Musings on ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD & Tarantino’s treatments of women + minorities

It’s nearly a week ago that I saw the movie, and though there are parts that I did enjoy, there are more scenes that did not sit well with me. In fact, I didn’t even feel like writing about the movie, but posted my friend Ted’s review on it this weekend. The movie has received a high praise since its premiered in Cannes, which reportedly received a standing ovation, but the one bit I remembered most about its Cannes’ premiere was how Quentin Tarantino snapped at a reporter during the film’s press junket. NY Times’ reporter Farah Nayeri, asked Tarantino about Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue in the film in which she played Sharon Tate. QT’s terse response was “I reject your hypothesis,” which in and of itself shows the kind of arrogance that he only plays by his own rules and doesn’t care how others perceive his movies.

After days ruminating on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, I feel compelled to write about my reaction on the movie. So this post isn’t so much a film criticism per se, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read any further. Consider yourself warned.

Now, after seeing the movie, I totally understood where Nayeri was coming from. Given that the movie’s plot (if you can even call it that) is practically a build-up to her and her friends’ gruesome murders by members of Charles Manson’s cult, Tate herself didn’t really have much to do here. Most of the 161-minute running time is spent on luxuriating on the two white male leads… they’re talking to each other, in a group, even talking to themselves, while we merely see Tate but rarely hear what she has to say. The writer of this Jezebel article says it best, “The audience learns about as much about Tate from these male characters as we do from Tate herself.” whether it’s via a male friend (secret admirer?) or via a narrator who suddenly shows up midway through explaining exactly what is happening on screen [shrug]. Thankfully, Robbie still manages to turn in a memorable performance as Tate, but her character (and the Manson family) are nothing more than a macguffin.

I suppose when you’ve got two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in one movie, you better make the most of it. Well, QT sure did, perhaps over-indulgently so. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is a faded TV star navigating the changing landscape of Hollywood, while Pitt’s Cliff Booth is his loyal stunt double/lackey who’s ‘more than a brother, and a little less than a wife.’

Let’s start with Pitt’s character, which has more problematic scenes than DiCaprio’s, though both are basically antiheroes. There are countless scenes of Cliff driving recklessly through the Hollywood hills, up and down the LA streets day and night (apparently there’s no traffic in 1969??), but the scenes play up like a retro music video as they don’t seem to serve any purpose. Cliff is portrayed as a dashing, cool guy, apparently way too cool to go to jail for murder. QT’s flashback-within-a-flashback scene shows Cliff holding a harpoon gun pointing at his wife who was berating him. We never see him actually firing the gun, but to me, the scene is more than a mere suggestion that he did kill her, and somehow he got away with it. The fact that Kurt Russell‘s stunt coordinator character Randy and his wife Janet (Zoë Bell) are reluctant about hiring him speak volumes about Cliff’s reputation. Beneath the nice guy persona there’s something really dark lurking beneath. But yet QT seemingly puts the blame on the woman. The boat scene is made to look as if Cliff’s wife is an annoying, nagging wife and therefore she’s ‘asking for it’ and we’re supposed to be okay with a man getting rid of his wife because of that, in a violent manner no less.

Another scene that didn’t sit well with me is the Bruce Lee scene. Lee is played brilliantly by Mike Moh, and initially I was excited about the scene featuring the legendary martial artist who’s also a Hollywood icon. But here his depiction made me cringe. As I was watching it, I wondered how his family would’ve thought of the scene of him being insulted AND beaten by Pitt’s character, and sure enough I saw this article came through today from The Wrap. Lee’s daughter Sharon Lee was quoted as saying, “It was really uncomfortable to sit in the theater and listen to people laugh at my father,” The article mentioned her saying that ‘…her father was often challenged, and tried to avoid fights’ which is NOT how he was depicted in the film, which was all puffery and arrogance. Lee was the only prominent non-white character in the film, yet he only serves to make the white guy appear even more heroic and invincible. Even if Lee was reported as a braggart in the media, there are SO many different sides of him that are positive and admirable. Another quote from Sharon Lee in the article states that “…as an Asian-American in 1960s Hollywood, he had to work much harder to succeed than Booth and Rick Dalton, the fictional, white protagonists of the film.” As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, as I did more reading on Sharon Tate, I found several articles about how Roman Polanski once thought Bruce Lee was the perpetrator of Sharon Tate and her friends’ murders, oh my!

