‘once upon a time in hollywood’

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Movie Poster. Source

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, something this sequence left me disappointed by the gleeful audience reactions. 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.

 

References

Fu, W. Wayne & Govindaraju, Achikannoo. (2010). Explaining Global Box-Office Tastes in Hollywood Films: Homogenization of National Audiences’ Movie Selections. Communication Research, 37(2), 215–238.

Goldsberry, Kirk. (2014). All the World’s a Stage: How International Box Office Is Changing the American Blockbuster Economy. Grantland.

Serena, Katie. (2017). They Committed The Most Infamous Murders Of The 1960s — So Where Are The Manson Family Members Now?. ATI.

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.

York, Keva. (2019). Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is less a Manson family story than a mid-life crisis film. ABC.

critical self-reflection of comments

Pitch #1; ‘Crunchy Bytes’ by Tim

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Tim is going to be making a video essay series discussing the impact of hardware limitations on game development over the years. In his pitch, he presents the source engine of ‘Half Life 2‘ as an example of ambitious game development that pushed the boundaries of hardware at the time.

In my comment, I recommended Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ as a potential source of information for the video essays. I commended his editing skills and the overall presentation of his video, and suggested using subtitle tracks for following videos to help with audio/mic issues. I gave him feedback for improving his blog post’s formatting and tone, but overall his pitch was in-depth and covered all criteria. Tim put lots of effort into planning his research and analytical framework in particular.

Tim’s Blog

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Pitch #2; ‘Movie Tie-Ins’ by Chris

maxresdefault.jpgChris is writing a series of blogs reviewing old video game titles that are based on movies. Some examples of these games Chris provides are ‘GoldenEye 007‘ and ‘Spider-Man 2‘, noting that they also acted as promo-material for their respective movie releases.

In my comment, I provided some examples of modern video games based on movies, and recommended one book and one academic article relating to paratexts in digital media. I gave him feedback for improving his pitch and developing his idea, because Chris seemed a little unsure about some aspects of his DA plan. I also suggested that he frame his blog posts as a ‘critical analysis’ instead of a ‘review’, using the frameworks discussed in class in his writing.

Chris’ Blog

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Pitch #3; ‘Going AFK’ by Kiana

landscape_angry-gamer-1140x570.jpgKiana is putting together a podcast that discusses the issue of cyber-bullying and toxicity in online multiplayer games. She talks about the common harassment gamers experience when communicating online, and mentions sexist comments as a particularly alarming aspect of toxic behaviours.

In my comment I shared one web article and one academic source about toxicity in gaming and how it affects players, and also how game companies are combating the issue. I complimented Kiana’s presentation and her ability to cover all the criteria points concisely in her video. I had one small criticism of her blog’s formatting, recommending that she spread out her statistics across her post rather than having them all in one paragraph. I think that this DA pitch had a great focus on social utility and was well-planned.

Kiana’s Blog

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Critical Self-Reflection

After reflecting on my feedback and seeing my peers’ comments, I feel as though I may have been overly-analytical and wordy in my responses to the DA pitches. I think that in some of my comments, I have focused too much on the assignment criteria and how successfully they achieved their video and blog post. I should have offered more in terms of engaging with and suggesting ideas for their DA’s. Hopefully in the next round of posts with the project beta, I will be able to give my peers some extra input into the direction of their DA. I also will try to be more concise, as my lengthy feedback may be too overwhelming.

 

digital posters

When I was a tiny child, before I’d even started going to school, I’d watch and re-watch the first Harry Potter movie every afternoon until the VCR tape inevitably began spilling out of its plastic shell. Somehow, out of all the whimsical spells and wondrous charms in the movie, I found the printed pictures in the wizarding world most fascinating; newspapers, photos, and posters that move and change dynamically. Although we still haven’t quite cracked the code for printing out GIF’s straight to paper, the muggle world isn’t far from replicating this magic with modern technologies. An increasing access to digital screens have allowed for the creation of dynamic, digital ‘posters’ spread across the surfaces of public areas.

