Quentin Tarantinos acclaimed new drama sees Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt struggle to deal with an industry and a town that are rapidly changing
Its 1969, and Los Angeles doesnt look like it used to. Psychedelic flyers wallpaper the telephone poles advertising love-ins and happenings, dirty pictures have started getting proper red carpet premieres and storefronts tout ever-more-sophisticated TV sets. The strong, silent types that used to people the streets have been replaced by druggies and weirdos. Quentin Tarantinos latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, wedges itself between a fading past and the future toward which it rapidly hurtles, training its camera on a few characters caught in the crossfire. The audience can perceive the vicissitudes of the years in a microcosmic form with just one moment, too, in the clothing, music and production design.
California set the scene for the social upheavals of the counterculture era, when surfaces offered a simple and immediate way to tell the establishment squares apart from the free-loving, free-spirited youth. These groups, the generational ideals they symbolize and their collision all hover around the films central theme, with Tarantino triangulating the turning point between the old and new. He communicates these ideas through their choices in scenery, props and garb that identifies a person as a member of one cultural camp or the other. In the entertainment industry, where appearance means everything and being seen by the public as pass represents a fate worse than death, looking the part can mean the difference between success and failure.
Rick Dalton, the journeyman actor portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, worries he may have an image problem. A staple of TV serials during the 50s now facing obsolescence as tastes morph, he is scraping by on guest spots casting him as a novelty, a reference to himself. The film joins him as he prepares for once such gig, pairing a leather jacket the color of chocolate milk with a rotation of polyester turtlenecks. Its tough guy attire with a bit of actorly flair, precisely the sort of thing a man would wear to set to let his castmates know hes a performer, but hes no sissy. Theres a thin gold chain to go with this ensemble, and one gets the sense that its Ricks lone concession to the fashion trends drifting toward the flamboyant and ostentatious.