Once Upon a Time in Hollywood & Charlie Says

As I write Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood has just premiered at Cannes, where it received a six minute long standing ovation. I’m looking forward to buying a ticket and stepping into a cinema for the tenth time to one of his films, albeit I would have to admit that I’m just a wee bit apprehensive about how he might rewrite history on this occasion, even though Sharon Tate’s sister Debra co-operated with the director and is thanked in the credits.

The first four Tarantino releases in particular are among my very favourite films and a big part of why I lap them up so much is because QT possesses such an amazing knack for coming up with ingenious juxtapositions of soundtrack and visuals.

Who else would have thought to accompany a scene where a razor wielding madman tortures a cop in a warehouse while shuffling along to a catchy 1970s pop song, sung by a guy from Paisley with a bad case of Bob Dylanitis?

His choices are certainly seldom obvious, making it almost futile trying to guess what sounds he might utilise in any upcoming work – so, maybe perversely, a few months back I did briefly try to guess which tracks he might conceivably choose for Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.

With its late 1960s setting, he was surely spoiled for choice. The first song I thought of was Love and this stunning slice baroque/psych pop from Forever Changes. Here’s The Red Telephone:

By a complete coincidence, I’ve just heard this gem used on the soundtrack to Charlie Says, a newly released film that has much in common with Once Upon a Time.

Charlie Says is the latest film by Mary Harron, a former regular at CBGB and journalist for Punk and NME. Previously, she’s directed films featuring subjects like Valerie Solanis (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Bettie Page (The Notorious Bettie Page) but she’s still best known for her controversial adaptation of American Psycho from 2000.

Here, she gives her take on a real-life American psycho, Charles Manson, and the methods he employed to manipulate and control three of his ‘family’ in particular, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel.

As the movie opens all three are imprisoned in an isolated cell block and about to meet feminist tutor Karlene Faith (whose book The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten, this is largely based on). Faith attempts to persuade the brainwashed Mansonites of the grotesque error of their collective ways. They prove, however, stubbornly devoted to the maniac they view as a messiah.

To an uncomfortable extent, each of the guilty young women are portrayed as victims of Manson. Then again, I have read some writers dredging up excuses for Manson and painting him as a victim himself, arguing that he grew up disadvantaged and spent far too much of his younger life in reform schools and prison.

Dr Who Matt Smith as Charles Manson

The fate of these three prisoners – who seem largely interchangeable for long periods of time – never managed to grip me. Once you’ve embraced the idea of a race war against black people and then repeatedly stabbed completely innocent people over 100 times, including a heavily pregnant woman, before daubing graffiti on the walls with the blood of the dead, then my sympathies are unlikely to be aroused.

The best thing about Charlie Says is former Dr. Who, Matt Smith, who convinces as Manson whether he’s instructing his acolytes on how to help ignite ‘Helter Skelter’ or just roaming around outdoors and strumming on an acoustic like a second-rate Tim Hardin.

The soundtrack also includes The 13th Floor Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me and Peace of Mind by Blue Cheer, which sounds great over the end credits.

Pitt Robbie Dicaprio

Judging by the music used on the trailers for what is supposedly his penultimate movie, Tarantino has chosen some of his tracks due to Sharon Tate/Charles Manson connections.

Here’s a chaotic and very 1960s video of one of his selections. This is Paul Revere And The Raiders’ Good Thing, which somehow manages to feature both go-go dancers and a spot of vacuum cleaning:

Good Thing was produced by Terry Melcher, who had considered recording some of Manson’s music and making a documentary about his ‘Family’, neither of which he proceeded to push ahead with. Manson had met the producer at Melcher’s home at 10050 Cielo Drive, where musician Mark Lindsay, the lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders, also lived.

Melcher later severed all ties with Manson after witnessing Manson start a fight with a stuntman at Spahn Ranch, the primary residence of the Manson Family for much of 1968 and 1969. Shortly after this, Melcher moved from Cielo Drive and the owner leased the luxury home to director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate. You’ll know what happened next.

The sheet music for Straight Shooter by The Mamas and Papas was found by cops on the music stand on the piano in this residence, close to the slaughtered body of Tate. Polanski and Tate were friendly with the band, although Polanski at one point began to suspect John Phillips of sleeping with Sharon and even imagined that he could have been somehow involved in her murder at one point. Inevitably, paranoia was rife in the wake of the deaths.*

Phillips also was offered the chance to record with Manson but luckily declined. Of the Mamas and Papas, though, only Mama Cass (played by Rachel Redleaf) is listed by IMDB as appearing here.

Cass was questioned by the police in the aftermath of the murders, having also been visited by Manson and his followers beforehand and she was especially shook up as she was friendly not only with Tate but with the three other victims of the massacre: Jay Sebring, Woytek Frybowski and Abigail Folger.

I have read that José Feliciano’s version of California Dreamin’ also makes an appearance in Once Upon a Time, as does Neil Diamond with Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show and The Rolling Stones’ Out of Time.

Manson Family connections? Not that I’m aware of.

The complete soundtrack details are yet to be confirmed, so the final song that I know will be appearing is Bring a Little Lovin’ by Los Bravos, a track that was co-written by Glasgow-born George Young (the big bro of AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus). How’s this for a muscular bassline to help kick a tune off?

Will The Red Telephone feature? Or the Monkees, who I also thought might be in with a shout of making the soundtrack? Or Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky? (actually that was released two months after the Manson murders) Or how about The Archies’ Sugar, Sugar?

Probably not but hey, but the print shown at Cannes is unlikely to be Tarantino’s final cut of the movie and he has hinted that he would like to add some material. So, go on Quentin, you know you couldn’t go wrong with a bit of Sugar, Sugar.

Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood will be released in Britain on 15 August 2019. For more on the film click here.

* Polanski also later admitted that he briefly suspected that his martial arts instructor and friend Bruce Lee could have killed his wife. Yes, that Bruce Lee, who had recently taught Sharon Tate some fight moves for her role in The Wrecking Crew. He’s played by Michael Moh in Once Upon a Time and, judging from the trailers, this looks like a perfect choice.

A final piece of trivia. It was on a stay at Polanski’s ski chalet in Switzerland that Lee later picked up the iconic yellow suit that he wore in Game of Death, the inspiration for Uma Thurman’s outfit in Kill Bill Vol. 1.