In cinemas, the summer of 2019 has already been a strange reprise of August 1969, thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood delighting crowds with a what-if vision of Tinseltown history. Amid the namedropping in the film, the lack of reference to Peter Fonda is telling. If the whole point of it is to present a Hollywood counterfactual, one where the hippies never took over the movie business, then Fonda – whose role in that true story was more pivotal than any other – is best written out altogether. It is, in fact, a tribute.
Stripped down to a simple list of credits, which film in what year, Fonda’s career tells the story of a supple, charismatic actor. But his influence went deeper and wider. He was the author of a mighty kink in the culture, that began that one summer 50 years ago with the release of Easy Rider – the biker tale that shook America and transformed Hollywood.
Side - Tarantino - Movie - Village - Nostalgia
It is illuminating to put it side by side with Tarantino’s movie – a model village of meticulous nostalgia built by a man who was six years old at the time. Easy Rider was in every way the opposite – wilfully loaded with chaos and fuzz, the work of people who were very much there in the moment; a moving snapshot.
Fonda could have easily chosen to have been elsewhere. His childhood was streaked with tragedy and novelistic incident – the suicide of his mother, Frances Ford Seymour, when he was 10; the episode soon after when he accidentally shot himself in the stomach. Still, he had a golden future laid out for him, having been born into film business nobility, the son of a grand movie everyman in his father, Henry; his sister Jane a star, too, by...
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