Quentin Tarantino just became the most reactionary major filmmaker this side of Clint Eastwood. His latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, portrays the year the counterculture almost broke Hollywood, 1969, and Tarantino may accomplish the same thing five decades later. Already on thin ice with the woke crowd for his depiction of blacks and women, he commits three politically unpardonable crimes in his new movie. First, he celebrates female sexuality, not only in the gorgeousness of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate but also in a pretty teenager’s natural flirtation. Next, he presents a group of attractive women as willing sex slaves to a deranged man in a scene supported by history. Last, and worst of all, he showcases a chivalrous, macho, white hero, charismatically played by Brad Pitt, perhaps the coolest straight white male star since Clint Eastwood himself. All of these transgressions are slaps to the current liberal psyche. And, adding insult to injury, Pitt’s stuntman character, Cliff Booth, punches a smarmy hippie to a pulp and rejects a sexual favor by the clearly underage girl.
The Left has reacted with typical idiocy. To expose his supposedly blatant sexism, the once respectable Time magazine — which I grew up reading cover to cover — counted actress-versus-actor dialogue lines in all nine Tarantino movies. It never occurred to Time that the best five minutes of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood show a silent Robbie alone in a movie theater, enjoying the audience’s reactions to her scenes as Tate in the final Dean Martin-Matt Helm picture, The Wrecking Crew. Robbie’s expressions when her onscreen pratfall gets a laugh, then applause after she knocks out Nancy Kwan in a karate fight, are worth a dozen lines, and they convey the auteur’s inside knowledge of how hard an actress works for, and in, a part.
Quentin Tarantino is no conservative. In 2015, he joined a left-wing group protesting alleged NYPD minority abuse, prompting New York City’s largest police union to call for a boycott of his movies. But he’s an even greater film-lover than filmmaker. His major influences include John Woo, whose best work features hard-boiled men in a violent world where women are powerless commodities to be protected or used — in other words, most of planet Earth. Tarantino understands that the current leftist demand for intersectional obedience is fatally anti-art, and he has taken a firm stand against it, unlike his cowardly peers. When New York Times culture writer Farah Nayeri confronted him in Cannes over Margot Robbie’s few lines, Tarantino simply replied, “I reject your hypothesis.”
It’s no coincidence that Tarantino set his new movie in Hollywood’s most turbulent year. In 1969, the major studios were in total panic. Everything they knew or thought they knew about crowd-pleasing fare was being utterly rejected. For instance, Funny Girl having been a prestigious hit the year before, Columbia Pictures spared no expense on another sumptuous Barbra Streisand period musical, Hello, Dolly — that went bye bye, Dolly fast. Columbia experienced worse luck trying to duplicate the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the costlier Marooned — which was how theater owners felt after booking the picture. And how could they fail with screen darling Julie Andrews? Try Star! (released in late 1968). Other iconic stars had expensive flops, including Gregory Peck (Mackenna’s Gold), Burt Lancaster (Castle Keep), James Garner (Marlowe), Peter O’Toole (Goodbye, Mr. Chips), and even the King, Elvis Presley (Change of Habit). But the studios still made Westerns with veteran leads, and four that year became instant classics: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman), The Wild Bunch (William Holden), Once Upon a Time in the West (Henry Fonda), and True Grit (John Wayne), all with an anti-heroic element — in Fonda’s case, even gunning down a little boy.
So what was the prized youth crowd going to see that year? Counterculture films — Goodbye, Columbus, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Alice’s Restaurant, The Sterile Cuckoo — that better reflected the new reality of sex, drugs, race riots, and Vietnam War protests. In desperation, the studios spent a fortune attempting to out-hip one other, with embarrassing results (Che!, The Magic Christian, Where It’s At, The Landlord, WUSA). Although more mainstream productions gradually began their comeback (Patton, Airport, The French Connection, the Planet of the Apes sequels), the progressive strain lingered for five decades, waiting to take full control of cinema as it had the news media and academia. The first summer blockbuster, Jaws (1975), delayed the outbreak, as did Star Wars two years later, demonstrating that people wanted entertainment more than liberal politics.
And conservative politics kept frustrating Hollywood for four more decades — during the upbeat Reagan ’80s, then the Gingrich Revolution, then the War on Terror, then the Tea Party stymieing Obama. The inevitable presidency of Hillary Clinton was to finally break the petri dish along with the Glass Ceiling. When Hollywood’s worst nightmare, President Donald Trump, became reality, industry leaders went insane and started eating their own. This included former wunderkind Tarantino for refusing to go woke — in fact quite the opposite with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
He knew exactly what he was doing — as shown by his Charles Manson compound sequence in the movie. Right after Pitt’s Cliff Booth pummels the lone man there, he’s confronted by a dozen hippie women. Any other director today would have the ladies teach this toxic male a lesson in feminism. Instead, their leader, “Squeaky” Fromme (who in real life later shot at President Gerald Ford), orders a girl to get help from the nearest masculine cultist, a horse mounted cowboy named Tex. Tex starts galloping to aid the womenfolk in a scene straight out of any old Western. Watching it, I could hear liberal heads exploding above the sound of horse hooves.
What has been the damage to Tarantino for defying the Hollywood Compliance Decree? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood last weekend sailed over the $100 million domestic box office mark, the only original work to do so this summer. We traditionalist artists welcome Quentin to the club. It’s a lot bigger, and freer, than the Hollywood bubble.