ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD: A Trip Through Quentin Tarantino’s Groovy 9th Movie

Introduction: Quentin Tarantino‘s upcoming film, entitled “Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood” immediately brings to mind the amazing cinema of Sergio Leone. It is set to be an opus in the tradition of QT’s own 1994 award winning hit Pulp Fiction, the movie that became a pop culture sensation and inspiration to filmmakers around the world. On the surface, this means it will take place in QT’s “Realer Than Real World”, the same microcosm of Los Angeles/Hollywood and most likely be told in similar chapter format with separate story threads woven together. The other QT movie it will follow the lead of is Inglourious Basterds. Like that film it will blend fictional characters/places with real ones. We might even see certain true life events altered again inside the Tarantino Movie Universe (Ex: The Basterds and Shoshanna kill Hitler and end WWII). QT is known for filling his stories with references to his favorite films (along with TV, music) but this could be his most direct celebration of the medium yet since it focuses specifically on the movie industry of the late 60s/early 1970s when a revolution was taking place due to the counterculture generation gaining access to the studios.

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Cinematographer Robert Richardson, who has worked with QT on all his films since Kill Bill, was interviewed on set and offered this description of what we can expect:

“It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, contemporary versions….I think the tone of it is—it’s difficult to describe because it’s very fresh, but it oscillates between humorous, serious, spooky; it’s playful. It’s not easily describable, but it’s very Quentin. Very, very, very Quentin. Of course Al Pacino was in it and you’ve got remarkable monologues, but you also have remarkable small set pieces…The set pieces are unique and they’re also extremely personal to Quentin in terms of his life in Los Angeles. Not his life in 1969—he was too young—but his life in terms of living and where he went and films that were important from that time period. Like 2001 will be sitting there, and Romeo and Juliet you’ll see on the screen has been there for eight months. That kind of thing, to be able to see these films up on the Cinerama Dome, that’s what he did, he recreated the time period pretty accurately in terms of film. So for those who are film nerds, they’re gonna love it.”

Press play and enjoy the Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood soundtrack


The main character in the film is Rick Dalton played by Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained, The Revenant). Rick is the former star of a fictional Western TV series called BOUNTY LAW (1958-63). This show is patterned after real ones like Wanted: Dead Or Alive, Gunsmoke and The Rebel. In 1969 when the film is partly set, Rick, an underdog of sorts, hasn’t gotten his breakout film role yet like his fellow Western TV show contemporaries Steve McQueen (played by Damian Lewis) and Clint Eastwood have. He’s still stuck doing guest spots on shows such as HullaballooLancer and The F.B.I. etc. He is even contemplating leaving Hollywood to try his hand at Italian Westerns, which in the late 60s are at the height of their popularity. Rick is “a man full of inner turmoil and self-pity for not being in a better position, career-wise. But as is his way, he blames everybody but himself” (QT in USA Today). Rick’s best friend is Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt (True Romance, Inglourious Basterds). He is also Rick’s longtime stunt double. Like Rick he is trying to find greater success in the movie industry. Cliff is a “World War II hero and one of the deadliest guys alive. He could kill you with a spoon, a piece of paper or a business card. Consequently, he is a rather Zen dude who is troubled by very little”(QT in USA Today). This faithful buddy relationship was inspired by the Paul Newman/Robert Redford/Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid dynamic as well as Burt Reynolds and his good friend, stuntman/director Hal Needham. Reynolds was initially cast in the film but died before filming his scenes. The legendary actor/Academy Award winner Al Pacino (Scarface, Heat) will be playing Rick’s trusted agent, Marvin Schwarz, which will add another special touch to the already stellar line up.

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Sharon Tate: The real life actress played by the vibrant Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, I, Tonya) in 1969 is just becoming a star on the rise from films like Eye of The Devil, Valley of the Dolls and The Wrecking Crew. Her husband is famed director Roman Polanski (played by Rafał Zawierucha) who has just come off of making The Fearless Vampire Killers (where he met Sharon) and Rosemary’s Baby, a popular thriller starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. Sharon is Rick Dalton’s next door neighbor in the Tarantino Film Universe.

Other celebrities featured in the film will include: Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond), Joanna Pettet (Rumer Willis), Connie Stevens (Dreama Walker) and Wayne Maunder (Luke Perry, in his final screen appearance).