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The Daily Prophet newspaper from the Harry Potter universe, with printed images that move. Source

I spent a week taking notice of public screens and digital signage around my University, and I was surprised by how many I had not noticed before. Digital displays have such a strong presence in everyday life that the signs around campus are almost camouflaged. These signs were almost exclusively used for advertising and promoting different aspects of Uni life; events, student resources, and on-campus activities. Some also had features like weather forecasts and a news feed, though most did not. In my own experience, I don’t consciously find myself looking at these signs unless they have something that hooks me by my peripheral vision. Again, they blend into the background. When observing those around me I found this level of interaction was common. Though public screens and signage should be great at grabbing attention, they are competing with the constant presence of private screens; smartphones.

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Public screens on campus at UOW

Public screens can also be seen on a much larger scale in urban cities across the world. Times Square in New York City is known worldwide for its bright, digitised billboards, which loom overhead of up to 460,000 pedestrians per day. By contrast, some urban cities use public screens for a different purpose to advertising. When going on a trip to Melbourne, I’ll often try to catch a couple games of tennis on the big screen in Federation Square. Urban areas with large public screens like this one become hubs of public intimacy, gathering masses of onlookers to share a viewing experience. Mirjam Struppek discusses the potential uses of public screens in urban planning in their 2006 journal article, with a focus on interactivity and alternative content to advertising. Struppek argues that to create a sustainable network of digital screens within the public sphere, the uses for digital display technologies need to be broadened. They suggest accommodating cultural institutions, or TV broadcasters, and creating more desirable, publicly-intimate spaces around screens in urban settings. By usefully integrating these screens within the space, our cities can become interactive, networked, and sustainable alongside the increased presence of public screens and digital signage.

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Times Square, New York City. Source

References

Struppek, Mirjam. (2006). Urban screens–the urbane potential of public screens for interaction. Intelligent agent 6(2), pp. 1-5

Remnick, Noah. (2015). New York Today: Transforming Times Square. New York Times.

the “let’s play” shuffle

 

There are numerous remakes of classic video games in existence across all genres and eras of gaming. Some are praised for bringing old classics back in peak form, while others suffer criticism due to questionable design choices or other disappointing decisions that leave fans upset by poor performance and a disregard for the original game’s legacy. It begs the question; what criteria do gamers consider when assessing the value of a remake? What makes a remake successful?

It’s also important to understand the intertextual value that remakes have for fans of a series. It’s no coincidence that the titles being updated, their legacy carried forward through the rapid progression of gaming tech capabilities, are usually very popular or considered a ‘classic’ by fans. Some examples of highly anticipated upcoming remakes would be the ultra-hyped Final Fantasy VII for PS4, or Nintendo’s recently announced remake of the Zelda series title Link’s Awakening for the Switch. These remakes allow fans to re-experience a beloved game from childhood in a new form, or can bring newcomers and younger players into the fold by migrating the experience onto modern platforms.

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I’m excited to be playing one of my favourite games of all time, Final Fantasy IV, and streaming the experience to my twitch channel. I believe that it will be enjoyable for both myself and my audience to play through a classic game in a fun, unique way by swapping between different remake versions throughout the “Let’s Play” series. I hope to be successfully comparing, analysing, and evaluating each iteration in community discussion, creating a case study for the intertextual value of video game remakes.

 

References

Doucet, L. (2015). Doing an HD Remake the Right Way : FFVI Edition. Fortress of Doors.

Leadbetter, R. (2012). What Went Wrong with Silent Hill HD?. Eurogamer.

Schreier, J. (2019). Final Fantasy VII Remake Feels Great To Play, But The Project Might Not Be Finished For A While. Kotaku.

Souppouris, A. (2019). The Link’s Awakening remake feels exactly like it should. Engadget.

“because it has tits and dragons”

You probably are already familiar with the popularity of US TV series Game of Thrones, but in case you did not know, the renowned fantasy epic was incredibly successful on a global scale. In fact, the show was broadcast in 207 different countries or territories, 194 of which being simulcast. It’s also stands as the most-licensed HBO program to date, with over 100 licensees worldwide. Love or hate the show, it was undeniably pandemic television; a phenomenon that broke through the limitation of cultural proximity and ignited TV screens all across the globe. Game of Thrones was the show on everyone’s lips, even during its controversial final season (though perhaps for different reasons than before). But how did the series manage to attain and maintain its mass appeal?

