Thursday, 1 September 2011
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uman Thurman, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames, Amanda Plummer
By Alan Bacchus
We can’t underestimate the impact of this movie. The fact is, this film burst into the cinematic zeitgeist at large with a force comparable only to a few films in recent memory. It wasn’t a Jaws-like box office blockbuster, but it was a phenomenon just the same. From the extended opening dialogue scene full of inane ramblings from Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer, which flipped itself onto its head revealing the crazy lovebirds as free spirit criminals on a crime spree, to the opening credit sequence featuring an oddball mix of ‘50s surf music and ‘70s funk, Pulp Fiction was something fresh and new.
And yet, Pulp Fiction is really a collage of other movies delicately hidden beneath the recognizable Tarantino-isms. Many of us already knew and revered his bloody heist movie, Reservoir Dogs, a ‘60s Jean-Pierre Melville movie disguised as a clever ‘90s thriller. Some of the motifs transported into his second film included the retro-cool black and white suits with skinny black ties worn by the hitmen Jules and Vincent. There’s the hard-boiled attitude of his heavies, which is disarming based on his characters’ affable sense of humour and awareness of pop culture. There’s also Tarantino’s twisting narrative, which loops back and forth over itself like an Elmore Leonard novel, or in cinematic terms, Stanley Kubrick’s noir classic The Killing. Yet no one would ever refer to Pulp Fiction as an homage to Kubrick, Melville or Godard. Tarantino's whole is greater than the sum of its parts – a brand of cinematic deconstruction that is wholly his own.
This is also something we’ve lost from Tarantino over the years. While Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds are terrific films, they rely on overt references to his influences. Pulp Fiction acts like a culmination of his pre-Hollywood storytelling, his Video Archives days, where he famously thought up the scenes and characters in True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction, and to some degree From Dusk Till Dawn. All of these exist in their own Tarantino universe, like a self-contained quadrilogy/time capsule of Tarantino’s fantasies and desires as a filmmaker.
His later work, written after the success of Pulp Fiction, is clearly the work of a successful filmmaker, another phase of his career. But Tarantino has always been aware of his place in the pantheon of filmmakers. His characters feel the same way.
Many people resent the presence of QT in his movies. I disagree. In this respect, Tarantino is comparable to Alfred Hitchcock, as they are two filmmakers whose personalities are quintessential to the existence of their films. With Hitchcock we expected his appearance in his films. Taking an audience ‘out of a movie’, or becoming aware that we’re watching a movie, is usually cause for trouble. But we need to watch a Hitchcock movie in the context of his full body of work, his obsessions with voyeurism and blondes, and even his obsession with 'obsession' itself. This is the definition of the auteur, the director as the author of a film wherein he or she essentially (or thematically) remakes the same movie over and over again. Hitchcock did this. So does Tarantino.
With today’s eyes Pulp Fiction is as good now as it was then. Absolutely nothing is lost with age. It also seems impervious to overexposure. The individual moments that make up Tarantino’s meandering narrative add up to a hallucinatory loop comedy of errors of crime in Los Angeles.
Going from Vincent’s and Jules’ truncated journey starting in Jules’ car as he describes his experiences in Amsterdam and ‘little differences,’ to Vincent passing his test of loyalty, not without severe shock and trauma, and to his bitter end in front of Bruce Willis’s smoking gun is a magnificent journey. Bruce Willis's scheme to leave the shady boxing racket, which takes a very wild detour in the dungeon of the hillbilly S&M rapists, is one of the greatest 'left turns' in cinema history. And the climactic ending not only shows us what happens to the lovebird criminals from the beginning of the film, it also gives the steely-eyed Jules Winfield the film's greatest moment of change.
Pulp Fiction successfully survived the '90s, which can't be said of other lauded films of the era, thus rightfully earning its place in the cinematic pantheon.