The Manson Family: In the summer of 1969, Charles Manson (played by Damon Herriman, you’ll know him from the hit TV series Justified), a failed musician and lifelong criminal is using his persuasive personality to manipulate young teen runaways and unstable outsiders (his “Family”) to commit crimes for and with him. The group of vagabonds are residing on a ranch owned by George Spahn (Bruce Dern) which doubles as an old movie set used often in Western TV shows and movies. There, Manson will use twisted psychological games on the hippie kids to carry out two heinous high profile murders that will shock America and leave a bloody mark on the end of the 1960s.

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The production of Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood was quite unique and gained a lot of notice on social media. This was due to the brilliant production designers taking Hollywood back in time block by block and re-creating store fronts, street signs, movie billboards and theaters of the late 60s/early 70s time period. As you can see in the above photos, it was quite a thrill for visitors and residents to walk around back in the hippie days of Hollywood. This really let everyone around the area get involved and enjoy the moviemaking process.

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On March 20, the internet flipped their collective lids when the first trailer debuted. The opening has Spencer Garrett as host Allen Kincade interviewing actor Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio) and stunt double/pal Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on the set of Bounty Law, a fictional early 60s Western TV series. Next the rockin sounds of Los Bravos’ “Bring A Little Lovin” plays as we see Hippie Hollywood with shots of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her friends, martial arts legend Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) sparring with “hairdresser to the stars” Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) and Cliff Booth. The creepy Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and his hippie freak followers make a brief appearance. On the set of Western TV series Lancer, Rick is guest starring and working with director Sam Wanamaker (played by the original live-action Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond). If you look really close you can spot Tim Olyphant (Justified) as James Stacy/Johnny Madrid Lancer and the late Luke Perry as Wayne Maunder/Scott Lancer. The trailer concludes with a young girl praising Rick’s incredible acting. His emotional response is both comical and heartfelt. The overall tone of the trailer is pure Tarantino pop culture cool as we’ve come to expect. We can’t wait to see more!


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1969: It’s two years after “The Summer of Love” and the hippies are in full flower power spreading peace and love everywhere. The counterculture generation is Tuning In, Turning On and Dropping Out en masse. The music scene is spectacular and filled with all kinds of amazing sounds from popular musicians like The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, The Mamas & Papas and many more. Drugs like cocaine, LSD and marijuana are inspiring artists but also adding an unpredictability to the atmosphere. August: In the countryside of New York State, thousands of kids attend the Woodstock Festival for three days of peace, love, drugs and music. December: Altamont a racing speedway is turned into a venue where several bands including Santana, The Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Rolling Stones perform. What starts out as a West Coast version of Woodstock, soon turns tragic. It is the final nail in the coffin of the sunny 1960s.

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In the late 60s, TV, much like with movies, was reflecting the changes in popular culture. The clean cut 50s were over and the counterculture and civil rights generation was coming up and influencing media from every direction. If you adjusted the TV rabbit ears and flipped the channels back then you could see new episodes of The Mod Squad, Hawaii Five-O, Get Smart, Dark Shadows, Hogan’s Heroes, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and Mission Impossible. While the adults were doing their thing, kids were tuning in and turning on fun shows like Sesame Street (1969 debut), Captain Kangaroo, Spider-Man, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969 debut), HR Puf n’ Stuf (1969 debut) and The Brady Bunch (1969 debut).


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1969: Meanwhile, in the world of movies, the older generation of filmmakers and producers can see the times they are a changin’. Theres a cinematic revolution on the horizon that will later be dubbed the “New Hollywood” era. Films like Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, The Wild Bunch and Easy Rider are ushering in the 1970s, which will be one of the most artistically exciting decades in movie history. Quentin had previously programmed a special lineup of films at the Lumiere Film Festival where he began researching them in preparation for his latest movie.

We still don’t know all of what’s in store for us with this film and we wouldn’t want to. That would ruin the surprises and fun of seeing a new Quentin Tarantino movie. Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood will play the Cannes Film Festival in May then be released into theaters July 26th, so be there!….don’t be a:

For even more cool details on the film check out: The Quentin Tarantino Archives movie reference guide

Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood

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Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database and Furious Cinema. Pete is an avid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation and cult films to popular mainstream classics.

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