. So, we’re talking about it, and literally, his eyes light up and he’s like, “Who the fuck was that guy?”

And I go, “That’s Ralph Meeker.” [DiCaprio says,] “He was fucking amazing!” He’d already seen Paths of Glory, and then he watches The Naked Spur and Kiss Me Deadly and I think I gave him Glory Alley and I sent him The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. I realized one of the things that Meeker does that makes him so powerful and he does it in all of his scenes in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is when he’s having a confrontation, he just doesn’t blink. And there’s really only one way to do that. You just have to work on the muscles of your eyes and everything and it takes control and it’s a hard thing to do. So, we go do the movie and then I go to Leo and say, “Guess who does a full-on Meeker in this movie?” He goes, “Who?” [I say,] “Dakota Fanning [as Manson Family member Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme].”

In the scene behind the screen she doesn’t blink. It’s a full-on Meeker. And, she knows: “If I blink, I lose the scene.” And she can control her eyes and she can lock it in for the course of a scene. It has the same power it has with Meeker in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. And she’s the most formidable character Cliff comes across. She’s like a concrete pillar on the other side of that screen door. And when she acquiesces, it’s kind of sinister, because she had won the stare-off. Source:

Monday, August 26, 2019

Theory about Cliff Booth in Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood"

Did Once Upon A Time In Hollywood's Cliff Booth really kill his wife? Quentin Tarantino's 9th film largely ties things up quite neatly - and violently - at the end. However, one of the biggest questions the film leaves behind is what really happened to Cliff Booth's wife Billie? Throughout the first half of the movie, there are a number of allusions to Cliff killing his wife, which is somewhere between a dark rumor on Hollywood lots, with various whispers going around about him and some people we meet believing he truly did it. Zoe Bell (who plays Randy's wife Janet) answered with uncertainty: "I reckon it’s a matter of Cliff having that kind of character where he doesn’t really care if other people like him or don’t like him. I think that probably really rubbed quite opinionated people the wrong way, and Janet is definitely an opinionated person. I just don’t think he cares enough to try to dissuade people from the beliefs they have around him, and that probably puts people like Janet off. Just that there’s a possibility that he may have killed his wife, or that maybe she killed herself or it was an accident — that it’s sort of shrouded with mystery just speaks to the character that he is."

Tarantino frames the key mentions of the death in a flashback, and the circumstances ostensibly just before it happens as a flashback-within-a-flashback. It's a hazy memory, which is our first indicator that things aren't quite as they seem. The context of the memory, and the memory-in-a-memory, is important. This isn't a scene where a regretful Cliff is thinking about how he killed his wife, or at least it doesn't seem that way. It's instead him ruminating on how that ill-fated boating trip, where his wife did die in some way, has come to define his entire career, and that makes more sense if he didn't actually do it. We hear the waves at the end, which suggests this was an accident, and that makes the death of Billie a greater tragedy, but also makes Cliff's own story tragic as well. While Cliff Booth is a fictional person, Tarantino does draw upon some real people for the character and his story in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Like much of Rick Dalton can be found in Burt Reynolds, so too can Cliff be seen in Reynolds' friend and stuntman Hal Needham. 

If Cliff killed his wife, it's more likely that Tarantino would show it, but instead this ties not only into his mythologizing of Hollywood's past, but touches on the idea of assumed guilt, and the way rumor can spread around the system. It's a delicate line to try and walk on, but given where Cliff's story goes, it only really works if he is innocent. If Cliff didn't kill his wife, then his arc works much better. He's a man haunted by ghosts, and has been punished by Hollywood - and yet, in the end, finds a sense of redemption by becoming the hero, after so long just being the stunt double. That's much more in fitting with the kind of fantasy story Tarantino is telling in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Cliff's actions throughout the film - and in particular his uses of violence - are typically justified within its internal logic. His wife dying was a tragic accident, which then loops into Once Upon A Time In Hollywood being the tragedy - and redemption - of Cliff Booth. Source: 

