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.

David Crosby: Remember My Name

Last Monday night, Washington Post movie critic Anne Hornaday joined me for my presentation at the Smithsonian where we discussed the impact the 1970 documentary on Woodstock had on the legacy of the most-famous mud and myth rock festival of the 1960s.

Hornaday was a huge music fan (especially of the Who) before she became a film critic, which may partially explain why her reviews of music documentaries are so insightful. Of course, the main reason for her success is that Anne is a great analyzer and a powerfully descriptive writer no matter what type of film she is reviewing.

Tonight, I saw the new film David Crosby: Remember My Name and here is Anne’s review to help you better understand the film if you should decide to see it.

By Ann Hornaday

Washington Post Movie critic

Rating:     (3 stars)

“David Crosby: Remember My Name” was one of the breakout hits at Sundance this year, and understandably so: In this film, the pioneering folk-rock musician — who will turn 78 in a couple of weeks — emerges less as a lion in winter than a tiger in full attack mode, as often as not against himself.

Haloed by a nimbus of cottony white hair, still sporting the walrus mustache he made chic in the 1960s, Crosby presents a reflective, irascible, observant and irresistibly candid figure in a documentary that ostensibly chronicles one of his many comeback tours but becomes something far more introspective. “Remember My Name” joins a cohort of nostalgic music movies that have glutted theaters this summer, and it spares few musical pleasure points: When Crosby reminisces about forming the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, those glorious harmonies burst forth with the same exhilarating abandon baby boomers thrilled to when they heard them for the first time.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Charles Manson and ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’

July 25, 2019 by Neely Tucker

This story is adapted from an issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.

Charles Manson scarcely appears in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” the new Quentin Tarantino film. But the Manson family’s murderous home invasions on the nights of Aug. 8 and 9, 1969, give the film its narrative tension, and Manson’s aura hangs over the entire film, as it should. The story of his band of hippies turned killers – mostly wayward young women with a penchant for drugs, sex and knives – has transfixed the nation for half a century, in a way that few other crimes ever have.

The slayings – seven people were butchered, including actress Sharon Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant — were a horror show that brought the excesses of the decade into glittering focus. The nation, transfixed, looked at the killings and saw the larger society unraveling. Hippies, drugs, guns, celebrity, violence, racism, counterculture revolution. It all blew up into the madness of a man who wanted to ignite an apocalyptic race war by killing rich white people and framing black people for it.

Front page of Los Angeles Times, Dec. 6, 1969, with headlines designed to generate street sales.

The Manson murders, Joan Didion famously wrote, ended the ‘60s. “Helter Skelter,” prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s frightening book about the killings, is still the bestselling true-crime book in U.S. history. All three of Manson’s female co-defendants were sentenced to death, likely the most women condemned to die in one incident in North American jurisprudence since the Salem witch trials in 1692. (All five death sentences in the case, including Manson’s, were later commuted to life in prison following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.)

Sharon Tate, on the cover of Look magazine, Sept. 5, 1967. Look Collection, Prints & Photographs Division.

As the number of books, pop songs, films, documentaries and based-on novels  blossomed over the years, Manson became the primogenitor of the “killer with something to say” trope, the idea that there’s this darkly intelligent madman who’s onto something about the quivering underbelly of the American dream. Like he was the Joker from Batman, brought to life. Reporters flocked to his jail cell for interviews. He was profiled on the cover of Rolling Stone in a 30,000-word story that dubbed him “the most dangerous man alive.” His image — greasy black hair, grungy beard, the “X” he cut into his forehead before his trial — was emblazoned on T-shirts and posters. Guns N’ Roses recorded one of his songs. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails made a music video in the house where Manson’s followers killed Tate and her friends. Rocker Marilyn Manson used the killer for half of his stage name.

“I am what you made of me and the mad dog devil killer fiend leper is a reflection of your society,” Manson said after his conviction. “Whatever the outcome of this madness that you call a fair trial or Christian justice, you can know this: In my mind’s eye my thoughts light fires in your cities.”

He died in prison in 2017, at age 83.

Manson’s hold on the national imagination is preserved in the Library in several ways – courtroom sketches, books, newspaper archives, recordings – the most notable of which is the iconic drawing by the legendary courtroom artist William Robles. Robles spent every day of the nine-month trial sitting a few feet away from Manson, who, as he remembers, “terrified people.” Once, when Robles accidentally knocked over his sketching materials, making a clatter, he looked up to see Manson suppressing a giggle, playfully running one index finger down the other: The “shame on you” gesture.

“I could see how people were attracted to him,” Robles said in a recent interview. “He had an appeal, a warmth.”

It’s not as crazy a contradiction as it sounds.

Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have killed one another, often for reasons that can neither be clearly articulated nor understood, and this violent mystery goes to the heart of human nature. Who are we? What are our ultimate taboos, and how do we respond when these are violated? Crime, writ small or large, can therefore become a shorthand, a brutal slash of insight, into the society that spawns it.

The first lines of Homer’s “The Iliad” — the foundational epic of Western literature, composed about 2,800 years ago – describe the murderous “anger of Achilles” that sent many a brave soul “hurrying down to Hades.” The biblical Book of Genesis, another cornerstone of Western culture, says that when the population of the Earth was four, Cain killed Abel, reducing it to three.

