Quentin Tarantino brings the Hollywood of 1969 roaring back to life in his new movie, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Set during the same hot summer when Charles Manson and his “family” terrified Los Angeles with a string of vicious murders, the film follows an actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman double (Brad Pitt) as the golden age of Hollywood is swept away by the inevitable forces of change.
Here’s everything we know about ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Arrives This Summer
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD comes to theatres on July 26, 2019. The movie was originally set for release two weeks later, on August 9. That August date will be the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders, which are the most famous crimes associated with Charles Manson and his “family.”
You Must See the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Trailers!
The first teaser trailer, above, was is terrific! (And also not entirely safe for work — cover the kids’ ears.) Considering some of the stuff we assume happens in this movie, given that Margot Robbie plays perhaps the most famous murder victim of 1969, it’s a very upbeat trailer.
And then there’s the first full ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD trailer, below, which arrived just as the film premiered in Cannes. It’s just as good, if not better than the first.
The film primarily shot from June 18, 2018, to November 1, 2018. At CinemaCon in April 2018, Tarantino said, “During the summer, little by little, block by block, we’ll be transforming Los Angeles into the psychedelic Hollywood of 1969.” He was true to his word, and for months in 2018, different parts of Los Angeles were dressed to look as they had 50 years in the past. You can see all of that effort in the footage.
Quentin Tarantino’s New Story
There has been a lot of misinformation about ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. The film was originally reported to be “Tarantino’s Charles Manson movie.” While Manson does appear and his actions have a huge influence on the story, just as they did on the real Los Angeles, the film is not really about Manson.
Let’s start with what the trailer reveals. Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a former TV Western star. He has worked for years with stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt). Sharon Tate (Robbie) makes an appearance in a few shots, and we get to see Cliff sparring with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), seemingly on the set of “The Green Hornet,” on which Lee co-starred as Kato. We also see a few shifty-looking young women, who are probably followers of Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). There’s even one shot of Manson himself, waving at the camera.
In a press release last year, Tarantino said it is a story “that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.” He went on to explain that Rick and Cliff are “struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor … Sharon Tate.”
Tarantino went on to say, “I’ve been working on this script for five years, as well as living in Los Angeles County most of my life, including in 1969, when I was 7 years old. I’m very excited to tell this story of an LA and a Hollywood that doesn’t exist anymore.”
The Film’s Backstory
Entire books have been written about how Los Angeles and the business of Hollywood changed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. There’s more than we can recount here. But a few things are important.
In the 1960s, the classic movie studio business model was starting to fail, in part due to competition from TV. Then, a few counterculture films like BONNIE AND CLYDE (above), THE GRADUATE and EASY RIDER became massive hits. Audiences were already tired of the old Hollywood style and all of the storytelling rules that came with it. Those films and many more became the first wave of New Hollywood, which gave rise to a fresh crop of filmmakers such as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
Into this new world, where rock musicians were rivaling movie stars in popularity, came Charles Manson. He wanted to get famous as a singer, but couldn’t cut it. The strangely charismatic Manson gathered a crew of hangers-on, many of whom were young women. He would manipulate them with drugs and sex. At the same time, he descended into his own madness, in which he prophesied an impending race war. The murders Manson orchestrated were meant to force a beginning to that race-based conflict.
Among the victims of Manson’s followers was Sharon Tate. She was a struggling actress married to Roman Polanski, then an up-and-coming director whose film ROSEMARY’S BABY had been a massive success in 1968. The murder of Tate, who was pregnant at the time of her death, terrified the city of Los Angeles. (That’s Tate above in Polanski’s 1967 film THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.)
And the title ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD refers to a whole collection of movies with similar titles. Two of the major ones were made by a big influence on Tarantino’s career: Sergio Leone, who made ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, both epics about different eras in American history.
Will Tarantino Change History Again?
The plentiful footage of Mike Moh as Bruce Lee has us wondering. Quentin Tarantino’s film INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS rewrote history by having the heroes kill Adolf Hitler in a movie theatre. DJANGO UNCHAINED certainly had elements of altered reality, as a former slave gets to take revenge on a slaver. Could Bruce Lee — or Rick and Cliff, with training from the kung fu star — somehow stop Charles Manson and his followers from carrying out their notorious actions?
Regardless, it’s great to see a faithful depiction of Bruce Lee. The late star’s family has been very protective of his image in the past couple decades, and it is no small thing that Tarantino was allowed to depict the icon in this film.
The Cast of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
OK, with all of that said, let’s talk about this movie’s dream team cast. There are a lot of people to cover! At CinemaCon 2018, Tarantino said this is “probably the closest to PULP FICTION that I have done,” which means a huge set of characters. Here are the big ones we know about.
The Main Stars
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, who spent the late ‘50s and early ‘60s starring in a Western TV series. He tried to become a movie star, but things didn’t work out. By the film’s period of 1969, he’s really struggling. One option he considers is going to do a “spaghetti Western” in Italy, which is how Clint Eastwood became super famous thanks to aforementioned director Sergio Leone. His neighbor is Sharon Tate.
Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth, who has been Rick Dalton’s stunt double for years. The two are also close friends.
Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, who is married to Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and pregnant with his child. Polanski was working on a movie in London when Tate was killed by Manson’s followers.
Bruce Dern plays George Spahn, the owner of Spahn Ranch, which for years was used as a Western movie and TV location. Spahn allowed Manson and his followers to live on the ranch for months. There’s a good chance that DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters are old friends with Spahn, and we see the ranch in the film’s full trailer. (Burt Reynolds was originally set to play Spahn, but Reynolds died in September 2018, before shooting his scenes.)
The Supporting Cast
Al Pacino appears as Marvin Schwarz, Rick Dalton’s agent, and Scoot McNairy plays Business Bob Gilbert, a character on the show Dalton starred in.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD will feature a wide variety of personalities who were part of the Hollywood scene in 1969. Damian Lewis plays action star Steve McQueen; the late Luke Perry plays Western TV actor Wayne Maunder; Mike Moh plays Bruce Lee; and Dreama Walker plays actress Connie Stevens.
Sharon Tate was close friends with hairstylist to the stars Jay Sebring, played by Emile Hirsch, and he was also at Tate’s home when Manson’s followers arrived on the night of August 8. Costa Ronin plays Wojciech Frykowski, a friend of Roman Polanski, and Samantha Robinson plays Abigail Folger, heiress to the Folger coffee fortune, who was sleeping with Frykowski. They were also at the Tate home on August 8.
Damon Herriman plays Charles Manson; Dakota Fanning appears as Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme; and Austin Butler plays Charles “Tex” Watson, who led the raid on Tate’s home. We see glimpses of some of them in the first trailer.
There are dozens of other people in the movie, but we don’t know all of their roles. Zoë Bell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, James Marsden, Julia Butters, James Remar and Martin Koveare just some of the many players we’ll see in the new Tarantino movie.
Check back with the AMC Scene for more info on Quentin Tarantino’s new movie!