“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — has Charles Manson fooled us?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood dir. Quentin Tarantino 2019

The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood trailer is here and has generated quite the discussion.

Quentin Tarantino is one of the most popular filmmakers in modern cinema. The director caters for a variety of tastes, tackling numerous genres and customising their conventions to suit his singular style. His directorial debut - Reservoir Dogs - introduced audiences to his talents back in 1992, to which he swiftly followed up with the Palme d'Or-winning Pulp Fiction, which remains his most cherished effort. 

We have seen him tackle martial-arts with Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2, goofy exploitation with Death Proof, the second world war with Inglourious Basterds and the western with both Django Unchained and The Hateful EightHe makes his subject matter feel unique, which is why Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is so exciting; how does Tarantino wish to depict the L.A. film scene in 1969? 

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as TV actor Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his stuntman, Cliff Booth. Both appear to be departing from westerns - much like Tarantino - to attempt to break into Hollywood at a time of immense change. The old studio system had buckled and the hippies had finally invaded the movies; old and out of touch studio figures had no choice but to trust them. The results would change cinema forever, with films like Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider bulldozing boundaries and paving the way for more risky entertainment.

Blaxploitation, ultraviolence, anti-establishment satire and much more began to flood the market, and Tarantino is clear to address this change. The juxtaposition of an old black-and-white western TV series with Pitt's character fighting Bruce Lee exemplifies Hollywood's embrace of new ideas and opportunity. He makes a lot clear in the trailer, but what does he say about Charles Manson?

The notorious cult leader and murderer will be played by Damon Herriman and appears briefly in the trailer. We only see him in one shot, casually waving at someone off-screen and greeting them with a wide smile. Immediately, it's clear that the man is not threatening; he doesn't appear scary or dangerous. However, some have claimed that they find the smile unsettling. It's unsure as to whether Tarantino intended this to be the case or not. It looks like he wanted to portray him as friendly in the trailer, safe in the knowledge that the audience is already painfully aware of his crimes. It's a hasty glimpse of a character many believed would be one of the key players in the narrative, but really, he could be a peripheral boogeyman. 

Although Rick and Cliff look like the protagonists here, it looks like Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) will be a key player in the narrative. The American actress and model was married to director Roman Polanski and was brutally murdered by members of the Manson family while over eight months pregnant. Now, if you're going to have Tate as a primary character in a story set in 1969 - the year she was murdered - then Manson is, of course, going to surface at some point.

Although, it doesn't look like he will be in the film a great deal. Perhaps he will pose more of a looming threat, with the audience aware of the role he is set to play in Tate's demise - almost like an omniscient presence looming over her. It's hard to predict, but we can't imagine that Herriman's Manson will take up as much screen time as Tarantino fans anticipated. He's been a focal point for so long in the run-up to the trailer's release, and now it's here, it may have just been blown out of proportion. 

In other news, could the Batman solo movie come sooner than expected?

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