Any new project from Quentin Tarantino is big news, but the recent revelation that he's prepping a movie connected in some way to the Manson family murders seemed to take us all by surprise.
A large part of that can be attributed to the fact that Tarantino has never tackled a true story before.
The Tate-Labianca murders of 1969 continue to cast a large dark pall over both pop culture and the entertainment industry. The grisly murders were committed at the behest of failed musician/cult leader Charles Manson, who went to jail for the crimes, where he remains to this day.
Although there were many factors in the murders, Manson was famously obsessed with celebrity, and his sloppy interactions with the music business (which were eloquently explored in the amazing podcast You Must Remember This) stoked murderous resentment within him for the people he speciously blamed for his failures.
One of the victims, Sharon Tate, was a huge movie star and, horrifically, was eight and half months pregnant when she was brutally killed by one of Manson's acolytes.
The incident continues to have a significant presence in popular media, with two recent high profile projects inspired by the Manson family being Emma Cline's smash hit novel The Girls, which portrays a Manson-esque cult, and the David Duchovny drama series Aquarius, in which Manson was a recurring character.
A Tarantino take on this subject is an undeniably tantalising prospect indeed, especially with rumoured potential cast members Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt. It also just came out that Tarantino apparently met with Australian actress Margot Robbie about portraying Tate.
But the notion is also problematic.
Let's look at both arguments:
Is it a good idea?
Tarantino's affinity for pop culture touchstones is well-established, and this incident contains many of his storytelling hallmarks. Just the prospect of seeing Tarantino portray the hippie era is alluring on its own.
The Manson murders provide plenty of ready-made metaphors for all sorts of things - the dark side of celebrity worship, the death of the free love movement, the homicidal tendencies of failed artists just being a few - but QT leads pop culture more than he follows it, and would surely bring something new to the table.
The filmmaker has said he's only going to make 10 movies, and this would be his ninth. Could be a fantastic penultimate act.
But then again...
Is it a bad idea?
Tarantino's movies are famous for their extreme scenes of brutal violence. There are many ways to interpret this particular cinematic predilection, but the violence often seems justified through the prism of whatever genre the filmmaker was deconstructing at the time (Western for Django Unchained, Gangster for Pulp Fiction, War for Inglourious Basterds).
When you bring a real-life murder spree into the equation, the distancing effect of the film genre goes away and you're left with some very stark real-world awfulness that doesn't lend itself to any kind of ironic portrayal.
I guess you could argue that Tarantino executed something similarly with the way Inglourious Basterds tackled certain historical truths, but the Manson murders are just so unbearably horrible and intimate that a filmmaker known for gleeful portrayals of violence should probably stay far away.
I want to believe that Tarantino can make a non-exploitative film out of this subject matter, but it's hard to deny that the notion brings with it a large element of unease.