No one can deny that Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate classic film, 1994’s “Pulp Fiction”is one of the greatest screen accomplishments of the latter half of the 20th century. It’s strange, lurid, scary, unforgivingly funny and altogether different from practically anything that came before it. How did the Weinstein brothers with Miramax films prophesize the energy it would surge in mainstream audiences?
When I first saw the film I was apprehensively going with two college friends who insisted I see what they experienced from a prior viewing. Suddenly, I realized that alternate surf 70s rock, black suits, and a kinetic visit to Jack Rabbit Slims could entertain and make me look further than just a facial close up.
Tarantino entertains the lens of his camera by making his audience the camera. A drug dealer scrambles to find a medical book to awaken an OD boss’ lady and the camera stands in place only frantically swing left and right. The camera doesn’t move while everyone in the scene remains in a panic frightened of administering an adrenaline shot. The camera stands still to allow the audience to stand in the room as well. It’s unnerving and suddenly we are amid the clutter of crime and drugs frightened of a terrible fate.
Another scene follows two gangsters down the hall as they debate whether a foot massage equates to fellatio on a woman. They look serious as they earlier regretted bringing shotguns to their destination but here they are having a debate likely reserved for men’s locker room talk.
Tarantino used “Pulp Fiction” as an excuse to show how criminals inadvertently lead their lives to the unexpected beyond a cliche cop bust. They might be settling a personal vendetta but somehow get interrupted by a redneck gang rapist and his chained up “gimp.” They might be trying to deliver a briefcase and yet somebody’s brains splatter all over a car. They might have left behind a family heirloom gold watch as they run for their lives, or they might suddenly acknowledge a moment of clarity when death walks out of a bathroom.
Some might not agree but I always consider Tarantino’s colorful film characters to be rather two dimensional. What you see is all you see. There are no hints at an underlying motivation or a background to anyone you meet in “Pulp Fiction.” Normally, that’s a negative in my book but with Quentin Tarantino it is what’s expected. He’s a masterful script writer of the situation. A well known fan of kung fu and lurid crime movies of the B variety, gangsters like Vincent Vega, Jules Whitfield, Marsellius Wallace, Butch Coolidge and Winston Wolf (even the names are entertaining) get caught up in just a random moment in time. Beyond the incident nothing else matters, and just to make it fun Tarantino uses his favorite editor, Sally Menke to scramble everything out of order. I like to think the script was assembled this way to demonstrate that what happens in one instance doesn’t reflect what happens in another. Every brief moment is bookended. Again, two dimensional characters who don’t reach an intended karma. It doesn’t matter what’s been done before or what will be done next. It only matters in the moment.
The cast is great. Likely, you know who all the players are by now. The best compliment is that they obviously listened closely to the director’s vision. They spoke his language which had yet to be before this film’s release. They are a pioneering cast of great talent.
“Pulp Fiction” is a rousing expedition in sin and surf music symphony with endless quotable and un-PC dialogue that revolutionized filmmaking and brought about risk taking movie makers. It’s just exciting and fun and wild and it especially became a favorite upon seeing one of my favorite kinds of scenes-a dance sequence. If you incorporate dancing into a non musical film, you’ll likely win me over. Spoiler alert: Vincent & Mia win the dance contest, and right they should. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” became that other popular film song once “Pulp Fiction” hit the scene.
Thank you Quentin Tarantino.