Once upon a Time in Hollywood trailer drops, and it’s unreconstructed Tarantino

Prepare for DiCaprio, Pitt, freaky dancing and an awkward Manson Family association

The trailer for Quentin Tarantino's Once upon a Time in Hollywood has dropped. Students of that key millennial director, both those in support and those opposed, have been pondering the clues like anthropologists constructing ancient societies from the dug-up relics: bones, crockery, idols. People who think he's a menace still think he's a menace. People who think he's a messiah have yet to be shaken from that belief. That's how trailer drops work.

In truth the teaser tells us little we didn't already know. Tarantino, one of Harvey Weinstein's busiest former collaborators, had the misfortune – or was sufficiently misguided – to announce the project as his former mentor's outrages were eating up the headlines. Revelations about the director's apparent mistreatment of Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill added to the unease.

Word emerged early that the film concerned Hollywood professionals orbiting the murder, in 1969, of Sharon Tate. That surely brought Tate's husband, the sex offender Roman Polanski, into the picture. When Leonardo DiCaprio was cast there was immediate, ill-informed outrage that such a glamorous character was set to play Charles Manson, who orchestrated Tate's death. But DiCaprio wasn't. He plays an intermittently successful actor based loosely on Burt Reynolds. Brad Pitt is an older stunt double modelled partially on the older Hall Needham.

What concerns most observers is the extent to which the film really has to do with the murders in Benedict Canyon. Might we see a counterhistorical fantasy in which Tate, like the heroes who killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, wipes out Manson before he and his cohort wreak their terrible havoc?


Nobody outside the production knows. But the trailer is a pretty funny slice of unreconstructed Tarantino. Margot Robbie, believably cast as Tate, emerges from a swimming pool and gets to do a few seconds of freaky 1960s dancing. There is a pan that looks to take in scruffy members of the Manson Family, as Manson's devotees were known. The Australian actor Damon Herriman scowls as the late maniac himself.

But the focus in the much-pondered 90 seconds is on DiCaprio and Pitt. Following a shot of the Columbia Pictures torch bearer in her late-1960s incarnation, a monochrome opening, cut apparently from a contemporaneous TV show, has the interviewer pressing Pitt into discussing his role carrying DiCaprio's "load". There is a good joke at the close that presses home the actor's self-absorption and (possibly) chemical dependency. The centrepiece has Pitt sparring amusingly with Mike Moh as Bruce Lee. As ever, Tarantino cuts to period-appropriate pop music. Here it's Last Train to Clarksville by The Monkees and Bring a Little Lovin' by the Spanish beat group Los Bravos.

If we had seen this trailer 20 years ago we would immediately recognise it as the work of Tarantino or one of his already unavoidable imitators. Few controversial takes would follow. The association, oblique or not, with Tate and Manson does, however, lend an awkward ambience in these more cautious times. There is enough in the trailer (or, perhaps, enough not in the trailer) for a few punters to declare that they will go nowhere near the film on its release.

All is likely to be revealed on the Côte d'Azur in exactly two months. Tarantino's Pulp Fiction premiered at Cannes film festival on May 21st, 1994 – going on to win the Palme d'Or – and Once upon a Time in Hollywood seems set to emerge on the 25th anniversary. Cannes needs the picture. The picture needs Cannes. It will open to the public in July.