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Drogon and Daenerys, Game of Thrones. Source

Well, there are your typical shallow responses to this question; “Sex! Violence! And Dragons!”, what more could you ask for? Though over time as Game of Thrones has gained popularity, it has also aggregated a loyal, engaged fan-base. Look no further than the lengthy discussions and in-depth analysis on fan forums like Reddit to see that its appeal can be more than simply “tits and dragons”. The subject of Game of Thrones’ popularity is often approached from a political or philosophical standpoint, pointing to dissatisfaction and unrest in contemporary society that qualifies the want for escapism in our entertainment media. Then of course, the show is frequently described as “Quality TV”; the writing, actors, and production level are ‘good’, and people like ‘good TV’. Not to mention that Game of Thrones was adapted from an already-popular book series by George R. R. Martin with many accolades of its own. In an essay about Game of Thrones and the ‘Quality TV’ meta-genre, Dan Hassler-Forest describes the show as a remediation of ‘cine-literary culture’, mixing cinema-like production aesthetics with narrative structures of 19th century literature novels.

Both of these reasons are indicative of Game of Thrones’ amassed cultural capital. When looking at the success of the series through the lens of media theory, the reason for its mass appeal can be explained in terms of cultural capital and proximity. Joseph Straubhaar defines cultural capital as “the sources of knowledge that permit people to make choices among media” in chapter 6 of the book ‘The Impact of International Television’. Being able to relate to the gritty depictions of human nature and politics from Game of Thrones is an experience that transcends linguistic and cultural differences, while the institutional framework of ‘Quality TV’ on American cable services appeals to a large portion of the global mainstream. Plus, the ‘fantasy’ genre lends itself to cultural ambiguity, meaning the audience does not require in-depth knowledge about any particular countries and their cultural practices to enjoy the story. Game of Thrones became popular on a global scale because it does not require cultural proximity to be engaged with and understood, among other reasons. Being a worldwide phenomenon, the show has countless avenues of cultural capital.

 

References

Flood, Alison. (2016). Game of Thrones: an epic publishing story. The Guardian.

Hassler-Forest, Dan. (2014). Game of Thrones : Quality Television and the Cultural Logic of Gentrification. TV / Series, 6.

HBO. (2019). GAME OF THRONES Facts and Figures. Medium.

Investopedia. The Success of Game of Thrones in 5 charts.

Tucker, Ken. (2014). Why is Game of Thrones so popular?. BBC

Siciliano, Leon & Shardlow, Ju. (2019). 9 reasons ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 was a huge disappointment. Business Insider.

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.

my mother was in a cult (probably clickbait)

Midnight premiers, lazy Sunday matinees, late night blockbusters… the cinema experience is painted in thousands of colours and cultures across our global canvas. Perhaps you’re the type to savour the comfy seats, the dark, immersive bubble of surround-sound, and the crystal-clear quality of the big-screen. Maybe, quite contrarily, you absolutely cannot stand chatty cinema patrons or costly tickets, and just the smell of popcorn is enough to make you sick. No matter your attitude when it comes to a weekend at the flicks, the experience is undeniably unique to the cinema, and a memorable experience for sure.

My friends and I have eagerly booked our tickets to see the new Tarantino movie next week. From what I already know about this director, I’m assuming the viewing will be, at the very least, an exciting one. It might be comparable to my cinema run-in with the highly anticipated and successful blockbuster film, Avengers: Endgame; the audience was lively, engaged, and integral in forming my unique watching experience. Although many would insist that noisy, rowdy cinema-goers are a nuisance, the truth is that I’ll never be able to recreate the events of that night with any subsequent, at-home viewings of Endgame. Sharing my reaction to each emotional beat in a room full of complete strangers is, honestly, an exciting thought. Unfortunately, it never really plays out as expected. I’ve found this ‘cinema rush’, the thrill and enjoyment of watching together, to become more elusive with each ticket purchase. After all, the experience of Endgame was built on a foundation of immense hype and fandom. It seems like the determining factors for what makes a trip to the movies either boring or brilliant are actually formed outside of the drab, dubious carpeted halls of the cinema complex.

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Avengers: Endgame actor Chris Evans with fans at the world premier event. Source

In this way, the cinema is a heterotopia or ‘other space’, separate to the space surrounding it, mirroring aspects of our own socio-cultural make up. Philosopher Michel Foucault describes the cinema as an “odd rectangular room, at the end of which, on a two-dimensional screen, one sees the projection of a three-dimensional space”, noting the unusual composition of the space when observed without cultural context and purpose. The cinema as an ‘other space’ has it’s primary function moulded by the society it exists within; numerous external factors are at play when shaping the cinema experience.

