Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: how true is the story?

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film released in the summer of 2019, had passed on everyone’s lips in the months prior to the release not only for the amazing cast put together, but above all because it seemed to be a film based on the murders that Charles Manson’s “family” carried out in 1969: those that led, among others, to the death of Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s wife and young movie star of that period.

Quentin Tarantino, however, strove in several ways to explain that the film would not have been based on those events, nor would it have treated a “true story” in the strict sense, despite the numerous articles prior to the release that wanted to believe that way. In the end, the film proved him right: Once upon a time in Hollywood tells a fantasy story set in a really existed context, with some real characters and events that at a certain point take an alternative turn from what really happened. From this point of view, the plot of the film performs an operation similar to Inglourious Basterds, which stages the death of Hitler at the hands of the Americans. Likewise, the parallel universe of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood portrays, in a bitterly romantic way, a Sharon Tate that survives the attempted murder of the Manson Family.

In the film there are therefore many elements that really existed in 1960s Hollywood and others of fantasy. Here are the answers to the questions that arise after watching the film.

Did Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth really exist?

No, the characters played by Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt are made up, but they are inspired very closely by Burt Reynolds and his stuntman Hal Needham. Reynolds and his stunt were also friends in private life, in a very similar way to what you see among the protagonists of the film. Similar are also the types of productions in which the actors act in Tarantino’s film, with even a real quote from the Lancer series, which actually aired on TV in the late 1960s. Burt Reynolds was also expected to be part of the cast of the film, but died a few months before filming began.

Was the Hollywood of that period really like that?


Yes, the contextualization of the film is the most authentic part: the hippies, the feverish cinematographic activity, the parties, the luxury homes, the constant pressure of the actors who were aging as the new generation arrived… at the end of the years’ 60 Hollywood was experiencing a clear transformation, the classic actors saw their roles grow old before their eyes and the end of the decade brought the feeling that things would change. Tarantino’s Hollywood is that full of nostalgia for an unrepeatable period, with drive-in cinemas, the prestige of belonging to the cinema system, the unique characters that populated the streets and the true vitality that hippies brought to the social context. The summer of 1969 represented in the film is what, according to many, marked the end of Hollywood and the beginning of a period of disillusionment and confrontation with a different reality.

Does Bruce Lee’s representation match with reality?

The short scene in which Bruce Lee appears is one of the most contested in the film, because it represents the martial arts champion actor in a defiant attitude towards the others, even bragging that he can beat Muhammad Ali. Bruce Lee’s daughter and others who worked with him defended the athlete’s memory, describing him as a person who has always remained humble and very respectful of others. Quentin Tarantino, however, responded to those comments by reiterating the veracity of his representation and confirming that Bruce Lee had the unpleasant behavior seen in the film. As spectators, most likely we will never know the truth.

Was the Spahn Ranch really home to the hippies of the Manson family?

Yes, the Spahn Movie Ranch is a real place used to shoot several western movies of the time and will later become the main residence of the members of the Manson family. This is a part of the story taken faithfully from reality and can be a surprise for many, since it is a part of the story that not everyone knows. The ranch owner, George Spahn (played in the film by Bruce Dern) allowed young hippies who revolved around Charles Manson to settle on the ranch for free in exchange for maintenance work.

What will become of Sharon Tate?

The ending of the film is the part where Quentin Tarantino explicitly wanted to stage an alternative reality: in the film the members of the Manson family decide to kill who they would find in Rick Dalton’s villa, but they have the misfortune of happening in front of the stuntman Cliff and his pitbull and, in the bloodiest and most “Tarantine” scene of the whole film, the bad guys end very badly.

The real story went in a sadly different way: Sharon Tate was really at home with friends, in the absence of her husband Roman Polanski in London for work, and was pregnant at the eighth month. In real life, on the evening of August 9, 1969 Sharon Tate will die at the hands of the boys inspired by the words of Charles Manson, and the true story of what happened is the one told in this dedicated article.

The Manson Family murders will mark the late 1960s for Hollywood and the beginning of a new epic of fear and disillusionment. Something that Quentin Tarantino wanted to exorcise, bringing back to life the particularity of an era that, with good reason, will remain in the hearts of all film fans.

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