Tarantino: I don’t like Tarantino films, never have—too violent (as I get older, I find I like violence on screen less and less—there’s enough violence in the world already, really). But in my generation, it’s standard to like Tarantino and people who are fashionable will be surprised if you don’t like him. However, I finally found a Tarantino film I do like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). It works, in part, because I like anything to do with the Manson case—and Tarantino has been quite lavish in his treatment.
Tarantino famously worked in a video rental store before he became a director—and he has always been a “nostalgic” filmmaker, although, when he came to prominence in the 1990s, this was presented as “postmodern” (the mercurial melting of different ages through a multi-media production, with the final product, amorphous as molten glass, looked at with an ironic eye). Sure, Tarantino can be seen as “postmodern”—a word that increasingly looks like a fad word as the decades roll by—but you could also see him as a nostalgic man, his nostalgia being for pop culture.
I get the impression that Tarantino was the kid of a divorcee in LA who was basically raised by the TV—by re-runs from the 1950s and the 1960s; and that for him that was “life”, that was his “culture”. To work in a video store was just a chance to re-experience what he had never experienced the first time. Indeed, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood works because it doesn’t really have a plot—it’s more like a ride, a ride where great attention to detail has been paid to “period setting”; just as Georgian dramas become ideologically retrofitted to have casts that are half black, at the same time films set in the 1960s achieve autistic accuracy.
Tarantino, like any man, wants to get the details “right”—whether it’s the decals on a Panzer tank or the ad-style found on 1960s radio, men want to get it right; and it provides satisfaction to see those little details chased down. Hence Hollywood is more or less a “ride”—it’s too long, needs to be cut, but it doesn’t really matter because the point is to ride around 1960s LA, not to enjoy a plot.
Tarantino retrofits the end: the film is almost a recreation of the lead up to the Manson murders—the Sharon Tate murders—as seen through the eyes of fictional characters; but Tarantino rewrites history—he has Tate survive, and his kick-ass fictional characters face down the Manson home invasion and see off the threat. History has a happy ending—and that’s because Tarantino is still a child at heart, he has a sentimental but vindictive moralised approach to life. There’s no tragedy in Tarantino—the “goodies” must win, so he rewrites history so the “goodies” kill off Manson’s creepy-crawlers (Manson is miscast in this film—the other error, apart from the length; though Tarantino sensibly limits his screen time).
Why the change? Manson, complete with his swastika, was some force of nature—he’d achieved some unofficial gnosis in the desert, channeled Lucifer (perhaps); hence his swastika forehead mark, carved in prison. He visited the “vengeance of nature” on Polanski—a man whose films, like Rosemary’s Baby, celebrate the victory of Satan (it was released the year before the Tate slaughter). The film is a sigil—it features a fresco of a cathedral on fire, intimation of Notre-Dame. The baby (Polanski’s baby died in the attack on Tate; it was magical payback—celebrate the victory of Satan’s baby, lose your own baby). Later, Polanski would anally rape a young girl after he drugged her—he is not a good guy.
Really, you’re either with “Team Polanski” or “Team Manson”—and Tarantino is definitely on “Team Polanski”, so he tries to rewrite history so the vengeance of nature never happened. It’s because his mother had a black boyfriend when he was a kid—it messed up Tarantino, hence his peculiar very strong black characters (who also say “nigger”—which is what Tarantino wants to say, but can’t say; because he’s been owned, “blacked” as they say). Hence Tarantino chose “Team Polanski”—Team Satan, in other words.
It’s why his films, such as Inglorious Basterds, have this very bitchy and very contrived vengeful aspect to them—Tarantino’s films are spiteful morality tales, it all reflects that impotent little Tarantino filled with anger because his mother was the “white ewe tupped by the black ram”. His violence is cartoonish—because he never grew beyond cartoons.
In Hollywood, he manages to hold back the violence to the end—but it’s still egregious. He’s expanded, in a feminist way, to real violence against women—not a slap, as is realistic, but heads smashed against fireplaces. It’s too much, too far to see Brad Pitt do that.
As it happens, Hollywood recapitulates an old theme: you have the blond Aryan stuntman Brad Pitt defending women and Jews from “the Nazis”—it’s an old trope, you have a “Nazi archetype” but he fights against the Hitlerites (like Superman). You see that less often today because it’s not useful to the regime anymore—today you’re more likely to see straightforward demonisation of white men, but Tarantino brings back the trope, partly because the film is set in the “whiter” 1960s, but partly because he was always an antiquarian guy.
He’s nostalgic—he belongs to the “the GIs on the beaches of Normandy were the original antifa” brigade (except they sold their birthright for a mess of pottage). Yet he’s willing enough to resurrect the old theme in this context—which really is WWII as replayed in Hollywood. As I say, in the end you are “Team Polanski” or “Team Manson”—you’re either with the Satanists, the people who hate nature, or you’re with the people who like nature (clean rivers and trees, as Manson put it). I know who I’m with—do you?