Speaking of Polanski, lest we forget that Tarantino once defended him for having sex with a minor in an interview with Howard Stern (an excerpt is available here) to which QT has apologized for. After reading that, I was even more disturbed by the scene between Pitt and Margaret Qualley‘s Pussycat, who’s 31 years his junior in real life, where she propositioned Cliff oral sex while he’s driving. Qualley’s presence here seems to represent the gullible, morally-loose hippies and just like Tate (and also Dakota Fanning as another Manson family member), she’s also hyper-sexualized, the quintessential male gaze. But yet again, Pitt’s Cliff is seen as a chivalrous hero who refuses this pretty young thing’s offer, hence his heroic status.

This happens to be Tarantino’s first film without Harvey Weinstein’s involvement (all his previous films were produced by Weinstein). He admitted to NY Times back in 2017 that “I knew enough to do more than I did,” about Weinstein’s sexual misconducts. This fact warrants a mention here given the topic is about his treatment of women. In a similar way, Rick is largely tolerant of his friend/confidant Cliff’s dark, violent past, as many in the biz have been with Weinstein until the allegations finally came to light.

Cliff’s ‘heroism’ culminates in the brutal finale where I had to avert my eyes several times. Just like Inglourious Basterds where we see Hitler being riddled with bullets, we’ve come to expect revisionist history once again in QT’s latest, that is in regards to the Manson murders. The gruesome crime on Cielo Drive has been reimagined to happen at Rick Dalton’s house, where the young members of Manson’s cult encountered Cliff who’s high on acid-dipped cigarette [just what the heck is that exactly?]. The whole scene is extremely violent… I opened my eyes right at the time Cliff threw a can of dog food that smashed a girl’s face. The camera lingers on her bloody, smashed-up face and it just kept getting more and more vicious.

As if the gratuitous violence weren’t enough, they’re played for laughs. It seems that in QT’s mind, if he deemed that the people on the receiving end ‘deserve it,’ we can laugh at their misery and even revel in it. People in the theater were laughing when Leo’s Dalton grabs a flamethrower, apparently a prop from one of his movies, and burns one of the Manson girls to a crisp in his own pool. You couldn’t help but giggle at the utter preposterousness of what unfolds before you, but I also couldn’t help but shudder at the gratuitous violence. Yes, the Manson cult members are criminals and should be punished for their crime, but they aren’t in the same vein as someone like Hitler. In many ways, these young hippies were also victims, of Charles Manson’s deceptions and of the era itself. Perhaps QT thinks he’s doing Sharon Tate’s legacy a favor by ‘saving her’ in his reimagined Hollywood, but yet she barely even has any involvement in her own story. This is ultimately Rick’s story, even more so than Cliff ‘s even though Leo and Brad have a pretty equal screen time. When the violent commotion came to an end, Tate’s never even seen again, we only heard her through the intercom inviting her neighbor Rick for drinks as he chats with her friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). So her only purpose seems only to fulfill the protagonist’s dream that he revealed early in the movie (that one day he’d be cast in a Roman Polanski movie).

I wouldn’t call myself a Tarantino fan, given I’ve only seen a handful of his films–Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds–the last one being my favorite of his. But from reading about his work lately, there seems to be a disturbing pattern that is often seen in his film. In this THR’s article, writer Joelle Monique said ‘Even more distressing is the fact that violence against women is generally played for laughs in a Tarantino picture’ and she listed several movies where brutality against women are done so overtly. There is always a danger that brutal scenes in movies would normalize real life violence. It’s all the more disturbing when it comes to violence against women considering the statistics of how many goes unreported. So I simply cannot ignore, or worse, enjoy films where women are depicted as if they somehow ‘earned’ the violence done to them.