Considering that the rituals and practices of a cinema visit are formed in this way, I wanted to ask my mother, Ann, about her own movie-going experiences when she was my age. Her stories frame the cinema as a more interactive, social experience than I’d say it is today; many people hollered, clapped, cheered, laughed, and cried together, without any silent eye-rolls from the other patrons in the comfortable, anonymous, and pitch-black movie theatres of today. Apparently it was also customary to throw bundles of popcorn at the people seated near the front, and roll ‘Jaffa’ candies down the aisles like it was a ten-pin lane. Maybe the snacks were cheaper back then? But the most fascinating out of all her experiences would have to be those with the midnight screenings of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’Seriously, this movie takes cult cinema to the most elevated tier possible of ‘ritualistic’.

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Fans at a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Source

Ann recalls dressing up, shouting rehearsed call-outs at the movie screen, and watching ‘shadow casts’ act out each character on the stage-like platforms of Wollongong’s Regent Theatre (an old cinema-turned-church that is said to soon be re-purposed, in true ‘heterotopian’ fashion). The cultural significance of the Rocky Horror cult cinema craze encompasses the key role of audience and the theatre space in forming an entire movie experience. Midnight screenings were an outlet of freedom and expression for the youth of the 70’s and 80’s, creating a space without judgement for all ‘freaks’ to have fun. The cinema experience is unique because it extends beyond the movie, further than the media being consumed; rows of faux suede seats, buckets of popcorn, whispers in the dark, first dates in the back row, choc-tops! The cinema is not simply a space, the cinema is a culture.

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Wollongong’s Regent Theatre in its heyday. Source

References

Arkin, Daniel. (2019). ‘Avengers: Endgame’: What you need to know about the much-hyped epic. NBC News.

Crabb, Brendan. (2018). Wollongong’s historic Regent Theatre under contract, to be ‘reinvigorated’ by new owners. The Illawarra Mercury

Foucault, Michel. (1984). Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.

Itkis, Sara. (2015). Why the Midnight Madness of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ Still Matters 40 Years Later. IndieWire

shared spaces and media places

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WangYu Internet Cafe. Source

Distinct cultures can develop at all levels of society across a spectrum of macro to micro scale groups of people. I’m sure that when reflecting on your own circle of friends you’d likely notice unique traditions and behaviours between each other. Perhaps you have a weekly movie night, or maybe a shared, almost ‘secret code’-like vocabulary. What about your family? Or your co-workers? Could you find common experiences with the general population of your city?

Ethnography is a research discipline that aims to “provide rich, holistic insights into people’s views and actions” through the study of said cultural groups, communities, and organisations. One way to do some ethnographic research is through participant observation. In other words, immersing yourself in the culture while watching, listening, and reflecting on social interactions and behaviours (be sure to consider ethical research practices when doing so!). The desired outcome is a thick, qualitative data set that can be analysed and transformed into detailed descriptions of the studied group’s culture.

In my own circle of friends, I noticed an interesting correlation between our common interests, and the shared media space that is the “net cafe”, as we call it. At least once every couple of months, we all get together on a northbound train to Sydney and spend the day gaming side-by-side at an Internet Cafe. It’s worth noting that we all game regularly at home; we each own super PCs, our internet connections are (mostly) stable and satisfying, we can communicate over voice platforms like Discord. But, we still willingly pay the hefty hourly fees to use the Cafe computers in a place that is over an hour commute from home. Why?

In reflecting upon this group tradition, I realised how environment and physical places can affect an overall cultural experience. The consensus among myself and my friends was that the general appeal of the net cafe was the “vibe”. It’s the fellow gamers passionately yelling as they play (usually in Mandarin), or the satisfying sense of comradery when you can win an exhilarating game together and turn away from your screens for a high-five, removing your headsets to debrief. Although the internet provides us the platforms for socialising and discussing common interests without limitations of location and distance, there’s something incredible about watching your passion come to life in a shared, physical space.

 

References

BMJ. (2008). Qualitative research methodologies: ethnography. The BMJ