Once Upon a Fateful 8

As Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood marks a record two months-plus run at the New Beverly, and steadily steps up to becoming one of the nation’s biggest-drawing new films released this year, it’s been particularly fascinating how audiences, many of whom have watched it multiple times, animatedly discuss it afterwards – after a screening outside the theatre, on social media, on podcasts, practically any forum. They discover great songs, TV shows, and performers they’d previously been unaware of. And some viewers have been diving into the minutiae of the film with great intensity, looking for touchstones of the past that add extra flavor to their enjoyment, knowing that the artists behind this phenomenon – not just writer/director Quentin Tarantino, but the outstanding cast and crew as well – are equally voracious movie lovers as themselves, likely more so.

Dozens of such articles about this ongoing Easter Egg hunt have been written. Some have been featured at our website, written by some of our favorite essayists as Kim Morgan and Tim Lucas. Our friends at A.V. Club and Den of Geek have also done an admirable job of finding and contextualizing these nuggets. But even with the abundance of writing on OUATIH, we’ve noticed there’s still a few interesting details that have not been talked about.

Most longtime followers of the New Beverly are already aware that in the weeks leading up to OUATIH’s release, numerous films and luminaries that in some fashion informed the events of the film were programmed. Some of them significant, such as Rick Dalton’s role in Operazione Dyn-O-Mite, which featured him inserted into real footage from Sergio Corbucci’s spy thriller Moving Target, which played in July. Some of them a blink-and-miss moment, like Cliff Booth’s TV night featuring a commercial for the polyamory comedy 3 in the Attic, which played in June. Even earlier in the year, retrospectives devoted to Burt Reynolds and Bruce Dern were helping fans mentally tailgate for the highly anticipated blockbuster. But going deeper through earlier Bev programming, you’ll see that a foundation for this magnum opus had been progressively lain years in advance. Like that popular meme from the 2017 neo-giallo The Snowman might say, “Hey Mister Film Detective, we gave you all the clues.”

