Hateful Naturalism and Eight Single Sets

Image (popoptiq.com)

*spoiler alert

I was hoping I’d get the 70mm thing. Even after the Saturday night ‘pilgrimage’ to Stroud (once more: Saturday night pilgrimage to Stroud) and the desultory 11pm interval in the foyer of Vue; even then, I thought I might, like, comprehend. And, despite my history of Tarantino pilgrimages (mostly to Stockport which shares, imo, a late-night likeness to Stroud), I’ve never been a sure thing for Tarantino. I got Django. And, since that made 400 m.+ at the box office, I’m intrigued to see what this 70mm thing might do. But I think a lot of people might be grateful that, nationwide, this movie is restricted access.

Everyone I was with thought it was utterly, appallingly, embarrassingly shite. The opening shots of mountainous Wyoming, the credit sequence, and the long of a deep blizzard: all stunning. And so we all thought we were in for one massive treat. Gorgeous, exposing oners dip-dyed this outrageous yet nofilter blue – where would this lead? Where would we be going? But, then, the dialogue was thrown toddler-like into the picture (this dialogue Tarantino wanted to protect from early exposure?!) and the whole thing fell on its insipid pancakey face and we’re locked in Minnie’s Haberdashery for the rest of the film where nothing happens aside from no-one can leave and they all die.

Except I totally disagreed with that analysis and immediately declared Hateful Eight probably the best Tarantino film ever. And, even after hours of slapdash reflection, I think I could tolerate a second viewing. The reason for this requires no lengthy psychoanalysis. I loved where we lay our scene: Minnie’s Haberdashery.  

I’m deeply attracted to single site (or nearly single site) movies. Reservoir Dogs, The Apartment, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Locke, Breakfast Club, Funny Games, that poisonous little Dogtooth and, most recently, Room. This isn’t a taxonomy (and that’s more than eight); they’re just single sets I liked and can recall. And so, like some of these movies, the action, in Hateful Eight, winds up in Minnie’s Haberdashery – a hipster paradise (chock a block full of blankets, and stew, and fires, and chess and geeetars) where travellers can wind up and tucker down. And they stay. And we stay. And we stay here. And the characters fight out their immediate conflict: whether this travelling bounty hunter will get his ‘wanted’ female gang member to town before she’s rescued (damsel like – I’m not even going to mention the deeply problematic and conscious representational issues here).

But the conflict runs deeper than that: the conflict, obviously obviously, is America itself. As usual. And we’re just post-civil war. There’s race relations and the n-bomb and Lincoln and social hierarchy and the threat of violence and rape and murder and brain splatter and all the rest and we’re left, Agatha Christie style, to play it out in Minnie’s Haberdashery. And it’s the same basic conflict as Room (and Breakfast Club etc. etc.): to get the hell out of that space that someone is keeping you captive in and explore America – land of the free. Land of the autonomous. Land of the –

Room is very different. Its visual semiotics carry much more gravitas and it’s more interested in photorealism here and we’re offered these excellent sequences to examine the space – the reality it allows its dwellers – the way things are brought into and out of it. How to socialise a child with only a TV and a skylight. The most harrowing line of the film is Old Nick’s (the captor) when he says of the child his captive has given birth to (two years into her seven year sentence with him): ‘do you keep him in the wardrobe all the time or just when I’m here?’ Ouch. What’s interesting there is, of course, characterisational: the shocking lack of human empathy the line betrays, but, also, something spatial: to Old Nick, the room he’s made for his fucked up family is as big as a world he’s the omniscient over-lord of. And the child he’s spawned therefore could plausibly survive in the wardrobe. To him, room is a reasonable space to house his victims.

And Minnie’s Haberdashery is similar – what these rooms are always: this loss of autonomy and the threat of the proximity to the other in this closed space. When Mme Vestris put the lid on that box set in the late 1800s she couldn’t have anticipated the impact this decision would have on our Western psychologies and our visual culture.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that people hate Hateful Eight because it’s a single set, but I certainly felt indulged by it because it was.  And when I do my class later today on single set design and Miss Julie and 1880s naturalism, I’ll certainly be thinking about how we’re still so forensically interested in the narrative possibilities of what can go down in one room, in continuous action, in real time, and the incredible structural beauty of that restriction.

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