Quentin Tarantino isn’t exactly making it easy for anyone to defend him at the moment. That’s not particularly new, but back in his early heyday during the ‘90s, he was such a star filmmaker (arguably the medium’s first since the ‘70s) that it didn’t matter as much.
Social media has changed the conversation, both questioning the ways Tarantino has marginalised women and black people and growing tired of the endless stream of film-bros fawning over his work. The fact that he seems to relish all this is understandable cause for some outcry over the (awful) teaser posters and (fantastic) trailer for his new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Cards on the table: I’m excited for this film, if also cautiously curious about how certain aspects of the picture are going to play. So, the unquestionably exciting parts first: the cast and the period detail.
Leonardo DiCaprio looks like he’s about to have the time of his life playing 1960s Hollywood star Rick Dalton. From the way Dalton first comes across in the trailer, sat beside his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), he’s cocksure and charismatic, as bonafide a movie star as DiCaprio himself. But in a magnificent sting later in the trailer, Dalton is told by a little girl that his acting is the best she’s ever seen. And he cries. It’s a gloriously funny moment, and the lightest DiCaprio’s been in years.
Pitt, meanwhile, is reviving his Aldo Raine schtick from Inglorious Basterds, transferring the droll Southern drawl from Nazi Germany to the New Hollywood, and seemingly doing great at it. He has a little less time in the trailer than DiCaprio, but he drops two of the preview’s biggest laughs, particularly in a casual takedown of Mr Bruce Lee himself, played by Mike Moh. Margot Robbie doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the trailer as Sharon Tate, but no doubt she’ll be a fine addition to a stacked (Al Pacino, Scoot McNairy, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning) cast.
The period detail seems to be pretty impressive too, with Tarantino covering the sunset strip in a glossy late-60s sheen and seeming as though his homage muscles will be working overtime when Dalton is filming his own movies and TV shows. What’s not clear yet is how Sharon Tate is going to be utilised as a character. The film is conspicuously set in the era during which Tate and several others were murdered by the Manson family, and given that Charles Manson and Jay Sebring (another victim) both feature as characters, there’s every chance Tarantino is leading up to the Tate murder itself.
That’s not necessarily cause for alarm yet – for one thing, the film looks as though it’s much more Manson-era than Manson-specific. That much is encouraging. But for another, as several people have pointed out, American historical revisionism is Tarantino’s new trademark, whether it be shooting up Hitler in a movie theatre a year before the Second World War was supposed to end in Inglorious Basterds, or a potentially forged Lincoln letter drawing The Hateful Eight to a close. So perhaps Tate, in his version of the story, will survive. I at least hope he doesn’t linger on her demise but cannot be sure he won’t.