  1. In August 2016, almost a full year before OUATIH was announced as a project, the first whiffs of the future came forward on the Bev calendar. On August 7th & 8th, a Sharon Tate double feature played: The Fearless Vampire Killers, the movie where Tate met and later married its director, followed by The Wrecking Crew, the breakout role that Tate herself is depicted joyously reliving at a Bruin screening during its opening run. And after that, on Tuesday, August 9th, on the 47th anniversary of the tragic events that have haunted the world ever after, the rarely-screened 1973 Oscar-nominated documentary Manson played to two sell-out shows that night, with co-director Robert Hendrickson making one of his last public appearances to conduct Q&A, before his death later that year on October 1st.
  1. In October 2016, the first Grindhouse Tuesday screening of the month was a double feature of two movies dramatizing news events of their time while they were still happening. The first, The Helter-Skelter Murders, aka The Other Side of Madness, was put into production by producer Wade Williams (later to become the well-known curator/rightsholder of classic fantasy adventures as the original Invaders from Mars and Rocketship X-M), using courtroom testimony of the first wave of Tate-LaBianca murder trials Williams himself transcribed in person, to create reenactments and speculative fantasy sequences to grasp the mindset of those held responsible for the carnage. Much like OUATIH, the film initially relegates Charles Manson to the foreground of the violent rampage he inspired, since he was not yet the world-famous provocateur he would become over time. It also presents an interlude with an avatar for Sharon Tate played by Debbie Duff, engaged in her world of acting, unaware of the dark forces that would close in on her; to emphasize the contrast and detachment, the docudrama is shot in black-and-white, while the Tate scenes are in color. And similar to the depiction of Pussycat and her fellow Manson acolytes dumpster diving while singing one of his original songs, “I’ll Never Say Never to Always,” Helter-Skelter Murders also includes an original recording of Manson himself singing another composition of his, “Mechanical Man.” In that same month, on the 21st & 22nd, the Bev also screened the classic horror hit Rosemary’s Baby, the 1968 film that made Tate’s then-husband an in-demand director in America, and the envy of his cinematic neighbor Rick Dalton.
  1. On November 23, 2016, just before Thanksgiving, the Bev presented a tribute event to James Stacy, the co-leading star of the western TV series “Lancer,” who had died earlier in the year on September 9th. The pilot episode for “Lancer,” which was directed by stage actor Sam Wanamaker (played by Nicholas Hammond in the film), and featured Joe Don Baker playing the villain essayed by Rick Dalton in OUATIH, was screened. The second feature was with the Kirk Douglas-directed western Posse, which featured a role specifically written for Stacy, who by that time had lost an arm and a leg in a 1973 motorcycle accident, an event subtly telegraphed by Timothy Olyphant as Stacy in his last scene. The night before, on November 22nd, the heist thriller They Came to Rob Las Vegas, which is advertised on a billboard in the Chinese Theatre parking lot during the February 9th section of the film, was screened. And days later, on November 27th & 28th, The Wrecking Crew played again, this time as part of a month-long salute to barrier-breaking Asian star Nancy Kwan.
  1. On June 5th, 2017, the Bev was in the beginning stage of a month-long salute to director Jerry Schatzberg, playing two of his earliest and most lauded films, The Panic in Needle Park and Scarecrow, both starring Al Pacino. That evening, with no advance word, audiences were treated to a surprise Q&A session between the two movies, with Pacino being interviewed by Quentin Tarantino himself! It would be a month later when news reports would first surface that Pacino was in talks to play savvy agent Marvin Schwarz (no “t”!).
  1. In November 2017, two diverse strains of late ‘60s filmmaking that are addressed in OUATIH got showcased on consecutive nights. November 14th presented a Grindhouse double feature tribute to producer/director Al Adamson and actor Russ Tamblyn, one of which, The Female Bunch, had several scenes shot at the Spahn Ranch by stuntman and sometime director John “Bud” Cardos. Adamson, son of cowboy actor Denver Dixon, was familiar with the location and owner George Spahn from previous film shoots of his father’s, and made two more films at the site, the biker dramas Angels’ Wild Women and Satan’s Sadists, with Tamblyn returning in the latter. Adamson is profiled in the new documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, directed by Severin Films founder and friend of the New Beverly David Gregory. The following two nights, November 14th & 15th, offered a double feature toplined by emerging young actors that, as Tarantino described in a pre-release interview, were replacing the square-jawed archetypes Rick Dalton represented, saying, “They didn’t know [that] the hippie sons of famous people, these skinny, androgynous, shaggy-haired leading men, would be the next big thing.” Adam at 6 A.M. was the second star vehicle for Michael Douglas, and Where it’s At provided a rare leading man casting for longtime stage actor Robert Drivas, who had earlier appeared in supporting parts in Cool Hand Luke and The Illustrated Man, the latter film’s radio ad appearing during a KHJ commercial break.
  1. In December 2017, the Bev was preparing to take a long break for some much-needed renovation and repairs, but a couple more seeds got planted before the hibernation. On December 9th, The Great Escape was screened, as part of a week-long tribute to James Garner, whose seamless transitions to TV and film and back again were surely the envy of every Rick Daltonesque actor. And, as seen in Dalton’s private thoughts, it was the movie that could have taken him to the next level of stardom instead of Steve McQueen had things gone differently. That same night at midnight, Ferdinando Baldi’s Get Mean was screened, the fourth of a series of Italian-made cult westerns starring American expat Tony Anthony as “The Stranger,” the kind of character Marvin Schwarz pitches to Rick Dalton in the opening reel of OUATIH. In an extra bit of symmetry, Get Mean, as well as earlier trailers for Anthony’s westerns, featured Bob Seger’s 1967 song “Heavy Music,” which was a significant enough regional hit in his home city of Detroit that it landed him a contract at Capitol Records, who released his larger national breakout single “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” in 1968, which Cliff Booth grooves to on KHJ during a long evening drive.
  1. When the Bev reopened in December 2018, they closed out the month with Emmett Alston’s 1980 holiday horror film New Year’s Evil, which includes a pivotal sequence that takes place at the former Van Nuys Drive-In, in whose shadow Cliff Booth has parked his mobile home. The Van Nuys was one of several drive-ins that were owned and operated by Pacific Theatres, who continue to operate the iconic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, whose marquee is seen during a montage of neon light-ups at sunset during the February 9th section. Also notable, the double feature playing during New Years Evil was an actual Cannon Films combo of Blood Bath, an omnibus horror film by Bloodsucking Freaks director Joel Reed, and Blood Feast, a retitling of Emilio Miraglia’s 1972 giallo The Red Queen Kills Seven Times with Barbara Bouchet, the kind of Italian-sourced project that Rick Dalton may have considered making during his European sojourn. The Van Nuys Drive-In closed in 1996 and was demolished in 1998 to build the Vista Middle School, who proclaim themselves “the home of the Vaqueros” in honor of the giant cowboy mural that the venue was known for.
  1. And finally, on January 27th & 28th of this year, the New Beverly played what has been considered the gold standard of a many-times-told story, the 1968 film of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, directed by Franco Zefferelli. In OUATIH, during the six month range of the saga, from February to August of 1969, amidst the dozens of marquees and posters seen throughout, it is the movie that has stayed put at its playdate at the Vine Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard the entire time, one of the few constants in an epic about change. Romeo & Juliet did indeed play for months during its initial release, and even had a successful wide reissue in 1973. In particularly curious convergence, its teenage star Olivia Hussey had briefly dated Terry Melcher, the previous tenant of the 10050 Cielo Drive house before Sharon Tate, was managed by Rudi Altobelli, who owned the house, and in September 1969, moved into the house after the Tate murders had occurred; at one point during the Manson trials, she was present for a walk-through of the scene given by Linda Kasabian to D.A. Vincent Bugliosi. Altobelli also managed 3 in the Attic star Christoper Jones, who was a frequent tenant of the Cielo Drive property as well, had been in Tate’s circle of friends, and with whom Hussey would have a tempestuous relationship before moving into the house.

All of these moments are a reminder that the programming at the New Beverly is not only one of the most unique of any other repertory venue, it often delivers rewards to movie lovers that aren’t immediately perceptible. Who knows what great movie or other artistic creation of the future is being inspired and expanded upon right this moment from the accumulated years of calendar offerings? Maybe the next one will be yours!

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