Tarantino Tackles Westerns, 1969, and a Manson Family Redo in His New Film

Last night, I went to see the new Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. As someone who once watched westerns, turned 17 in 1969, and remember vividly the Helter Skelter times of Charles Manson and his murdering family, I enjoyed the movie. It marks Leonard DiCaprio’s best performance and Brad Pitt was stellar as his stunt buddy sidekick. And how could I not like a film that featured Damian Lewis (of Homeland) as my favorite actor Steve McQueen and a reworked scene from one of my top 10 films of all-time The Great Escape, which starred McQueen.

The movie soundtrack is packed with stellar songs from the late ’60s. According to Mary Ramos, Quentin Tarantino’s longtime music supervisor, the process for selecting songs for one of his films starts in a record store—which happens to be in his Hollywood home. What Ramos describes as Tarantino’s “record room” looks like a vinyl boutique, with LPs separated into bins labeled by genres like soul and soundtracks. “In the past, when we’ve started preparation,” she says, “he invites me over and I madly scribble as he’s talking a mile a minute and pausing to put the needle down on records. Everything starts in his record room.”

The major difference with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was the time frame. For his poetic-license retelling of the intersection of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, the Charles Manson posse, and fictional actors played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Tarantino didn’t want any of the music heard in the film to go beyond one year (1969, when the film is set). Although they were approached by several name acts to record covers or – in the case of Lana Del Rey – offer up their own material, Tarantino stuck with his time-capsule idea. “Nothing later than 1969, some things from before,” Ramos says. “He was a bit more anachronistic with this. He wanted to stay very specific to the period.”

The Hollywood soundtrack features plenty of classic-rock types (the Rolling Stone, Bob Seger, Neil Diamond), but we asked Ramos to dig into some of the deeper-cut moments in the film. To continue reading this article, which first appeared in Rolling Stone, click here.

Tarantino’s latest movie, set in 1969 Los Angeles, mixes fictitious characters with actual celebrities, TV series, films and landmarks of the era, as it tells the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an invented TV star, and his equally made-up stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

In Tarantino’s alternate reality, Rick lives in Benedict Canyon on Cielo Drive, next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a real-life ingénue who was eight and a half months pregnant and wed to the Polish director Roman Polanski when she was brutally murdered along with other houseguests by members of the cult led by Charles Manson. 

Here’s a glossary to sort out the real references from the fake ones.

(Warning: Major spoilers ahead!)

The Manson-adjacent movie has resurfaced the story of a man who has fascinated and horrified America since he and his “family’s” murder spree in 1969. Here’s what to read from a New York Times list if you want to learn more about Manson and his crimes.

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