The ghastly horrors that befell Sharon Tate in the final moments of her life do not belong in a horror film, and yet that’s where you’ll find them in The Haunting of Sharon Tate, currently out in limited release.
Sharon Tate, actress and deceased wife of director Roman Polanski, has always been an iconic but elusive Hollywood figure, best remembered not for her professional accomplishments but for her murder in of one of the most notorious crimes ever committed in the city of Los Angeles. So, I was intrigued to see The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Despite unfavorable early reviews, I dared to hope that perhaps a serious effort might have been made to give the last days of her life a serious and respectful portrayal. Alas, this film crudely exploits her tragic death by presenting her as a hapless victim while never giving her character any depth or exploring the life she actually led in the final days of her young life. To add insult to injury, the gratuitous violence relishes in the torment of Tate. Too bad, the horror of Tate’s demise in defter hands might have proven a poignant and powerful addition to a genre that we all know can do better.
What is the point in making a film based on Sharon Tate and turning it into a horror film? There is something unseemly and utterly disrespectful about taking her last days and turning it into a ghoulish spectacle. We know how her life ends and to reenact it several times over the course of the film is pointless and just a thinly veiled excuse to indulge in graphic violence that bordered on pornographic. The bodies of the victims are repeatedly displayed in a gruesome fashion, and the viewer isn’t spared the details of the killings. Depicted as a neurotic and highly irrational woman, Tate is never elevated above her role as a victim. In various scenes she accuses her houseguests of undermining her authority and plotting against her. She aimlessly wanders her home in a state of paranoia, worrying about this guy named Charlie Manson who has come by and left copies of tapes of his songs.
Her relationship with Polanski is devoid of any depth, merely offering sufficient details to paint her as a victim in marriage too. And perhaps she was. After all, he did leave her all alone in the weeks before she was due to birth their child. But there is more to Sharon Tate than being a victim of horrible men. Before she became the wife of this famous and infamous director, she was accomplished in her own right, winning a Golden Globe nod for her memorable portrayal as Jennifer North in The Valley of the Dolls; no small feat in the 1960s when good roles for women were paltry. The 1970s saw the dawning of a radical change in cinema and female actors benefited from this dramatic shift to more serious studio filmmaking. With greater opportunities, Sharon Tate may have experienced a renaissance in her career. Unfortunately, we will never know. And that is the film about Tate I hope we one day get to see.
Thanks to sensationlized media and insensitive films like The Haunting of Sharon Tate, the living, breathing actress and woman behind this story has been lost to the tragedy and scandals that now engulf her name and all we are left with is the hope that Hollywood will do better in the future. The talented actress Margot Robbie will portray Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, due for release this summer. Please, Tarantino, deliver us a portrayal of this maligned woman that reaches beyond the limited scope of victim. Then maybe we’ll be quicker to forgive your own past TRANSGRESSION against actresses who put their faith in you.
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