Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is his first one not distributed by Harvey Weinstein.
It is a semi-fictionalisation of events around Charles Manson’s Family’s murder of Sharon Tate and her associates in 1969.
The film is well worth seeing and seems to capture the feel of late 60s Los Angeles very well. But it is hard not to consider the film in the light of the numerous allegations of sexual assault and rape made against Weinstein and Tarantino’s failure to act on reports, both from his then partner and from actors in his films, about Weinstein’s behaviour before they became public knowledge.
The film alters the history it is based on, and it is not a stretch to feel that Tarantino is suggesting that he himself would like to alter history himself.
The choice of 1969 and the Manson murders, sometimes viewed as when the hippy-late 60s turned dark and troubling, is thought-provoking.
There is a feminist critique of Tarantino’s films. I personally think it is somewhat unfair. Certainly, many of his films lack strong female characters, and this one too.
However, three of his films have had women as the central characters (both the Kill Bill films, and Jackie Brown). He has never portrayed women as sex objects.
Although Tate and some members of The Family are clearly intended to be “sexy” in this film, that seems in keeping with the plot and of the time. Despite Tarantino’s penchant for extreme violence, he has never used the titillating sexual violence, which is so widespread in film and television.
In Once Upon a Time, and elsewhere in his films, women are sometimes the protagonists of violence and sometimes the victims. However, the violence is not sexualised.
That said, I found the violence at the end of Once Upon a Time disturbing and revolting. It seems as though Tarantino feels he has to outdo himself with each subsequent film. Or maybe it’s just me growing older. But I find it hard to sit through.
I was uncomfortable during a scene where Sharon Tate goes to watch one of herself in her latest film. We can see her enjoying the film and the reaction of the audience to the film. but somehow our knowledge of her coming fate made it feel unpleasant.
The central character in Once Upon a Time is a fading, alcoholic, star trying to recapture his prime. In a pivotal scene, he rouses himself to remember his lines and give a commanding performance.
If it is a representation of how Tarantino feels about his art, then in Once Upon a Time, just like his hero, he pulls it off again, despite everything.