The Atlantic

Tarantino’s Most Transgressive Film

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood celebrates values that have been repeatedly dismissed as dangerous and outdated.
Source: Regis Duvignau / Reuters

As soon as I heard that Quentin Tarantino was making a movie about the Manson killings, I knew I would be there on opening night. As the release date neared, and the ravishing still photography of Andrew Cooper, Tarantino’s regular photographer, began to appear—beginning with a January spread in Vanity Fair, which operated like an injection of Narcan on that slumbering magazine—I wondered whether I would be able to make it to July.

I knew that the film would not be a biopic in any conventional sense, and that it would explore the sexually louche Hollywood of the late 1960s alongside the sinister element of the once-joyful hippie movement, an element that was hardly in its infancy before it crested in the Manson murders. (“Just in time,” everyone told Joan Didion when she went to San Francisco to report on depravity in the Haight in 1967; “the whole fad’s dead now, fini, kaput.”) And I knew that Sharon Tate—cipher, beauty, Texas pageant girl, and Euro sophisticate—was a character Tarantino could have invented. I assumed that the film would, in the director’s characteristic way, include digressions, set pieces, flights from narrative logic so prolonged they would bring the viewer to points of murderous rage, and that the director would reemerge in the third act, fully in possession of his narrative powers,

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