Bugliosi’s and Tarantino’s rattling ice cubes

“It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon.” — the first line of Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter

It is the most haunting opening line of any “true crime” book. If you’re a Helter Skelter-person – and yes, it’s a type – it’s a tribe – you know that line by heart. You think about the book and you think about the first line. You can hear the ice rattling in cocktail shakers, across the dark canyon.

My friend Allison and I are Helter-Skelter-people. We went to go see Quentin Tarantino’s movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood together, on August 8th, the anniversary of the first “set” of murders. It was Allison’s first time seeing the movie, my second. It was imperative that we see it together. She knows the entire case by heart, as I do, even down to minor characters. She’s also a Los Angeles native, so it’s more IN her that is in me. The crime still hovers over the landscape (something Tarantino obviously feels). As the movie unfurled, she kept whispering things to me, thinks like: “Is that Sandra Good?” “Oh God, there’s Clem.” She didn’t even need to get a look at Dakota Fanning’s face (and if you recall, you only see the back of her head at first). The second she saw that head, Allison whispered, in awe, “Squeaky.” Allison knows LA like the back of her hand and was amazed by the accuracy of the locations (like the Westwood scene, where Sharon goes to see herself in the movie – Allison’s grandmother used to live there), and also all the driving patterns as Cliff goes from place to place, even down to the exits, what you’d see as you got off the exit, what you’d pass. It’s an old-fashioned movie in that it’s shot on location: real streets, real places, no stand-ins. When Cliff turns off the freeway to go to his little trailer, it’s the right exit (Allison informed me). The drive-in was really there. Allison and I sat outside after the movie, drinking sparkling rose at a cafe in the summer night, and she drew me a map on the place setting: the canyons, the hills, the layout of the massive sprawl, including arrows and landmarks.

But here’s my favorite memory with Allison, because she picked up on something that only a Helter-Skelter-person would pick up on, and I didn’t pick up on it!

The action suddenly jumps forward six months. We see a Pan Am plane in the air, with the words “August 8th, 1969” on the screen in bright yellow. (Allison murmured, “Oh shit.”)

Next, there’s a cut to a closeup of a bright red cocktail on a tray table. There’s a little stir-stick in the cocktail, and you can hear the ice clinking in the glass.

It is Rick’s drink in first class.

Allison whispered to me, and it went through me like a bolt of lightning: “It’s the first line of Helter Skelter!!”

This is why I wanted her to see it.

The first line of Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi (a book which Tarantino has issues with, but still, it’s the Manson-case Bible, and as I said: we all know that first line). Bugliosi successfully prosecuted the killers for the Tate-LaBianca murders- including Manson, who didn’t kill any of those people. He killed some other people, but he wasn’t on trial for killing THEM. He was on trial for murdering the people he DIDN’T kill. Bugliosi had to create this whole “Helter Skelter” story in order to accuse Manson, even though it was his minions who did the vicious deeds. Bugliosi had to connect the dots. Manson had to go jail. He had to. And he did. Good riddance.

To re-cap: Helter Skelter starts on the night of the murders with the sound of “ice rattling” in cocktail shakers..

Tarantino opened the scene of the day of the murders with a shot of a cocktail glass, ice rattling around.


Not a chance.

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