by Rob DiCristino
A man looks to the Los Angeles sky through bloodshot eyes. Nursing an endless hangover, he’s had only a passing understanding of what’s been happening around him for some time. What he’s just heard, however, has cut through the haze. What he’s just heard is the truth. The truth about his middle age. The truth about his fading celebrity. The truth about his future. And the conclusion he comes to, while blunt, still manages to get to the heart of the matter:
“It’s official, old buddy: I’m a has-been.”
Because he is. Rick Dalton is a has-been. There is simply no place for him in 1969’s Hollywood. The era (era) of the chiseled silver screen idol is over. The era of sincerity, of big bands and sweeping romances is over. The New Hollywood is about freedom and experimentation. Cinema is getting more personal, less bound by the limitations of genres and schtick. Rick is literally a cowboy in an industrial age, a man whose skill set is no longer of any use to anyone.
But Sharon Tate isn’t a has-been. She’s an about-to-be. Beautiful, young, and energetic, the bombshell actress is making all the right moves. Movies like Valley of the Dolls and The Wrecking Crew may not be critical successes, but her screen presence is lively enough that just one big leap — like, say, marrying one of the hottest young directors in town — was enough to bring her just to the edge of major stardom. More importantly, and unlike Rick, Sharon isn’t putting on a show. She actually embodies the energy of her age. Watching The Wrecking Crew with a matinee crowd, Sharon is overjoyed to hear that the laughs come right as intended. She thinks back to the work she put in (martial arts training with Bruce Lee) and feels genuine pride. Compare that with Rick, who — while certainly capable of a great performance — needs to bring himself within an inch of catastrophe to get there. He needs Cliff to reassure him that his turn on F.B.I. was good enough, that he’s still Got It. But he doesn’t. At least, not right now.