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties" by Tom O'Neill

There's at least two 'points' to the story of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The first is stopping the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends which was a historical tragic event. It's a cathartic 'what if?' scenario where over the top violence is almost Tarantino's (and potentially the audience's) anger being taken out on the real world murders. Tarantino went for the ultimate catharsis, and let us enjoy a world where things don't have to be so bad. The second is the resurgence of Rick Dalton's career. Throughout the movie we see him come to terms with his failing career, he then starts to take acting more seriously which leads him abroad for search of work. At the end of the movie before the big showdown, it's revealed that Dalton is going to sell his house after his time in Rome as he's finally accepted his career is effectively over (him selling the house is symbolic of him abandoning the Hollywood dream). So as the movie ends we see Sharon Tate is alive and Ricky Dalton's career is possibly going to have another chance. Hence the two 'points' of the story converge. Al Pacino's character mentions earlier in the film about how the good guy always stomps the bad guy in films at the time. I think Tarantino was trying to invoke that kind of storytelling that was common in 60's cinema. Source:

Faking a “Hippie Crash Pad”: Dr. Jolly West performed Jack Ruby's psychiatric evaluation, and he was in charge of UCLA's department of psychiatry and the Neuropsychiatric Institute for 20 years. Late in the fall of 1966, Dr. Jolly West arrived in San Francisco to study hippies and LSD. The Bay Area had seen an unprecedented migration of middle-class youth and an explosion of recreational drug use. West secured a government grant and took a yearlong sabbatical from his professorship at the University of Oklahoma, nominally to pursue a fellowship at Stanford, although that school had no record of his participation in a program there. The summer of love had yet to come, and the Tate–LaBianca murders were still years away, but West would effectively predict them both. In a 1967 psychiatry textbook, he’d contributed a chapter called “Hallucinogens,” warning students of a “remarkable substance” percolating through college campuses across the United States. It was LSD, known to leave users “unusually susceptible and emotionally labile” as it caused a “loosening of ego structure.” That language was reminiscent of the “reprogramming” spiel that Charles Manson would soon develop, urging his acid-tripping followers to “negate their egos.”

When Dr. West cautioned against the “LSD cults” springing up in America’s “bohemian” quarters, he described exactly the kind of disenchanted wanderers who’d flock to a personality like Manson’s in the years to come. West had a hunch that alienated kids “with a pathological desire to withdraw from reality” would crave “shared forbidden activity in a group setting to provide a sense of belonging.” Another paper by West, 1965’s “Dangers of Hypnosis,” foresaw the rise of dangerous groups led by “crackpots” who hypnotized their followers. Contrary to the prevailing science at the time, West asserted that hypnosis could make people so pliable that they’d violate their moral codes. Scarier still, they’d have no memory of it afterward. West cited two cases to back up his argument: a double murder in Copenhagen committed by a hypno-programmed man, and a “military offense” induced experimentally at an undisclosed U.S. Army base. He “personally knew” of two other instances, and he’d “heard on excellent authority” of more, but he didn’t elaborate. Later, I’d get a sense of what, or who, he might have had in mind. When he arrived in Haight-Ashbury, then, West was the only scientist in the world who’d predicted the emergence of potentially violent “LSD cults.”

Getting his bearings at the HAFMC, Dr. West arranged for the use of a crumbling Victorian house on nearby Frederick Street, where he opened what he described as a “laboratory” disguised as a “hippie crash pad.” The “pad” opened in June 1967, at the dawn of the summer of love. Who was paying for all this? According to records in West’s files, his “crash pad” was funded by the Foundations Fund for Research in Psychiatry, Inc., which had bankrolled a number of his other projects, too, across decades and institutions. I concluded that the Foundations Fund was a front for the CIA. Before Dr. West moved to the HAFC, he’d supervised a similar study in Oklahoma City. The title of the project was "Mass Conversion." As I was soon to see, its funds came from Sidney J. Gottlieb, the head of the CIA’s MKULTRA program. West’s excitement was a sham, his feelings for hippies dripping with condescension. He soon concluded that the constellation of sex, drugs, and communalism shining over the Haight that summer was “doomed to fail”: “The very chemicals they use will inevitably enervate them as individuals and bleed the energies of the hippie movement to its death.” He called this an “ineffable tragedy,” but it’s hard to imagine he saw it that way. For West, the failure of sixties idealism was the most desirable outcome—one that he was quite possibly working toward.

