A story that neither we, nor Timseltown will ever come to terms with
The first time I read about the murders on Cielo Drive must have been somewhere in the early seventies when I started to read through the vast book collection in my parent’s house. I recall being mystified by a few photos taken in a hallway where a bearded guy was led to court, followed by one of three very young women all wearing the same simple outfits led in the same direction. Being six or seven years old it was hard to place these, what happened, what was going on here? What was not difficult to sense was that, whatever this was, this was so far out of anything ordinary there must be something deeply unsettling behind the images.
Over the years it became clearer who Charles Manson was and who Sharon Tate was. And to this day I wonder why Chrysler ever thought it was a great idea of naming a car ‘Sebring’ because every time you see it drive by you think of that Hollywood hairdresser who got brutally murdered alongside Tate. And then there are the infrequent touchpoints: a book, a Wikipedia entry, a discussion and the story comes together in all its unsettling gruesomeness. Because no sane human can or will ever comprehend why total strangers ritually knife an eight-month pregnant woman to death in her own home. And digging into that history, you consequently learn that Hollywood was incapable for some fifty years to look this into the eye and turn it into a movie. The wound inflicted by the drama is too deep, too violent and above all, too close to home.
Quentin Tarantino took it on, fifty years after the event. He opts for telling the story in an indirect way, with Brad Pitt and Leonardo diCaprio carrying the role of fictional observers living next door to the house of horrors on Cielo Drive. And in a strange way, finding some false and very short-lived redemption by presenting a radically different outcome of the story. As mystifying the ending to the movie may be, there is that split second you actually think Tate, Folger, Sebring, Frykowski and Parent (who does not show up in the movie at all) ended up living much longer than they did. It does acknowledge that none of us can or wants to see what really happened that night which was indeed my biggest fear going into the theatre. It will always be an unwatchable and inexplicable horror and Tarantino does appear to be making this point in a clever and compelling way.
To be clear, it is hard to see how the general movie going public gets this film. It is a long-winded expose, full of industry references and facts. This includes the ‘spaghetti western’ part, honouring the late Sergio Leone and his epic ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, note that title. That movie was, like this one, a cinematographic lust for the eye and so what does result is a beautiful painting of Hollywood in the late sixties, with Di Caprio, Pitt and Margot Robbie as Tate carrying the almost three hour epic. Contrasting the party at the Playboy Mansion with the goings on at the Spahn Ranch the movie gives you the historical context to really analyze what happened, but you will still need to have a lot of the background facts to put it all in place.
As one of my daughter’s texted after having seen it and following my multiple explanations, ‘I still do not get it’. With that she referenced the movie of course, but in a way the Tate murders will always elude us all. Still, Tarantino’s movie gives us a glimpse and enables us to come a bit closer to an unfathomable part of Hollywood history.