I recently caught the new Tarantino film at my local cinema with some friends. Being fans of the director’s previous works, we went into the film expecting the usual satirical, colourful, and violent spectacle, laced with pop-culture references. I think it’s safe to say we got everything that was expected, and more. I mostly enjoyed the movie experience; I would describe Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a periscope fixed upon the golden era of Hollywood, with Tarantino’s signature alternate-history spin on real life events providing us the ‘fairy tale’ promised in the film’s title. I was particularly impressed by the attention to detail in re-creating the scenery and culture of LA during the 1960’s. Although the film has been criticised for its pacing and lengthy periods without narrative progression, I personally enjoy films that take time to familiarise the audience with each character and spend a little extra time on context than the story itself. My only issue with this film (which isn’t so much with the film itself, but rather the way it is watched by some individuals) was when the final sequence of events played out in the cinema. Though Tarantino is known for his gratuitous, violent scenes that are supposed to be thrilling and exciting, hearing people around me in the cinema cheer and laugh in delight at a young girl having her head bashed against the wall did not sit right with me. During this scene I cringed, I flinched, and admittedly I felt relieved for the protagonist. After all, in real life this young girl and her companions killed innocent people, and here in the film they are invading his home armed with weapons. Although I may have shared the feeling of ‘pay-off’ with those who relished in the violence, I don’t think I actually enjoyed the scene in the same way they had. While I think Tarantino’s style of ‘comical violence’ that is framed as exciting and enjoyable has been fantastic in some of his previous films, this sequence left me disappointed by the gleeful audience reactions. It leaves me wondering if this was Tarantino’s desired reading of this scene, joy and laughter rather than thrills and grimaces. Despite all this, I’d rate Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; ★★★★✰
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was co-produced between the US and UK, and distributed by Sony Pictures. The film’s domestic market (US and Canada) accounts for just over half its gross value, with the rest being the foreign market. Reports from the ‘Communication Research’ journal show that global media consumption is on a trajectory toward homogenisation. This includes audience preferences for film and cinema, with media interests moving toward uniformity. Recent trends in the Hollywood film industry are reflective of this notion, with the international box office usually making up the higher portion of a successful blockbuster film’s market share. The exceptions to this trend can sometimes be explained by linguistic or cultural barriers that prevent it from appealing to international audiences. In chapter 6 of the book ‘The Impact of International Television’, Joseph Strauhbaar outlines these tendencies toward making choices about media based on cultural knowledge using the term ‘cultural proximity’. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be a Hollywood blockbuster, ironically about Hollywood itself of all things, but it requires a lot of cultural knowledge and proximity to be fully appreciated and understood. Being based around real historical events in LA around 1968-69, the references to American culture and the events of the Manson family murders can easily fly over the head of an international audience. Even some of my friends left the cinema confused, because they had not read up on the context of the film. This could explain why it has performed better within the domestic market.
Straubhaar, Joseph, D. (2014). Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language and Cultural Proximity in Brazil. The Impact of International Television: A Paradigm Shift. Edited by Michael G. Elasmar. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 77-110.