The Library’s holdings on the meanings of murder range from ancient manuscripts to Wild West ballads to most everything in between. Some of these reflect the low arts of the “penny bloods,” the wildly popular Victorian-era serial stories that presaged today’s tabloids. Others achieve the status of high art, such as Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” the 1966 story of a multiple murder in Kansas that helped create the true-crime-as-literature-and-social-commentary genre.

Harry Truman, then a U.S. Senator from Missouri, lets U.S. Vice President John Nance Garner handle Jesse James’ guns. Feb. 17, 1938. Photo: Harris & Ewing. Prints & Photographs Division.

The roots of this run deep in the American bloodstream. After the Civil War, the “Wild West” became a mythological landscape, a place where murder, blood and cruelty became a romantic notion. Jesse James, a Missouri-born bank robber and killer, became a cultural icon. Nearly a century after James was gunned down, President Harry Truman, a fellow Missourian, acquired his pistols and playfully posed with them – murder weapons as presidential guffaws.

“It’s always been an American theme to make heroes out of the criminals,” Johnny Cash, who himself made a career from songs of outlaws and prisons, told Rolling Stone in 2000. “Right or wrong, we’ve always done it.”

But it was only after Capote’s lyrical tale of murder in rural Kansas that Americans began seeing nonfiction literature and serious art as appropriate forums with which to address the nation’s violent culture without the gauze of fiction. The “New Journalism” Capote and others practiced on crime reporting became so influential that, today, we take it for granted. Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, Academy Awards – all have all been given to tales of true crime. In 2016, ESPN Films described “O.J.: Made in America,” its Academy Award-winning, eight-hour documentary about the 1990s O.J. Simpson murder trial as “the defining cultural tale of modern America – a saga of race, celebrity, media, violence, and the criminal justice system.”

They might well have been describing the Manson case half a century earlier. Robert Kirsch, the L.A. Times book editor, reviewing “Helter Skelter” upon publication, seized on the crime’s significance. The book, and others like it, he wrote, were attempting to understand the frightening era in which they were living: “To accept these (killings) as simply symptoms of the malaise of the times,” he wrote, “is to abandon the obligations of civilization to rationally address even the most irrational and fearful events.”

Heading to Woodstock – 50 Years On

It was music and it was magic. It was a muddy mess elevated to modern-day myth. It was Melanie, Mountain, and a multitude of hippies, peaceniks, flower children, and freaks. It was mind-blowing and momentous, and it became a milestone for the ages. It was Woodstock. And I wasn’t there. 

Now, at the time, I had a good reason for not going.  Two-and-a-half weeks before Woodstock, the first three-day rock festival on the East Coast was staged just a few miles from Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Atlantic City Racetrack. There, 50,000 fans attended the Atlantic City Pop Festival and I was one of them. During those three days, I saw Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Joe Cocker, Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, and Joni Mitchell, all of whom were scheduled to perform at Woodstock. I also saw, among others, The Mothers of Invention, Procul Harum, the Byrds, B.B. King, Chicago, Three Dog Night, the Chambers Brothers, Dr. John the Night Tripper, and Little Richard. So, when friends from my South Jersey hometown asked me to join them on a journey to Woodstock, I declined. 

But I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t go to Woodstock keep me from writing about the festival just one month after it happened. Woodstock was the subject of my first freshman out-of-class essay I wrote in September of 1969 for Villanova University English Department Chairman Dr. Robert Wilkinson. Dr. Wilkinson deemed my essay cogent, informative, and insightful, but awarded me a grade of D since it contained two spelling errors and two grammatical mistakes. (He was a truly tough evaluator and I hope you will be easier on my books). Despite that crappy start, Dr. Wilkinson eventually became my life-long mentor and was one of the three main influencers (my mother Mary Louise Ivins Price and my high school journalism teacher Jack Gillespie being the others) who led me to enter the worlds of teaching and writing. 

And now, 50 years later, I am returning to Woodstock as a subject for my writing. The festival, in both its original year and its 50th anniversary, is serving as a main linking event in a three-book series I am writing examining the past, present, and future of the music we now call classic rock. In this book, Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock GenerationI’m attempting to guide readers through the post-World War II years of the rhythm and blues and country and western music that set the stage for rock & roll, the early Elvis years of rock, the Beatles invasion of America, the psychedelic ’67 Summer of Love, a tumultuous 1968, and the historic festival at Woodstock one year later.  

The next book in the series, What’s That Sound? –  25 Genres and 50 Artists Who Helped Make the Music of the Woodstock Generation will pick up the story at the three-day anniversary celebration held in 2019 at the site of the original Woodstock festival. Then we’ll explore the music of artists who performed at the Woodstock music festival, the Atlantic City Pop Festival, and later in the ’70s, all of which led to the creation of what we today call classic rock. The final volume – tentatively titled Rock of Agers: Why Do the Classic Sounds of the Woodstock Generation Continue to Resonate So Loudly Today? – will show you how you can experience the entire classic rock story by sailing on four floating Woodstock-festival-like music-themed cruises. The book then offers six chapters examining the variety of ways the sounds and legacy of classic rock are being passed on to new listeners.  

So start saving your money. I think the books will be worth buying and I hope you will, too.