Senate investigators condemned MKULTRA unanimously. Kennedy branded it “perverse” and “corrupt,” an erosion of the “freedom of individuals and institutions in the name of national security.” The Times had called MKULTRA “a secret twenty-five year, twenty-five million dollar effort by the CIA to learn how to control the human mind.” The CIA’s new director, Stansfield Turner, swore that he’d sent all existing MKULTRA files to the Justice Department, which would mount a thorough investigation. Still, between the destruction of records and the subpoenaed agents’ sudden memory lapses, everyone knew that “the full facts,” as the New York Times editorialized, “may never come out.”  In 2001 I found letters between West and his CIA handler, “Sherman Grifford.” I didn’t recognize the name, so as soon as I got home, I began tearing through every book I had that mentioned MKULTRA, hoping that it would jump out at me. In the first and most definitive of the bunch, John Marks’s The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, there it was, buried in a footnote: “CIA operators and agents all had cover names,” it said, “even in classified documents. Sidney Gottlieb was ‘Sherman R. Grifford.’”

In April 1953, Sidney Gottlieb became head of the secret Project MKUltra, which was activated on the order of CIA director Allen Dulles. In this capacity, Gottlieb had administered LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs to unwitting subjects and financed psychiatric research and development of "techniques that would crush the human psyche". So West really had lied all those years. Not only was he a part of MKULTRA, he’d corresponded with the “Black Sorcerer” of MKULTRA himself. Preserved in his files, the letters picked up midstream, with no prologue or preliminaries. The first one was dated June 11, 1953, a mere two months after MKULTRA started. West was then chief of psychiatric service at the airbase at Lackland, Texas. Addressing Gottlieb as “S.G.,” he outlined the experiments he proposed to perform using a combination of psychotropic drugs and hypnosis, honing “techniques for implanting false information into particular subjects… or for inducing in them specific mental disorders.” West wanted to reverse someone’s belief system without his knowledge and he hoped to create “couriers” who would carry “a long and complex message” embedded secretly in their minds. All of these were the goals of MKULTRA, and they bore a striking resemblance to Manson’s accomplishments with his followers more than a decade later. -"Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties" (2019) by Tom O'Neill

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Helter Skelter vs Chaos: Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties

Joan Didion famously said that the Sixties ended on August 9, 1969, with the murders of Sharon Tate and six others at the hands of the so-called Manson Family. For 50 years, the official narrative has held that the murders were initiated by Manson to appear as if they were committed by the Black Panthers with the goal of starting a race war. That was prosecutor Vince Bugliosi’s theory of the case. Bugliosi argued at trial that Manson had gotten this idea of “Helter Skelter” from a Beatles song. That has remained the conventional wisdom — It now appears that this version of the story may be just as fanciful as Quentin Tarantino’s fictional version Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood. In 1999, investigative journalist Tom O’Neill was commissioned to write a story for what was then Premiere magazine, marking the 30th anniversary of the Tate/LaBianca murders. Thus began for O’Neill a 20-year odyssey into the dark world of Charles Manson.

Tom O'Neill: Manson was released in March of ’67 from Terminal Island, which is an island prison off of the coast of Long Beach in Los Angeles County. He immediately violated his parole. He went right up to the Bay Area and just turned up at the parole office there to announce that he was not going to live in Los Angeles, despite his orders from the prisons, and that whether they liked it or not, he was staying in San Francisco. Rather than immediately send him back to prison like they would any other prisoner, they didn’t. Vince Bugliosi kept that out of the trial and out of Helter Skelter. He said that he went there with permission, but I’ve got documents showing that it was the opposite of that. He was assigned to a parole officer named Roger Smith, who was a researcher getting his … I think it was his master’s or PhD at Berkeley School of Criminology. He was also involved with something called the San Francisco Project, so it was a special study that would have usually entailed a much closer observation of a parole client. What you’ll find out in my book Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties and what I got through a very lengthy Freedom of Information Act process. I got his records of his parole during those two years. In that first year in particular, he was arrested much more than had ever been reported before, and was constantly relieved without charges. Manson had immunity from that. Roger Smith had him reporting for his parole appointments, his weekly appointments at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in the summer of ’67, where he was also preparing a study on amphetamines and communes in the youth of the Haight Ashbury during the Summer of Love. That mysterious year that Manson kind of transformed from this unremarkable federal parolee who could barely read or write, into the Manson we know today, or knew until he passed away as this kind of cult leader who had this great charisma and magnetism. That year was pretty much ignored by Bugliosi in Helter Skelter. I was wondering what happened that first year. So you’ll see I did a deep dive into Manson’s life in San Francisco and in the Bay Area in ’67 through early ’68. Well, he left there about May of ’68 and went down to Los Angeles. That’s a very important period in the life of him and his group and his followers. I think there was a reason Vince chose not to write about that. I think he gave it a page and a half in his otherwise pretty thorough account of the history of the Manson family.

