It seems completely bizarre that the year 1969 was 50 years ago. Half a century has passed since I was 14-years-old, growing up in my hometown of Torrance, California.
It was the year I graduated from 8th grade and made the transition to high school. I took a summer school class–P.E. of all things–so that I could spend some time on campus before going full-time in the fall. The Beatles were still together, although they had gone all hippie and there were rumors of them not getting along. And while it was the year we finally made it to the moon, it had been a long decade. The Viet Nam War kept escalating, a president, his brother and a civil rights leader were assassinated and people were anxious to get to a fresh new decade and move on.
The Levy Elementary School Class of 1969
While the major spotlight of the 50th anniversary of 1969 fell on the moon landing with a little bit left for Woodstock, for the 14-year-old kid growing up on 226th Street, when I recall 1969, I go straight to the Manson murders.
Remember how back in 2001 when those passenger jets crashed into the Twin Towers and it took your brain a long time to accept someone could actually do that intentionally? When Charles Manson and his followers went on their killing sprees–two separate nights, with stabbings and mutilations–it was unthinkable. That anyone could go in and butcher people like that. Who were these monsters? it resulted in news coverage that rivaled what you saw during the O.J. trial. Being in the Los Angeles area, I remember a lot of people wondering, “Oh, my God, could we be next?” We had made the transition from hippies representing peace and love to whacked-out psychopaths with crazed eyes that carved swastikas on their foreheads and killed people. The hippies they arrested said they were inspired by the Beatles song, “Helter Skelter.” They even left that written in blood at one of the slaughters.
In the months and years that followed, Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Squeaky Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkle, Linda Kasabian and Susan Atkins became household words. The Spahn Ranch, a former site where they filmed a lot of westerns, had been engraved in our minds as the home base of Manson and his followers.
All this to say, I was very aware of what happened that fateful summer and was curious how Quentin Tarantino was going to work it into his new movie, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” I’m going to avoid spoilers as best I can because the strongest payoff for that movie is for you to be completely unaware of where it’s going.
For a teenager growing up in Southern California in 1969, this movie had a profound effect on me. I was two years away from a driver’s license, so if I went anywhere in a car in those days, I was a passenger. The same was true of Tarantino, so he intentionally included a lot of shots of vintage Southern California from the passengers’ point of view. To do that, he had to recreate streets, freeways, signs and traffic as it was 50 years ago. That’s where this movie became a time capsule for me. As the plot thickened, I was fixated on all the billboards, the now-defunct stores, and the bus stops with ads on them for things like TV Kids Show Host Hobo Kelly (who I had completely forgotten about) and L.A. news guy George Putnam. Everywhere I looked, I was back in the So Cal I grew up in, 50 years ago.
To be clear, this movie is not for everybody. Tarantino loves his f-bombs and extreme graphic violence so I can’t recommend it to mom. But if you allow yourself to get past that stuff, you will be treated to one amazing movie. It’s not a documentary, it’s a fairy tale. It’s not how the story ended in real life, but rather, how you wished it could have ended.
DiCaprio, Pitt, the entire cast acted their rear ends off. I’ve only seen a couple of Tarantino pictures because the cartoonish violence is often too much. But in this case, I had to restrain myself from breaking out into a standing ovation. It was that feeling you get when watching the coyote get crushed by something he intended for the roadrunner…times a hundred.
One probably shouldn’t make Oscar predictions in my current emotional state, but Leo and Brad are very deserving and I think a little gold statue is due to Mr. Tarantino, if nothing else for the fantastic time machine he created. He took me back to that unsettling summer of 1969 and made it all better.
Then again, isn’t that what fairy tales are supposed to do?