Is Tarantino playing cybergames with his new film?

The promotion poster is dreadful but it can be hard to know if you’re being had on the internet

“Why does it look like Brad Pitt’s face poking through a cutout of Jim Carrey?” tweeted Michael Idov, and thousands of others, in response to the artwork for Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The artwork for Tarantino films are typically iconic. The posters for Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are classics, frequently adorning the walls of people’s homes. But this week’s release of jaunty, poorly photoshopped posters online, featuring weirdly edited clothing for the film’s two leads, Di Caprio and Pitt, depicted in awkward leaning postures as they boast strange lifeless stares... this is not mere bad art, this is – could it be? – movie poster clickbait?

On the internet, it is often hard to know if you’re being had. I don’t mean when you receive an email purporting to be from your Auntie Pauline, alleging she had €200 robbed from her in Barcelona, and needs you to wire the same so she can find a hostel. Never mind that Pauline rarely leaves Two-Mile Borris, or that a mugger would be unlikely to find anything on her person more valuable than a miraculous medal, or a copy of Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress. No, I speak of the kind of editorial skulduggery that entices you with knowingly bad, flawed or meme-able content specifically so it will be attacked and dissected.

Blanket awareness

Internet cynics spot this kind of thing everywhere. Nasa setting up a million replies by tweeting that “Uranus has a funny smell”; an Instagram model captioning a thirst trap with “tell me something I don’t know”, so that horny men will attempt to seem humorous by proffering, say, the average yearly rainfall in the Amazon basin in response.


You can't help preferring to believe it's some sort of odd, promotional masterstrok

If there’s a canard that always seemed like a stupid person’s version of a smart idea, it’s “all publicity is good publicity”, almost always uttered by people who don’t realise that advertising’s job is not merely to raise blanket awareness of a thing, whether that be positive, negative or neutral.

But, staring at the posters for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, you can’t help preferring to believe it’s some sort of odd, promotional masterstroke. Why else would Margot Robbie’s pensive, overlit full body pose be released into the online wilds, looking for all the world like unfinished catalogue shots for a family-run boutique in the Ilac Centre? Already controversial for dramatising the Manson family murders, has Tarantino hacked the response to his own film by laying the heat on its dreadful promotion? Personally I’d prefer to believe cinema’s most notorious aesthete has simply forgotten what human beings look, stand or dress like. The alternative, that he’s made a shambles of his own artwork on purpose, is too depressing for even this cynic to contemplate.