I researched about Jolly West, Dr. Louis Jolyon West, who was a psychiatric researcher from Oklahoma who took a sabbatical in ’66, went to Stanford to study. He was never really clear about what he was studying there. He just was very vague and said he was going to write a book about LSD and its influence on youth. He went to the clinic and David Smith gave him an office in June of ’67 to recruit “hippies” to study for his LSD research. In later years, in ’77, he was identified by Seymour Hersh, a kind of groundbreaking New York Times journalist… in ’77, Seymour Hersh wrote a cover story [for] the New York Times, identifying Jolly West as one of six subcontractor researchers of the MKUltra Program, which was a CIA secret research project to create what’s popularly known as Manchurian Candidates, which are people who, through their unwitting… let’s just say without their knowledge are programmed to kill, to become basically hypno-programmed assassins. West was part of that project. He died in ’99, and through a long process I got access to his personal papers and found that he actually not only was a part of MKUltra, but he wrote the blueprint for how they were going to operate and hide their research; that it was going to be conducted at prisons and universities and psychiatric hospitals and in the general population. Source:

Friday, August 09, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, self-referential with a gigantic heart behind it

Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood feels more focused on the adventures of fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rick’s stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) than it does on Sharon Tate's (Margot Robbie). But Dalton and Booth are only in the story, really, because they happen to live next door to Tate and Polanski. And one gets the sense that Dalton’s primary purpose is to serve as a fictional reflection of Tate, to demonstrate the amount of effort and skill that goes into creating a decent performance on a network pilot for an unmemorable TV western. Sharon Tate, is, as Tarantino said himself, the heart of the film and he “became very enamored of her” while researching her life, he told Entertainment Weekly. Tarantino keeps the camera close on Tate’s face as she soaks in the reactions from her fellow moviegoers. They’re laughing at the right spots! All her hard work has paid off. Her art—the art we see Dalton struggling with during the crosscuts, demonstrating the difficulty of making even pulpy trash—is bringing happiness to people. The joy on her face upends our sense of her story: She’s a living, breathing person, one with joys, hopes, talent and work ethic. She is also an idea and a near-perfect idol—a rarity for Tarantino, whose characters, regardless of gender, are usually fundamentally flawed in some way. 

The production design of Tarantino to LA in 1969 feels like a trippy time warp, especially the recreation of Hollywood and Westwood. The monsters of Manson’s cult are not given similar treatment. At the Spahn Movie Ranch, they are generally seen as a sort of floating menace, dead-eyed with clenched jaws when they aren’t dead-eyed and cackling. Manson is barely in the movie, suggesting that Tarantino hopes to downplay the idea that these were innocents under the sway of a Svengali. Interestingly, Polanski himself is barely in the film as well. That the two men who have come to define Sharon Tate are largely absent from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” feels deliberate.

At one point, family member Sadie (Mikey Madison) suggests that, rather than killing those in the Polanski household, they should instead wreak violence on Dalton's. Sadie’s point is so ham-handedly made and put in the mouth of such an obvious villain that it might feel, for a moment, that Tarantino is playing a trick on us. Sadie’s brief monologue is the cinematic equivalent of a half-thought-through think piece written by a 20-something who thinks she has something to say on the nature of violence in art. Sadie wasn’t inspired to go out and commit murder by what she saw on TV when she was a kid: She’s simply grasping about for an excuse. 

If only the old-line Hollywood people of the fifties and sixties had maintained their pride of place—if only the times hadn’t changed, if only the keys to the kingdom hadn’t been handed over to the decadents of the sixties—-then both Hollywood and the world would be a better, safer, happier place. There’s no slur delivered more bitterly by Cliff and Rick than “hippie,” and their narrow but intense experiences in the course of the film are set up to bear out the absolute aptness of their hostility. Tarantino's latest film is a haunting valentine letter to Hollywood – and perhaps to his own career. It’s hard to believe that in 50 years’ time anyone will make a love letter to today’s Hollywood. Tarantino's ninth film is possibly his most profound one. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking look at what might have been, almost elegiac in its sadness and its desire to reconfigure a world filled with ugliness, hate, horror and hurt.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film that empowers some of the female characters while also fetishizing them. A film that glorifies white macho men while also showing how pathetic they can be. A film which views the Hollywood system as both meaningless and maybe the only thing that really matters. An ending that is both the most feel good moment of the year, and the most downer ending of the year when we are reminded of the reality. It really is the film that sums up Tarantino as a filmmaker the best. Self-indulgent, self-referential, awkwardly derivative and flawed, but you've gotta look past all of it and see the gigantic heart behind it. Source:

