Greetings again from the darkness. Typically, I don’t get too serious about a film’s place in history until at least 20 years pass since release. Cinemark presented Pulp Fiction in its Classic Film Series, so the timing seems right … despite it being only 18 years (1994) since Quentin Tarantino’s film won the Palm d’Or (best film) at Cannes Film Festival. While challenging today to understand the buzz created as it made the festival rounds, there is no question it solidified Mr. Tarantino as the next generation’s auteur … though some would argue that occurred with Reservoir Dogs two years prior.
The lasting impact of some classic films stems from the emotional connection of their loyal viewers. Casablanca and The Sound of Music are two examples. Others, like Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey made their mark through technical achievements. Adapting a classic novel was the key for To Kill a Mockingbird and The Godfather. Still others reached the classic level via spectacle and by becoming an event unto themselves … Jaws and Star Wars. Pulp Fiction is one of the few films that has so clearly defined a generational change in filmmaking style by influencing and motivating writers and directors.
When asked, I never really answer the “What’s your all-time favorite film?” question. I can name my favorite car, my favorite boss, and even my favorite dessert. I can’t name my favorite kid or my favorite film … for much different reasons. Without a doubt, there are numerous films that belong to the “list” of my all-time favorites, but not one is clearly THE best or most favorite on every single day. There are a few that fall into the elite category AND also into ‘must stop’ category – should they happen to pop up on a movie channel. Pulp Fiction is one of the chosen few for me. I realize this opens me up for less-than-flattering judgment, but sometimes we don’t choose the movie … the movie chooses us.
Unfortunately, this movie proved to be the end of the highly creative partnership between Tarantino and Roger Avary. Former video store co-workers, these two had a nice run with True Romance, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (for which they won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar), but ego conflict messed up The Beatles and had no less effect on these two writers. Still, the stars aligned and provided us a non-linear collision of multiple story lines and dialogue unlike we had previously heard on screen. Additionally, it proved to be the career defibrillator for John Travolta, and allowed Samuel L Jackson to deliver one of the most powerful non-biblical bible verses ever. For most us, it was the first time we had ever seen the plunging of an adrenaline filled syringe through a comatose woman’s breastplate. Quentin Tarantino made no effort to hide his fascination with Uma Thurman’s bare feet … a fetish we would again experience in Kill Bill. We were reminded of the cool effect provided by the “trunk shot” and baffled by the MacGuffin (the glowing briefcase). Vincent Vega (Travolta) taught us that due to the metric system, we would need to order a Royale with Cheese while visiting France, and Christopher Walken explained the, um, depths some would go to pass along a gold watch to a soldier’s son. The debate of what constitutes a miracle was no less than interesting than watching The Wolf (Harvey Keitel) take charge of a messy situation. It’s kind of funny to watch Steve Buscemi as Buddy Holly the Waiter since as Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, he refused to tip for food service. While Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer discovered the brilliance of holding up restaurant patrons, we were also shown the possible downside to such a plan. However, the key lesson we all learned, and all hope to avoid ever needing, was that if you are dumb enough (Bruce Willis) to double-cross a gangster (Ving Rhames), you sure as heck better rescue that same gangster from Deliverance-style pawn shop owners.
Tarantino showed us how multiple viewings are rewarded by keeping track of the numerous pop culture homage’s and by realizing just how perfect were his choices of single songs (no film score) for particular scenes. Listening to Dick Dale strum “Misirlou” over the opening credits still gets me going! In fact, the only two things I picked out that show a bit of aging are Vincent’s disbelief in a $5.00 milkshake and when Jules calls one of Big Brain Brad’s team “Flock of Seagulls”. So if you are taken aback by Pulp Fiction as one my all-time classics, my only response is … “Say ‘what?’ again”.