It’s been reported that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, QT’s ninth movie, is his most personal. It’s apparent that the movie is full of tributes to everything QT hold dear, the spaghetti Westerns, the foot fetish, and a plethora of other classic Hollywood obsessions that his fans would no doubt notice with glee. The painstaking detail to production design is no doubt astounding, transforming LA into what it would’ve looked like in the 60s. What is definitely apparent to me, who might not be too astute in pointing out the ‘easter eggs’ in QT’s movies, is how nostalgic he is to the bygone era. As the New Yorker article points out, ‘Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else.’

QT compared Leo and Brad as the dynamic duo since Robert Redford and Paul Newman. But in an era where the #MeToo and #DiversityMatters movements are gaining more and more momentum, this indulgent, nostalgic movie about the Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 60s seems, well, old fashioned. Now, I’m not saying that filmmakers can’t pay homage to a certain era, but it does bear the risk of going ‘backward’ if it isn’t done with care. It seems to be the case here with the protagonist’s constant gripe that the ‘good ol’ days’ are behind him and his reluctance to change. Perhaps it’s QT’s way of lamenting that ‘times are changing’ (with new, diverse filmmakers offering new voices and storytelling) and his fear of being viewed as a ‘has been.’

Lastly, putting all of the women/minorities discussion aside, is Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood a good movie? Visually speaking, it’s a gorgeous film shot by DP Robert Richardson. I’ve mentioned the amazing production design by Barbara Ling and I’ll say it again, it was astounding. But overall, this movie is way too long at 2 hours 40 minutes. It doesn’t help that the pacing is pretty sluggish, meandering and even disjointed at times. The ‘six months later’ jump when Cliff and Rick were in Italy seems pointless, just like many elongated scenes in this movie that go nowhere. Most of the movie’s running time is spent lingering on the outer beauty of the leads, but there’s not much depth beneath.

The one scene I did enjoy was the scene between Leo’s Rick and his 8-year-old co-star Trudi (scene stealer Julia Butters) on the set of the TV show Lancer. The young girl is the ‘mature’ one of the two and in the end, she ends up being a huge boost of encouragement the disillusioned Rick desperately needs. That’s perhaps the only meaningful male/female scene where the woman isn’t sexualized, mocked or brutalized. Acting wise, I think both Leo and Brad did an excellent job in their roles. I especially enjoyed Leo’s performance here, who’s charming and often hilarious while wallowing in self pity. I think the scene of Rick going berserk in his trailer would likely nab Leo another Oscar nomination.

In the end, it’s a stunning production to be sure, full of clever lines, gorgeous visuals and terrific performances. But it’s a soulless movie… I couldn’t really relate to the main characters and there’s barely any moment that truly moved me. Yes the film ends in a fantastical ‘happy ending,’ but it’s tough to feel joyful after such a barbaric gore-fest. Neither Cliff nor Rick were remotely changed by such a traumatizing incident, both of them pretty much stay the same from beginning to end. It’s as if it’s a commentary on QT himself. At 56, it seems he hasn’t evolved much as a filmmaker. I think the title ‘once upon a time’ is fitting here for a filmmaker who revels in the past. Reportedly QT is retiring soon? I doubt it, but I certainly don’t mind if he did.

So what are your thoughts on Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood? Let’s hear it!

27 thoughts on “Musings on ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD & Tarantino’s treatments of women + minorities

  1. I really don’t understand what people are fussing about the controversy. I don’t think Mike Moh’s performance as Bruce Lee is played for laughs as Shannon Lee I think is just overreacting considering that there were at least a few clips of Lee teaching Sharon Tate how to fight. The stuff relating to Booth’s wife I think is mainly ambiguous as we don’t really know what happened.

    I disagree with some of the comments about the usage of Sharon Tate as I see her more as someone who represents this arrival of a new starlet who is quite graceful and charming but also kind and innocent. She is a representation of someone on the rise which parallels to Dalton dealing with his decline.

    I didn’t think the film was too long at all as I was enjoying but I was also thinking about my dad a lot during that film as he grew up on that period and saw those films in those times. Plus, he LOVED those TV westerns as I know he would’ve enjoyed seeing Leonardo diCaprio in those westerns as that was his thing. Who gives a shit if this movie has to play with what is the norm and what is right with society. Fuck society.

