Tarantino at Cannes channels hype-master Hitchcock
Director echoes the old master’s plea for no spoilers, and takes a bow after a six-minute standing ovation
One of the most anticipated films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival almost didn’t make it there on time, but early buzz is that Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – is among the maverick director’s best, although details on its plot have been surprisingly scant.
That’s because ahead of the film’s premier on Tuesday the director released an open letter pleading with festival audiences and critics not to spoil the magic by revealing plot details. “I love cinema. You love cinema. It’s the journey of discovering a story for the first time,” wrote Tarantino. “The cast and crew have worked so hard to create something original, and I only ask that everyone avoids revealing anything that would prevent later audiences from experiencing the film in the same way.”
Reviews have generally been full of high praise and avoided saying too much beyond that it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an ageing cowboy actor in 1960s Hollywood and Brad Pitt as his stunt double and best buddy.
It’s set against the backdrop of the Manson murders in 1969 and has been commended for its meticulous period recreation and the strength of the performances of its two leads. But not much else has been revealed, which perhaps goes to show that even the notoriously difficult audiences of Cannes still have respect for the director who first stunned them with his 1994 Palme D’Or winner Pulp Fiction.
The opening-night audience showed their love with a six-minute standing ovation after the screening – a not uncommon response in Cannes but a good sign, although not necessarily a guarantee of a Palme D’Or win.
For now, Tarantino’s no-spoiler plea seems to have been respected and continues the trend seen earlier in 2019 when Avengers: Endgame directors the Russo Brothers made a similar plea to fans, which was generally obeyed with such fidelity by devotees that those who broke the code of silence were harassed and threatened to within an inch of their online lives.
It may seem that the no-spoilers-please phenomenon is one uniquely born out of the internet age and the rise of social media. In fact it is like many aspects of the film business we now take for granted – the brainchild of a legendary director who once upon a time in Hollywood in the early 1960s used it as an effective marketing tool to create hype and promote a film that very nearly ended his career.
That director was Alfred Hitchcock whose 1960 film Psycho, produced with his own money and against the wishes of the studios, relied heavily on the master’s publicity campaign. It included recorded warnings to audiences that no one would be allowed into screenings after the start of the film and warned audiences not to reveal details of the plot.
It was a strategy that worked and made the film and Hitchcock a lot of money. You have to think he’s belly laughing in his grave when he hears of Tarantino and others’ earnest efforts to keep his gimmick going as a means of ensuring the survival of the movies and the magic “of discovering a story for the first time”.
• Once Upon a Time in Hollywood releases in the US on July 26. The winners of this year’s Cannes Festival awards will be announced this weekend.