The year is 1969 and the place is Hollywood, and, as Bob Dylan indicated nearer the start of the decade, the times have been a-changing for some time now and it feels as if they will never be the same once the seventies hit. They certainly won't be for television actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who used to have a hit Western show he was the star of, but now that has ended is making his income through guest roles, usually as the heavy who gets bested at the end of the episode. As his agent (Al Pacino) points out, this is the way an acting career can fade, so he has suggested a solution: go to Italy and take the lead in Spaghetti Westerns. Rick is not happy...
Actually, in 1970 one of the biggest hits at the box office was a violent drama called Joe, where Peter Boyle played an Archie Bunker type who - spoiler! - ends the movie by taking a shotgun and blowing away a bunch of hippies he finds objectionable, with their drug taking, anti-Vietnam War, counterculture ways. Although that was released the year after the made-up events in this Quentin Tarantino written and directed film, its influence was all over it, and not in a winning manner either, for once the Manson Family murders of 1969 made concrete every prejudice against the hippies imaginable, proving to the moral majority they were an immoral minority, Joe became their hero.
Everyone who heard about the slaughter of movie star Sharon Tate and her friends that fateful August night could not help but put themselves in their place, and you can bet there were plenty of fantasies about what the reactionaries would have done to the scummy drop-outs commanded by Manson, who lorded over them and guided them to a bullshit race war he was mistaken in thinking he could spark. Just give me five minutes with Manson, or Tex, or Squeaky, or any of them at the Spahn Ranch, these fantasies would go, and they would never have got as far as they did. Which brought us to the deeply conservative myth-making (or rewriting) of Tarantino's efforts here.
The funny thing was, he evidently believed he was crafting a tribute to the days of his square-eyed, movie theatre-attending youth by packing every scene with as many references to the good old bad old days as possible. Rick and his stuntman buddy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are the last of their breed, like noble Native American tribesmen about to be wiped out by the pioneers of a new frontier, and there was a lot of sentimentality about the performers and directors who brought these entertainments to life. Indeed, realising he is headed for the scrapheap, Rick actually breaks down in tears more than once, standing in not only for the hasbeens Tarantino has a liking for revitalising with his own output, but those actors who were unlucky enough never to have been given a job by him and thus slipped into obscurity, recalled only by the dedicated buffs.
This first two hours were really quite warm and poignant, significant in the Western genre Rick and Cliff make their living from in that come 1970, the appetite for them would dramatically drop off and many cast members would have to adapt or see their paycheques dwindle. But this was lulling you into a false sense of security that in retrospect was setting the scene for the movies taking revenge on people who ruined the party for the old guard and corrupted the youth: we see Cliff going hand to hand with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and in what is possibly his character's reverie, but is definitely the director's, almost beating up the great kung fu exponent by flinging him into a car door for his arrogant boastfulness in conversation. Not for nothing did Lee's family and friends object - Tate's sister was won over by Tarantino's flattery, however.
This was a strong indication revisionism was being undertaken before that protracted and bloodthirsty finale, and moments of that were peppered throughout, all hinging on the possibilities of Tate (Margot Robbie) that were literally cut short that dreadful night. This sort of anger was understandable, but the horror flick method of recompense was objectionable unless you accepted violence could be beaten by even worse violence. When would that end? Just because it was an invented movie didn't mean a series of arrests before the actual incidents was out of the question. When Tarantino's friend Eli Roth made The Green Inferno, he did not have the excuses his hippy-dippy characters deserved their gory fate, but whereas this film's creepy flower children had it coming, it was too hard to side with the good guys exacting that vengeance when they were patently as dangerous as they were, only they had the protection of social respectability. If the whole affair did not make you uneasy, you needed to think on it more: the hippies may have changed, but Joe was set in his ways.
American writer/director and one of the most iconic filmmakers of the 1990s. The former video store clerk made his debut in 1992 with the dazzling crime thriller Reservoir Dogs, which mixed razor sharp dialogue, powerhouse acting and brutal violence in controversial style. Sprawling black comedy thriller Pulp Fiction was one of 1994's biggest hits and resurrected John Travolta's career, much as 1997's Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown did for Pam Grier.