    1. I’d appreciate a respectful discussion even when we disagree on things. This is MY opinion and my reaction to the film, everyone is entitled to that. I know many people love this movie regardless of all the problems I pointed out, which actually compelled me to write about it.

        1. It is not an ‘over’ reaction if someone deeply feels something amiss. Yes it IS fiction, but QT used a bunch of real-life events and reimagined them. As a woman of color who loves classic films, I too appreciate some of those old Hollywood movies, but at the same time I am glad times are changing and people simply cannot overlook how women/minorities are portrayed on screen, no matter what the filmmaker think it’s an ‘homage.’

          1. chorgenpuxel

            Aw you deleted my comment because I wrote something you didn’t agree with. It’s fun being the god of your own blog, isn’t it? Can’t think of a good comeback, just make it so it never appears. Enjoy your kingdom.

  2. Was curious about what your take was gonna be on this! Saw it on Sunday, and I’m seeing it again tonight with a friend. My mind’s not settled on it. Part of me thinks it might be Tarantino’s warmest and most mature movie, and part of me fears it might be his most regressive and indulgent — hence the second viewing. I’ve definitely been thinking about it a lot.

    I’m sympathetic to Shannon Lee because, y’know, it’s her FATHER, but I don’t really “get” some of the criticism of the scene, at least in so far as Bruce doesn’t “lose” to Brad Pitt’s character. They’re fighting “best 2 out of 3”, Bruce handily knocks Cliff down in the first round, Cliff is able to knock him down in the second round, and when Bruce gets back up, he has a look in his eyes that simultaneously read to me as “Damn, I underestimated that guy” and “I’m gonna clean his clock.” Walter Chaw had an interesting thread on Twitter about the scene (“…portraying Bruce as arrogant (he was), didactic (yep) and hot-tempered (famously) is imminently respectful to the legacy of a man who has been elevated to golden calf status by western idolaters. It made me cry. Lee is my hero because he was imperfect. But he fought…”), but I’m far from an expert on Bruce Lee in any case, and like I said, it’s a different thing when you’re talking about your own FATHER vs. an actor you like.

    Sharon Tate’s presence in the movie is one of things I’m wrestling with in my head. On the one hand, she’s definitely used as a symbol — of innocence lost, of a Hollywood that is (for both Rick and, now, movie lovers) long gone — and there’s something more than a little patronizing about trotting out the old “beautiful blonde sacrifice” trope. On the other hand, I do think there’s something legitimately, sincerely sweet about Tarantino wanting to show Sharon Tate just have…an ordinary day; buying a book for her husband, going to one of her movies and taking pleasure in hearing the audience laugh and applaud in the right places…Tate’s whole story has been so long defined SOLELY by the horrible tragedy of her death. I’m still turning over in my head how much I think one element outweighs the other. (I’ll also say: I think the question asked at Cannes was kind of dumb — how many lines a character has has NOTHING to do with their importance within a narrative — and I also think Tarantino’s reply was incredibly surly and petulant, kind of par for the course for him. Tarantino is on that list of directors whose work I admire, but who I wish would keep their mouths shut.)

    The ending carnage is the biggest sticking point for me, because it tonally feels SO out of whack to the rest of the movie; almost like Tarantino, having been comparatively restrained in the rest of the movie (I actually sort of love the fact that Cliff is presented so ambiguously as a character — the way Pitt plays him, he’s almost impossible not to like/be drawn to, and yet the little flash we get of his backstory, and his beating of the guy at the Manson commune, definitely suggests that underneath that placid exterior there’s some REAL dark stuff churning), couldn’t help himself and had to have a burst of cartoonishly vicious violence. At least on first viewing, I found that burst so jarring that I couldn’t quite calm down into the elegaic, mournful final moments. I’m curious to see if a second viewing sorts it out.