Do Tarantino's critics not get his film, or are they just cynically leeching off its success? With the film release, delivering the strongest-ever US opening in the 'Pulp Fiction' director’s career, earnest woke jargon-filled thinkpieces have proliferated about a work of cinema that is more a hermetic and personal wish-fulfilment fantasy than a political manifesto. Why they miss the point when they claim the film is racist against Bruce Lee? The scene where Brad Pitt’s down-on-his-luck stuntman Cliff Booth can’t keep his mouth shut during Lee’s self-glorifying comparison between himself and Cassius Clay on set, in which the two end up sparring, is meant to give us the essence of Cliff’s character. He is a devil-may-care rebel with integrity and a talent for fighting, who can end up in self-inflicted troublesome scenarios. Also, this scene is actually a flashback which comes from Cliff's not too reliable memory. Actually… What if there is nothing wrong with masculinity, as it is played by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio? Or with male friendship? Or nostalgia? As for hippies, their culture is a dramatically interesting intrusion into the lives of the two central characters struggling with their own self-doubt of incipient middle age. Source:

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Tarantino's self-critique in "Once Upon a Time In Hollywood", Kate Bosworth to play Sharon Tate

Rick Dalton's existential crisis is first set off when the agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) tells him that his streak of playing villains will only continue to pigeonhole him moving forward. Instead, Schwarz says, he should move to Rome and boost his name with a few Spaghetti Westerns. The plot's organizing principle is four dates—February 8 and 9, 1969, and August 8 and 9, 1969—the latter the dates of the Manson Murders. A standout scene involves Dalton in one of his first Italian film roles. Before shooting a pivotal scene, he runs into a precocious eight-year-old actress (Julia Butters) who takes her duties seriously and challenges him to do the same. Later, as the pair share a scene together, Dalton finally lives up to his latent acting talent, and DiCaprio gives a seething, maniacal monologue made for an Oscar reel.

After the scene, the young actress whispers to him, "That was the best acting I've ever seen in my life," and he tears up. It's far and away DiCaprio's best moment in the film, and it's one of the film's most sincere moments. Deep into “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Charles Manson’s followers play an increasing role in the events, an eeriness sets in. Sharon Tate is seen always driving around a Black Porsche, which in real life belonged to her ex-fiancé Jay Sebring. Polanski had bought Tate a red Ferrari, which is never shown in the film. Perhaps an intentional Fuck You to Polanski on Tarantino's part is the fact that he emphasizes the Tate & Sebring relationship so much.

In 1968, the so-called Manson Family moved to Spahn Ranch, convincing the eponymous owner (played by Bruce Dern) to let them reside there rent-free in exchange for labor. The site―fairly dilapidated by the time Manson and his disciples took over―came to represent the counterculture’s evil underbelly. Tarantino said many movie stars aren’t the divos/as we like to think they are, a theory that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” echoes in its humanizing depiction of Rick’s career dip. It’s definitely easy to read the third act of this movie as, basically, good old fashioned Hollywood heroes snatching back history from the counter culture. Manson was no hippie; in fact, he was quite the opposite. He just took advantage of hippie culture to build a cult of monsters. Also, it almost feels that Tarantino, like a leader of the Gen X, is trying to metaphorically beat the shit out of those damn Millennials. My initial take on the scene where Cliff is seen bickering with his wife Billie (Rebecca Gayheart) was Tarantino playing a trick on us. You don’t see anything actually happening in the flashback and then Cliff shakes his head and continues fixing the antenna.

In a Tarantino movie, there’s no reason to not show violence if it did happen, so I think it didn’t. Others have said this alludes to the mystery around the death of Natalie Wood, since Cliff's wife Billie talks of her sister Natalie in the same scene. Possible spoilers: When a harpoon gun is loaded, you'll see the harpoon sticking out of the end. Cliff's gun had no harpoon, and the end of the barrel was just an empty hole. Cliff's harpoon gun wasn't loaded on the boat scene, so I don't think he caused his wife's death. If we follow Natalie Wood's reference in consonance with Cliff's flashback scene, we can deduce it was intended to show her death was accidental.

