Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

            On July 26, 2019, academy award winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino released his long-anticipated historical fiction film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie. The movie follows successful Western television show star Rick Dalton, played by DiCaprio, struggling with his fading career in Hollywood in 1969. His stunt double Cliff Booth, played by Pitt, follows Dalton every step of the way and supports him through his struggles in a changing movie industry that was being challenged by the new counterculture movement and young filmmakers.[1] Dalton lives in a luxury home in Benedict Canyon, which borders Beverly Hills, on Cielo Drive, right next to actress Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, and up and coming producer and director Roman Polanski.[2]

Dalton’s fading career and struggle to stay relevant in Hollywood is juxtaposed with Tate’s successful and ever-rising career in Hollywood, reflecting the realities of Hollywood, and Los Angeles in general, that not everyone’s dreams will come true. Through this, the notion of the “California Dream” is heavily represented as people came to California, especially Los Angeles, in hopes to follow their dreams and “make it big,” when in reality, a lot of those dreams will never come true. While Dalton did achieve success in the 1950s with his Western television show, he never seemed to achieve the success he wanted, that his neighbors Tate and Polanksi had. This connects back to the idea of the celebrity, and the new fascination with them as Hollywood began to fully develop in the early twentieth century, with actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. There is yet another nod to this idea of the “California Dream” in the film’s soundtrack with “California Dreamin’”. “California Dreamin’” originally recorded by the Mamas in the Papas, is sung by Josè Feliciano in this film, giving the song a more sad and somber tone, reflecting Dalton, as well as many other young and aspiring dreamers going to Los Angeles being faced with reality. The song’s lyrics are further representative of Los Angeles, as they reflect the notion of California’s good weather and health associated with it, with “I’d be safe and warm, if I was in L.A., California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.” [3] This idea of the warm and Mediterranean climate of Southern California was a major factor that allowed the boosters to further sell California to convince travelers and Midwesterners to come settle.

Lastly, while not exactly the same as how Los Angeles was portrayed by Noir writers, the “evils” of the city are illustrated by the addition of the Manson family in the movie, and the followers who attack and attempt to kill Dalton and Booth in Dalton’s home.[4] This relates back to the reason why many Californians began to move out of the city, and out to the suburbs, as the “heyday,” of California was over, since the city was no longer seen as the center of modernity, but rather the center for evil and corruption. Dalton living in the hills away from the city, reflects not only the fear of the evils within the city, but also the class divide, with the rich moving away from the city to more exclusive and high-income areas, like Beverly Hills, to escape the realties of poverty and race within the city.

Ultimately, while Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was depicting a different era in Los Angeles history, it still has connections back to the found of Los Angeles and the boosters’ attempts to bring people there, as well as the Noir era, where the city was beginning to be seen as a place that is full of evil and corrupts the innocent.

Bibliography

“Actress Sharon Tate Found Murdered.” HISTORY, August 6, 2019. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/actress-sharon-tate-found-murdered. (accessed April 7, 2020).

Boucher, Geoff “‘California Dreamin’’ The Mamas & The Papas | 1965.” June 8, 2008. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-jun-08-ca-socalsongbook8-story.html (accessed April 7, 2020).

de la Garza, Alejandro “The True Story Behind Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” July 26, 2019. https://time.com/5635298/once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-true-story/ (accessed April 7, 2020).


[1] Alejandro de la Garza, “The True Story Behind Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” July 26, 2019. https://time.com/5635298/once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-true-story/ (accessed April 7, 2020).

[2] “Actress Sharon Tate Found Murdered.” HISTORY, August 6, 2019. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/actress-sharon-tate-found-murdered. (accessed April 7, 2020).

[3] Geoff Boucher, “‘California Dreamin’’ The Mamas & The Papas | 1965.” June 8, 2008. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-jun-08-ca-socalsongbook8-story.html (accessed April 7, 2020).

[4] Alejandro de la Garza, “The True Story Behind Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”

2 Comments

  1. ZF

    Hello Ryan,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I’ve heard of this movie but never watched it and I definitely have a reason to watch it now.
    Thank you,
    Zoey Ferman

  2. AN

    Ryan, I’m going to start by saying that I’m sorry, but I thought the movie was terrible and incredibly boring. I fell asleep 20 min into the movie and don’t regret it at all.
    That said, I really like your analysis because you brought up connections that I never would have thought of. The juxtaposition of Dalton and Tate was really interesting. The former is an example of the success that people hope for in LA and the latter is an example of the success that a select few actually achieve. Hope is why people come to LA and I appreciate your mention of LA boosterism within a modern-ish context.
    Your connection of the ending scene as an example of film noir is intriguing too because it seems kind of out there at first. But I see what you’re saying. A lot of the movie up until that point was more joke-y, but that part was really dark. I was shook, especially as someone who has not seen a lot of Tarantino films. My boyfriend kept on saying that that he was waiting for the bloody Tarantino shoot out and I didn’t understand until like the last 10 minutes of the film.

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