    “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is definitely nostalgic, an elegy for an earlier time in Hollywood history. I guess the question I haven’t been able to answer for myself is how much Tarantino is aware of the problematic aspects of the Hollywood he’s mythologizing, and how much he’s just ignoring them. (We know from his comments about John Ford, for example, that he’s perfectly willing to criticize racist elements of classic Hollywood product, but obviously what a filmmaker SAYS and what they MAKE are not necessarily the same thing.) On the one hand, I think the movie is well aware — and expects you to be aware — that Rick Dalton, as sympathetic as he is, is both a relic and a buffoon; the sight of this middle aged white dude having a crisis because (GOD FORBID) he might have to got to Italy and make B-westerns (as if the TV shows he’s starring in aren’t equally ridiculous) is clearly supposed to be at least as funny as it is touching. On the other hand, it’s definitely easy to read the third act of this movie as, basically, good old fashioned Hollywood he-men VIOLENTLY snatching back history from the counter culture. (“I don’t think Quentin likes hippies very much,” said my brother after the screening.)

    I’ll close with: I know you’re not exactly a Tarantino admirer, but I’d be REALLY interested to hear your thoughts on “Jackie Brown”. It’s still his most restrained and understated movie, and as a result, I think it’s his best. Strong female lead (strong, BLACK, in-her-40s female lead, at that!), richly drawn characters, and violence that is arguably less jokey that in most of Tarantino’s work — when the bursts of startling violence do come, they come to characters we’ve come to know a bit, and actually MEAN something. I tend to like Tarantino best when he’s in a mellower, less juvenile mode. Parts of OUATIH struck me as mellow Tarantino, and parts of it struck me as juvenile. I’m curious to see, from a second viewing, where I ultimately think the balance falls.

    1. Hey CB! Thanks for your awesome comment on this. Crazy to think that this is Tarantino’s warmest and most mature movie… I guess I haven’t seen too many others but what would his coldest, most juvenile movie look like??

      Interesting about Walter Chaw’s take on his fave actor… and I learned that QT admired Bruce too, but I still think it’s a disservice to Mr. Lee to portray the only major scene he’s in and made him look like an arrogant loser to a fictitious white stuntman! I can’t imagine Bruce Lee watching that scene and thought, ‘oh wow, I feel so respected and loved’

      Yeah, I guess the scenes of Sharon having an ‘ordinary day’ is sweet, but I still feel something is wanting about her. It’s clear QT is far more interested in developing Rick and Cliff’s characters than Sharon’s. As for the Cannes’ question, Margot Robbie ended up offering a more satisfactory answer instead of QT’s petulant, arrogant answer.

      As for Tarantino “…couldn’t help himself and had to have a burst of cartoonishly vicious violence” You put it nicely, the way he paints women and the violence are cartoonish, which again is a disservice to the real-life horror of the Manson murders that I doubt ANYONE would watch and laugh at.

      I feel that QT is an intelligent guy but he’s also a stubborn and egotistical director who’s put on a pedestal and mentored by a real monster (Weinstein), so I think he purposely ‘mythologizes’ the problematic aspects of Old Hollywood and look at them fondly instead of growing as an artist and as a person.

      Lastly, I might check out Jackie Brown just because it has a black female lead in it. Not sure if I want to see it anytime soon as I’m afraid he’d also sexualize Pam Grier in the process. It’s as if he can’t really give an homage to someone without denigrating them at the same time.

    2. chorgenpuxel

      “On the other hand, it’s definitely easy to read the third act of this movie as, basically, good old fashioned Hollywood he-men VIOLENTLY snatching back history from the counter culture. (“I don’t think Quentin likes hippies very much,” said my brother after the screening.)”

      It’s not whether Tarantino likes or doesn’t like hippies, it’s the fact that hippies were looked down upon in those days. If you’ve watched David Fincher’s Zodiac, which took place in 1971 I believe, you’ll notice that it is often stated how the serial killer’s victims are “clean-cut kids”, ie. not hippies, as though the murders are much more tragic because of this distinction.

      Also, while Manson’s followers looked and acted like hippies for the most part, they sort of lose that identity once they begin to contemplate murder. Manson was no hippie; in fact, he was quite the opposite. He just took advantage of hippie culture to build a cult of monsters.

  3. I’ve been listening to and reading a lot of Tarantino interviews lately, and what’s clear across all of them is that Quentin feels more and more detached from where pop culture is going these days and he has absolutely no idea what to do about that. He doesn’t generally watch new movies anymore. He’s only just now catching up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s not a fan of streaming TV, though he and his wife are slowly making their way through The American. When he’s not making his own movies he spends most of his time programming the monthly schedule for his revival theater in LA, The New Beverly, and would rather catch a double bill of old 35mm films at his theater than go pay to see a digital projection of a new movie somewhere else.

    Add on top of that the fact that his mentor, father figure and biggest champion in the entire industry, Harvey Weinstein, is no longer in the picture and you really have all you need to know to understand Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. It is the work of man so scared of the future he’d rather escape into the past and recreate the Hollywood he remembers from he was just 6-years-old.

    That’s also what drove him to select a main trio of characters caught the midst of an uncertain transition – the has-been TV star who really needs to go to Italy to save his career, his loyal stuntman who has no real plan B for what he’ll do if his boss’s career goes away, and the radiant starlet right on the cusp of superstardom. It’s no surprise that Tate ends up being the least developed of the three – she’s the furthest away from where Tarantino is right now in his own career.

    However, Tarantino’s love for film is so absolute that I’m sure to him he couldn’t imagine a more fitting tribute than having his fake version of Sharon sit in a theater and watch the real Sharon in The Wrecking Crew and smile with complete satisfaction as the audience around her laughs at her every on-screen pratfall. Sparing her an on-screen death and brutalizing her actual murderers is also part of that tribute.

    But, I agree with you – it’s really problematic. When Tarantino killed Hitler in Inglourious Bastards it couldn’t have happened to a worse person. When he made mincemeat out of the racist slave traders in Django Unchained, again, more power to him. Those are demonstratively evil figures who earn the cinematic revenge he foists upon them. Nazis are bad. Racists are bad. We get it.

    But hippies, particularly 3 female hippies and a male ringleader who looks about as intimidating as a chihuahua? Killing them in comically exaggerated, but still, quite brutal fashion isn’t so forgivable, particularly when we’re already talking about a director with such a complicated history when it comes to his treatment of women on screen. It almost feels like a leader of the Gen X generation trying to metaphorically beat the shit out of those damn Millennials – i.e., the next generation with crazy new ideas – he doesn’t understand, though I think he would argue it’s more about his deep affection for Sharon Tate and desire to minimize her killers.

    As for the Bruce Lee scenes, we have to first remember that Tarantino clearly adores the guy as a cinematic icon. Uma Thurman’s iconic yellow suit in the first Kill Bill is a direct homage to Lee’s iconic get-up in Game of Death. Lee’s Enter the Dragon was the second kung-fu movie Tarantino ever saw. I don’t think he is intending to mock Lee or diminish him. All you need to do is listen to Tarantino talk for two minutes and you’ll hear so much bragging and ego-stroking that you can see where his depiction of Lee’s braggadocio is a tribute. Tarantino’s loves a guy that arrogant.

    But he didn’t even ask the family for permission because he almost never asks anyone for permission to do anything, and in the end his version of Lee is just a storytelling device used to prop up his fictional Cliff Booth. Through that fight, we see how much of badass Cliff is, foreshadowing his ability to take on a bunch of hippies at the end. To Tarantino, I think, picking Lee as the guy who Cliff can hang with is a real honor because in 1969 he couldn’t think of anyone more formidable. Still, the effect is a fictional white character diminishing the power of a historical figure who just happens to be the film’s only character of color. It’s not a good look. I still laugh at that scene, but the second time around I didn’t feel great about it.

    1. Wow thanks for this insightful comment, Kelly!

      I didn’t know that QT is so out of touch with pop culture and what’s going on in today’s cinema. Maybe he could learn from MCU that even superhero movies these days are respectful of women and people of color. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that his lack of relevancy affects how he makes movies, he’s pretty much a relic himself just like his character Rick. Yep, he said he’s sorry he didn’t do enough to stand up to Weinstein but really though? He seems like he still thinks people like him, those who are entitled and get away with doing a ton of bad things as heroes.

      Very astute observation there about the trio of main characters and how Tate’s place in 1960s Hollywood as an emerging star is so far away from his place now. I still don’t get how silencing Tate and somehow removing her from her own narrative is an ‘homage.’ All the promos and even the way the film builds up from the start seems to be about her murder, but yet it’s more about Rick’s story, the white male star who’s concerned he’s becoming a has-been.