The movie is maddening at times because it doesn't create any distinctions between reality and film. Yet that's what the film is getting at. That when working in movies there is no clear divide between reality and fantasy. You're always crossing between two different worlds, between fantasy and nightmare. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that conveys the enticing, surreal, terrifying nature of Hollywood better than this one. Richard Brody protests in the New Yorker Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is too white and takes issue with the line in which Leonard DiCaprio’s character Rick sheds tears, and Brad Pitt’s character Cliff tells him, “Don’t let the Mexicans see you crying.” Brody points out that a movie villain played by DiCaprio’s actor character refers to a Mexican as a “beaner,” but then again, villains do tend to say mean things. Brody asserts that “Tarantino delivers a ridiculously white movie, complete with a nasty dose of white resentment; the only substantial character of color, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), is played as a haughty parody, and gets dramatically humiliated.” Well, the Bruce Lee character is a massive jerk, though. I’m not sure “white resentment” comes into play here. Source:

Together, Rick and Cliff form a dyad of old-school silver-screen masculinity, almost cartoonishly macho. Cliff is so tough that he barely seems like a real human being; he's an allegorical avatar of male movie violence, so his character seems to reflect Tarantino's self-critique in certain scenes. Cliff therefore symbolizes all Tarantino feels most ambivalent about: the film violence he's created but that has tainted his career, the machismo he admires but has none of himself. As the third act of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood begins, the Rolling Stones’s “Out of Time” starts to play. The chorus (“baaaby, baaaby you’re out of time”) is like a mean Ronettes song: “You’re obsolete, my baby, my poor old-fashioned baby.” Once Upon a Time In Hollywood builds toward a “what if” denouement that pits Hollywood’s old time actors against the young nihilists of 1969 in a literal battle for survival. Tarantino has created a movie that dwells longingly on Hollywood’s past, while trying to make the case for its relevance in Hollywood’s future. Source:

Kate Bosworth will play Sharon Tate for Michael Polish's drama Tate, which Myriad Pictures introduced to Cannes in May. Principal photography is set to commence later this year in Budapest. Tate aims to switch the focus from Sharon Tate’s tragic death 50 years ago to exploring her life’s contributions. The film will chronicle Tate from her early days as a Texas beauty queen, to her work in film and fashion, her status as 1960s ‘It’ girl, and her relationships. “Michael Polish’s script is a compelling portrait of a gifted and talented actress,” said Myriad chief Kirk D’Amico. “This film will celebrate Sharon Tate’s extraordinary life as it intersected with the turbulent sixties, especially in fashion, film and music.” Polish added, “This film will explore the life of Sharon Tate including her complicated but romantic relationship with her husband Roman Polanski. We are very grateful to have the opportunity bringing this script to life in a deeply personal manner including many details that have never been publicly shared until now.” Myriad Pictures’ credits include Margin Call, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, and The Last Word. Tate is the only project Debra Tate approved of from the beginning, until Tarantino accepted her contributions regarding Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. “At long last I have found filmmakers who are interested in the life story of my sister Sharon. Other projects have been a real source of pain in their insensitivity and gross exploitation of my sister," she said, according to Deadline. Source:

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Transgressive as hell: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Hippie Trip

There's no way the LSD-drug culture of the hippies in the 60s didn't lead to the cultural downfall in the U.S. Prior to that, there was still a sense of innocence and self control, for the most part, but the hippie 60s counterculture brought hallucinogens and crazy people like Manson and his flower children druggies into the mix, and what Tarantino is basically saying in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is that he's blaming them for the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Rick Dalton feels depressed when he's saddled with playing the bad guy in random cameos for TV westerns. Dalton has reached a crossroads in his career in tandem with American culture itself. A pushy talent agent (Al Pacino, in a fleeting caricature) urges him to consider the ramifications: “It’s gonna have a psychological effect on how people see you,” he says. There’s a sincerity to The Wrecking Crew scene that suggests Tarantino’s affection for Sharon Tate runs deep. The dark cloud of history lingers over even the lighter scenes, and generates an intriguing suspense. Tarantino plays with intricate set pieces propelled by extreme unpredictability. Cliff follows Pussycat to the abandoned Spahn Ranch, which Manson’s satanic commune has transformed into its menacing lair. There’s even a late monologue from one of the Manson killers about the fetishization of murder and violence in entertainment that registers as Tarantino reducing his most conservative critics to the worst possible caricatures. Tarantino is most fascinated by the fact that Manson ultimately wound up in Hollywood and not some other place. The factors that might drive girls to follow a man like Manson might also be linked to what caused Rick Dalton’s star to start fading. Tarantino is showing us how old and new Hollywood could have combined together peacefully and naturally by showing Rick and Sharon’s meeting at the very end. In Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Tarantino argues that the highest duty of masculinity, as epitomized by Pitt’s character, is the defense of femininity, as epitomized by Robbie’s. Source:

Sharon Tate—cipher, beauty, Texas pageant girl, and Euro sophisticate—was a character Tarantino could have invented. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood teaches us that Charles Manson and his Family should in no way be glorified. They were not intelligent, not kind, and they had no coherent message or critique. They were just evil, just Nazis beneath their Hippie aesthetics and it seems clear from the climax of the film what Tarantino thinks they deserve. On August 8, 1969, Tate was two weeks from giving birth and had dined at her favorite restaurant, El Coyote Cafe, with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger, returning at about 10:30 p.m to Cielo Drive. In their shock and confusion, the victims offered money to the Manson Family intruders, begging them not to hurt anyone. Sebring protested that Tate was pregnant and tried to defend her, but Watson shot him twice, puncturing a lung. Sebring crumpled onto the zebra-skin rug by the fireplace. Susan Atkins murdered Tate's baby, stabbing him in front of her dying eyes. Sharon Tate was the last to die, still bound by the neck to the dead body of her former lover, Jay Sebring.

Quentin Tarantino: "I questioned whether I wanted to let the Manson family into my head that much. I came close to abandoning this entire project because I didn’t know if I wanted it in my life. It bums me out that the younger viewers don’t know more than they do. On the other hand, they’re almost too quick to look up everything. Whenever I give my film writing to a millennial to read, they can never get through it because they want to Google every name I mention. I mean, you don’t have to know everybody I’m talking about here. Every film book I ever read, I expected the guy to know more than me."

What’s really got these critics worked up, however, isn’t the violence or the nostalgia factor. What’s rattling them more than they realize is that this movie is transgressive as hell. Only Tarantino would have the balls to make something like it, something that embraces values that people don’t want anymore. We can’t have a movie like this. It affirms things the culture wants killed. If men aren’t encouraged to cry in public, where will we end up? And the bottom line is: Audiences don’t want to see this kind of thing anymore. The audience wants the kind of movies the justice critics want. But the audience gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the biggest opening of Tarantino’s career. This sort of praise for the old days of Hollywood may feel outdated. Is Tarantino making a reactionary statement or simply imparting historical justice? For the Manson clan to kill someone was tantamount to “breaking off a minute piece of some cosmic cookie,” as Squeaky Fromme later put it.

Dr. Lewis Yablonsky, a sociologist who’d written a book called The Hippie Trip, argued that many hippies were “alienated people”: "Even when they act as if they love, they can be totally devoid of true compassion. That is the reason why they can kill so matter-of-factly… Many hippies are socially almost dead inside. Some require massive emotions to feel anything at all. They need bizarre, intensive acts to feel alive—sexual acts, acts of violence, nudity, every kind of Dionysian thrill." In 1969 the underground press in L.A. had a swell of sympathy for Manson. Bernardine Dohrn, of the Weather Underground (a faction of Students for a Democratic Society, founded on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan) put it most outrageously: “Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room, far out! The Weathermen dig Charles Manson.” After the murders, the media had blamed Hollywood’s “unreality and hedonism,” as the New York Times’s Stephen Roberts put it, for having fostered 'a freaky atmosphere'. Roberts, then Los Angeles bureau chief of the Times, talked to a lot of Hollywood people. Bugliosi quoted him in Helter Skelter: “All the stories had a common thread: That somehow the victims had brought the murders on themselves. The attitude was summed up in the epigram: ‘Live freaky, die freaky.’” In the last 50 years since the murders, the members of the Manson family have been denied parole over 100 times. Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme, now 70, is still not sorry about what happened: "It's hard to be sorry when you're going by your heart." Source: