Thursday, August 8, 2019

A Grim Anniversary

It was hardly the moon landing - or even Woodstock. Were it not for Quentin Tarantino's troubling but fantastic film Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, the 50th anniversary of the infamous Manson-cult murders of actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child,  and her house guests on August 8, 1969, might be passing with much less notice. As I noted in my own review of the film last week, it is a very good movie; but the picture it presents of that period about which Tarantino is so nostalgic may itself serve as an effective cure for such nostalgia. The film's surprise ending radically alters the actual history of that terrible night, but the real historical crime has come to be seen by many as a symbolic end to that era and to the more benevolent interpretation of the counter-cultural fantasies of the sixties.

The previous year's rock musical Hair had highlighted the "hippie" movement and reflected its contemporary cultural resonance. Its music was so good that its songs have survived and have continued to be popular long past the hippie movement's demise. (A friend of mine who saw Hair early in its first run reflected at the time that the show itself was anticipating the end of the hippie movement.) Great music and an explosion of color in place of previously uniformly drab outfits (especially for men) are among the more positive legacies of that brief interlude when it may have genuinely seemed a new era of peace and love was being inaugurated in place of a shallow conformist culture. On this date in 1969, that most glamorous harbinger of a new era of music, peace, love, and joy, Woodstock, was one week away. But that bubble was doomed to burst soon enough. It would surely have burst anyway, even without the Manson cult's crimes, but those terrible crimes shed a bright light on the dark underside of the sixties' "revolution." (In Tarantino's movie, even before the violent ending, his depiction of the squalor and sheer pointlessness of the hippie commune's life are already enough warning that that alternative to shallow conformity could not create anything of lasting value and could only end badly - as of course the sixties did.)

We have all been irrevocably formed by the sixties - both those of us who lived through it and those who have inherited the poisoned legacy we left them. This grim anniversary is yet another reminder of how as a society we have yet to come to terms completely with the confused legacy of the sixties and how shaped - and misshaped - we have been by that traumatic decade.

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