      “…a male ringleader who looks about as intimidating as a chihuahua” Mwahahahahaha! Too funny! Yes I get that the brutal third act is a revenge fantasy on behalf of Sharon Tate, but yet he made it comical and cartoonish. It feels like a disservice to the real life horror of the murders. I can’t imagine even Sharon’s sister watching that and feeling joyful.

      As for the Bruce Lee thing, I feel like how QT FEELS about someone and how he decides to treat them on screen is completely different. I guess I could see that QT admires Lee, and the braggadocio depiction as you said is his way to pay tribute to the guy. But again, it goes to show how he ONLY sees the world thru his own lens and refuse to see other’s POV on how things are perceived. So many of my friends of color see it the same way I did – a historical icon of color being diminished as an arrogant loser by a fictional white male stuntman. I don’t care how you spin it, it just comes across disturbing and racist.

  4. I’ve been fascinated by the wide variety of responses and interpretations to this film. I’ve always been mixed on Tarantino which was why I was so surprised at how much I love this film. But I knew after posting my review that I wanted to do a spoiler dive into many of the criticisms. Obviously we have much different readings of the film and the scenes you mentioned, but I really loved reading your thoughts.

    1. Hey Keith. I really came into the film with neutral expectations. I even enjoyed parts of it, the movie is so gorgeous and the production design also took you back to the era it was set in. But it also made me think how backward his treatments of women are, which under the disguise of an ‘homage’ is even more disturbing. I know he has plenty of fans and many adore this film, which actually compelled me to point out just many problems this film has. Overall, I also didn’t think the film itself, aside from the women/minorities issues, is that worthy of all the praise. But of course, this movie will win a ton of accolades.

  5. Tarantino assumed a lot of knowledge on the part of the audience for this film. The more I read about the time and place, the more I realize quite a bit of the film was based on actual incidents. It should have come with a program like H8FUL 8 did, and included a summary of all the real life situations alluded to in the film.


    Let me just say…I was moved seeing Sharon Tate take pride in her ability to make people laugh and just being a person in the world at the end of the film (when she meets Rick). The character represents the innocence that was lost when the real Tate was slaughtered in a horrific way. It made me happy that people were seeing her as something other than a victim in a notorious mass murder.

    In real life, Manson pimped “his girls” out, among other things to try to break into the music business. I think that’s what Tarantino is alluding to with Pussycat and others. When Manson first stops by the Tate/Polanski house, he is looking for a producer named Terry Melcher who used to live there, but you wouldn’t get that from what’s shown, unless you already knew it.

    My initial take on the scene where Booth is bickering with his wife was that it’s a bluff. You don’t see anything actually happen in the flashback; in the present time, he shakes his head and continues fixing the antenna. In a QT movie, there’s no reason to not show violence if it did happen, so I think it didn’t. Others have said this alludes to the mystery around the death of Natalie Wood, in that we’ll never know what really happened to her.

    Booth’s life is in very much in danger when he’s at Spahn Movie Ranch. A stuntman was murdered there in real life, a friend of George Spahn’s who offered to evict the Manson “family.” They killed him.

    I could go on. I might write my own post about this.

    With all that being said, Tarantino’s longtime editor, Sally Menke, passed away in 2010. That is perhaps the most important factor in his work since then. My guess is, there’s no one to tell him “no” or “people won’t understand this” anymore.

    1. Hey Paula, I totally agree with you on Sally Menke, ever since she past away, QT’s films quality has gone down. There’s no one brave enough to tell him NO but even if someone’s brave enough, he won’t listen to them anyway.

    2. Hi Paula, thank you for your insight on this and your perspectives, though we see the film thru different lens. I went and did a bit of research on Sharon Tate and the Manson murders, etc. I find that it helps me understand the events in the film a bit better. I did read about the music producer Terry that Manson asked about in the film and also read about how Cliff’s boat scene alluded to the Natalie Wood’s unsolved murder. I didn’t know about a stuntmant being murdered at Spahn Movie Ranch though, but even without knowing that, the scene of Cliff going into the house to see George was quite suspenseful.

