“I do believe Marsellus Wallace, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted. Now I wanna dance, I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.”
Is it too early to call a movie that was released on October 14, 1994 a classic? After all, isn’t that term reserved solely for films directed by Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life), Alfred Hitchcock (North By Northwest) and their ilk while starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon), Audrey Hepburn (Two For The Road), and Cary Grant (Bringing Up Baby) among others? Perhaps, depending on your age and point-of-view, but in this blogger’s opinion director Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction, which he co-wrote with Roger Avary, while not a classic in the traditional sense is surely a modern day classic.
Starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as hitmen, Bruce Willis as a boxer with too much pride, Uma Thurman as the adored wife of a gangster, Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer as lovebird criminals, and Ving Rhames as a hardcore gangster, among others, the film is one that can not be dismissed lightly. The 154 minute crime thriller burst onto movie screens and invaded the world of cinema with an unrelenting force when it debuted in 1994. It wasn’t an E.T. style blockbuster, but it became a phenomenon in its own right. From the long sequence of dialogue at the start of the film, (which can also be found in the Tarantino powerhouse Inglourious Basterds) which features the twisted musings by free spirited criminals looking for a score, to the amalgam of music that includes Dick Dale’s infectious guitar riffs played at the start of his rendition of Misrilou to the 70’s funk of Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie, Pulp Fiction hooks its viewers from the get go.
At its heart, Pulp Fiction is not just one film, but a genuine genius piece of multi-story, narrative film making, being put together on the screen like a puzzle that has not yet been assembled. It follows a number of characters who at first seem unrelated, but all of whose lives are revealed to be woven together at different points of the movie. I had already revered Tarantino’s usage of out of sequence direction with the release of his 1992 thriller Reservoir Dogs, which was an ode to the Jean Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge) films of the 1960’s. A number of the motifs from Dogs were clearly on display in Pulp, like the skinny black ties worn by the hitmen who sported the same sleek black and white suits that the criminals wore in Dogs. Furthermore, the edgy dialogue and hardcore attitudes of the bad guys that had been present in Dogs was clearly used in Pulp, as well as the references to pop culture. Lastly, Tarantino’s narrative, jumps off the screen and zings in your ear the way the writing of Elmore Leonard (a Tarantino favorite) jumps off the printed pages of his novels.
One thing about Tarantino that, in my discussions with fellow cinephilles, I’ve heard turns people off, is the way he interjects himself into his movies. I don’t find fault with it at all. I point to another famous director by the name of Hitchcock who always had a cameo appearance in his films. Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, the creator of some of the greatest super heroes that have entertained children and adults the world over, can be seen in the films that deal with his creations. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Tarantino is a filmmaker whose particular personality is quintessential to the very existence of his movies. In regard to Hitchcock, the audience was always anticipating his moment on the proverbial silver screen. I will acquiesce that when one takes the audience, who go to the movies by and large looking for an outlet that takes them away from the reality of their own lives, and makes them realize it’s only a movie they’re watching, that it can be a volatile cocktail to serve up. But Tarantino crafts such magnetic stories, that even when he does appear people are still caught up in seeing what will transpire next from this most unpredictable director.
There are many standout scenes that make the film, which was budgeted for approximately eight million dollars and went on to gross almost two hundred and fifteen million dollars world wide, great; but more importantly these moments help to serve the cinematic story. Moments such as the first time we meet talkative hitmen Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, who are on a truncated quest which begins in Jules’ car as Vincent talks to him about his experiences of living abroad in Amsterdam. In addition, Vincent exercises incredible will power, letting his loyalty shine through by not sleeping with Uma Thurman’s character of Mia, also known as the Big Man’s Wife. Furthermore, Bruce Willis’ character Butch, desiring to leave the world of boxing where he has agreed to throw his next fight – decides to let pride mess with his mind thereby causing his character to issue a murderous beating (that takes place off camera) making him a wanted man by the gangster who lost money when Butch reneged on throwing the fight. If that weren’t bad enough, he goes from running from one nightmarish hell straight into another when he winds up in a den of perversity run by a hillbilly rapist. I sure didn’t see that one coming when I first went to see the movie. And last, but in no way least, the climatic ending, which I won’t reveal for those who’ve not yet seen this true work of cinematic excellence. It is an ending that will certainly make you ask “what if” and “what happened to” questions.
Trivia buffs take note, because in addition to the following, there is a treasure trove of information pertaining to this film. For instance, Tarantino wrote the role of Jules Winnfield specifically for Samuel L. Jackson, but when actor Paul Calderon auditioned for the role, Tarantino was so blown away that he flirted with the option of replacing Jackson with Calderon. When Jackson got wind of the news, he flew to Los Angeles and auditioned again for Tarantino leaving the director with no doubt that Jackson was the right actor to play the role of Jules. Bruce Willis’s character of Butch is planning on meeting his connection in Knoxville, Tennessee after he throws the fight; Knoxville is Quentin Tarantino’s birthplace. In 2007 AFI (The American Film Institute) placed Pulp Fiction on the list of the 100 greatest films of all time.
In conclusion, Pulp Fiction is a success story of the 1990’s. The same can’t be said of other highly praised films of the time period which shall remain nameless. Nominated for seven Oscars at the 67th Annual Academy Awards, where it won for Best Original Screenplay, it has been released on Blu-ray DVD and became available for purchase this past Tuesday, October 4th. In this blogger’s opinion, Pulp Fiction is like a fine wine that only gets better with age or in its case, with each viewing.