Tarantino’s ode to LA is a lot more than a killing joke
‘Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood’ is uproariously funny and surging with cinematic adrenaline
Halfway through Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood, Sharon Tate goes to the cinema to see … well, herself. The scene is a perfect little nested doll of looking and playing: sitting in a half-dark auditorium, we watch Margot Robbie in the role of Tate, as she sits and watches the real Tate in the role of Freya Carlson, the gawky-sexy sidekick in the Dean Martin spy spoof The Wrecking Crew.
That film is mainly remembered today as the last of Tate’s to be released before her death aged 26, on the night of August 8 1969, at the hands of the Manson Family cult. But in this Los Angeles movie house, on a February afternoon exactly six months before the fateful date, she’s alive twice over – both down in the stalls and in the projector’s light. As the audience chuckles and applauds, she smiles in flattered delight. They don’t know she’s there to hear it, but she is.
Tarantino’s sensational ninth film is a eulogy for Tate – but more than that, it’s a requiem for the Hollywood that vanished at the moment she reached it, like a mirage in the Californian desert. After two viewings, I think it could be his late-career masterpiece: uproariously funny, surging with cinematic adrenaline and strewn with delectable period detail, but with a slow swell of melancholia that breaks like a fever as its sickeningly violent climax approaches. ..