      Obviously the film is well-researched and that shows. But to me, it didn’t change the fact that I find QT’s portrayals/treatments of women and Bruce Lee (regardless of how he thinks it’s his way of paying ‘homage’) really problematic. I feel like many of the things I mentioned here took away the enjoyment I had, especially the more I ruminate about it.

  6. This is a well thought out post Ruth and I totally get where you’re saying even though I disagree with a lot of what you said about QT. I would counter that he actually wrote quite a bit of good parts for women in his films. I thought Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace in PULP FICTION was a strong female lead; I really loved Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, most of the film was really about her. Then there’s Pam Greir’s JACKIE BROWN, she’s one of the most underrated female heroes that deserves to be talked about more but somehow people tends to forget about that film. I read that article on THR, the writer only focused on Bridget Fonda’s character but never mentioned Pam Grier’s JACKIE BROWN. Lastly, DEATH PROOF was his take on the slasher films, a genre that treats women quite badly, and all the heroes in that film were females.

    I agree though that QT needs to adapt to the new world of filmmaking, he may need to bring in female screenwriters to fix his future scripts concerning female characters. I’ve said many times, the lost of his longtime editor Sally Menke really effected his last few films.

    As for the Bruce Lee scene in the film, as someone who grew up in the Far East and idolizes Lee since my early teens, I didn’t have any issues with how QT portrayed him in this film. Maybe he should’ve consulted Lee’s family and friends on how the real Bruce Lee was in person. But to me QT basically portrayed Lee as the Bruce Lee in those old kung fu films.

    1. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is my fave QT film (as I mentioned in this post) because of Soshana, but I’d argue Thurman in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill are sexualized as well, though yes her characters are more well-developed than Sharon was in this movie.

      In any case, glad you agree that QT needs to involve more female crew in his filmmaking posse. But he seems to be one of those people who are extremely comfortable/proud of himself, an arrogant old school guy who refuses to grow.

      I still don’t see how his portrayal of Bruce Lee is considered an homage. Maybe in QT’s own head as he lives in such a bubble and stuck in the past (see the long comment from Kelly Konda above that he barely watches current films/shows). Yes Bruce Lee might’ve done things that are proud, even boastful, but that’s NOT the only aspect of one man, but QT chose to only highlight him in that way. The other scenes of him teaching Sharon Tate have no dialogue, so that doesn’t really count.

  7. Pingback: Quentin Tarantino’s Complicated Legacy & Once Upon a Time Controversies – We Minored in Film

  8. PrairieGirl

    Hey Flixy, I’ll make this short and sweet. Not a fan of anyone acting in or involved with this movie. I’m glad you watched this film so I didn’t have to!

  9. We definitely share similar views on several things regarding this film. It also struck me as strange that both Janet and Cliff’s wife were protrayed as annoying for pointing out how shady and unreliable Cliff is. It is fascinating how the men don’t trust him but are still willing to hire him, while Janet, who has the most to lose career wise, is seen as a nag for not wanting him on set.

  10. D George

    Don’t agree with your complaint about the film unfairly treating women as if they deserved the violence directed at them. QT was not depicting some common domestic violence. This crew of women were coming after people with butcher knives, intending to cut their hearts out. In real life the Manson clan disemboweled Sharon Tate, including her unborn baby. I think they earned their fictional violent demise.

    1. Hi D George, appreciate your comment. I understand many people disagree with my take on this film. I respect that, but it doesn’t make my view of it any less valid. Yes I realize that the Manson family members were vicious, as you said they disemboweled Sharon Tate and her unborn baby, but I still do not care to see violence against them in an equally vicious manner. I didn’t hate this film, there are many things I like about it in fact, but several things I pointed out here lessened my enjoyment overall.

  11. Yesss! Love everything about your commentary.

    I was also pretty uncomfortable with the Bruce Lee fight and although Margot Robbie put on an incredible performance, it was so. weird. that the historical event Tartantino chose to focus his movie around was essentially a side-story to the tale of two very flawed men.

    Thank you thank you for articulating all of this so well. ❤

  12. Pingback: Top 10 Films of 2019 + Honorable Mentions – FlixChatter Film Blog

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