The Role Movie Posters Play In The Digital Age NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with film critic William Bibbiani about the role movie posters play today, following the release of the poster for Quentin Tarantino's, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The Role Movie Posters Play In The Digital Age

The Role Movie Posters Play In The Digital Age

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NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with film critic William Bibbiani about the role movie posters play today, following the release of the poster for Quentin Tarantino's, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


Two posters for the new Quentin Tarantino film, "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood," were just released. They are getting a lot of attention but maybe not the kind of attention Tarantino wants.

WILLIAM BIBBIANI: When you think about Quentin Tarantino, you think about someone who has mastered not just style but, indeed, a sense of period style. And here he has a film that takes place in the 1960s. And the style of these posters is bad Photoshop.

CHANG: That is film critic William Bibbiani, who came in to break these posters down for us.

BIBBIANI: There's a certain look to bad Photoshop. Everything looks too clean and no one looks like they belong in front of the background that is behind them. The first poster consists of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. They're in front of a car. And then in the background behind them, you see the Hollywood sign. So what can we glean from this? DiCaprio, Pitt, Hollywood, car - thanks. So, I mean, it gets the job done if you just want to know that the movie will exist and they'll be in it. But what does it tell you about it? Does it get you excited about it? It's really just quite limp.

And then the second poster is Margot Robbie, which I would argue is even worse. She's leaning on something invisible in the middle of an intersection, so that part is confusing. The other thing that is confusing about it is the movie is called "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood," yet the poster takes place, as we see in the background, in Westwood. You can read the words Westwood in the background. And this is especially funny because Quentin Tarantino in his movie "Jackie Brown" made fun of people who don't know the difference between different parts of California. There's a scene in that movie where Samuel L. Jackson, he makes fun of someone who he tricked into thinking that Compton was Hollywood.

CHANG: Ouch. Someone is getting yelled at big time this week, huh?

BIBBIANI: I mean, it's possible - it's possible that the badness of these posters is a little intentional, that maybe there is some sort of satire to them. But the trick with satire is that it needs to work as the thing it's satirizing. It needs the wink to the audience. It needs to let you know that, like, we know this is funny. And I'm not picking that up here.

CHANG: So what do you think people envision when they think Quentin Tarantino movie poster?

BIBBIANI: I think they picture "Pulp Fiction." I think that's the iconic Quentin Tarantino movie poster. I also think it's one of the iconic movie posters. You have Uma Thurman with the cigarette and the cool hairstyle.

CHANG: Yeah, yeah.

BIBBIANI: But the other thing that that poster evokes is the sense of retro cool, not just in new clothes she's wearing but in the fact that the poster look like it's a weathered dime-store novel.

CHANG: Right, you get transported back in time.

BIBBIANI: Exactly. It puts you in a mood.

CHANG: Given what we expect out of Quentin Tarantino movie posters, what letter grade would you give these two posters for this film?

BIBBIANI: I don't know. Let's be kind and say, like, a D-plus?

CHANG: Dang. I mean...

BIBBIANI: For me. I mean, that's my thing.

CHANG: OK, sure. But, you know, I am looking at these two posters, and I'm thinking they're not that bad. And I'm looking at all the hatred on Twitter now. Do you think there's some Tarantino hating going on?

BIBBIANI: I think that Tarantino is at a troubled point in his career right now after the whole revelation about how Uma Thurman was injured on the set of "Kill Bill."

CHANG: Right.

BIBBIANI: So he doesn't have necessarily the trust of everyone that he used to have. His record as a director is actually quite solid. There are some who would argue he's never made a bad film. But right now, his cultural clout is at a low.

CHANG: In the end, how much do movie posters matter?

BIBBIANI: I think there aren't going to be a lot of people who decide to see or not to see "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" or any movie based exclusively on the poster. But a poster is part of the fabric of the marketing. The poster art will be seen...

CHANG: Yeah.

BIBBIANI: ...Online in various advertisements, in various articles written about the film. So you will see it over and over again. And if it's good, it'll stick with you. And if it's bad, it'll just evaporate into the ether.

CHANG: If it's a good poster, it'll stick with you. If it's a bad one, you end up on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED getting dissected.

BIBBIANI: Fair enough.

CHANG: That's film critic William Bibbiani. He hosts two podcasts, one called "Canceled Too Soon" and the other, "Critically Acclaimed." Thanks for coming on the show today.

BIBBIANI: Thank you for having me.


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