It All Started With Stargate.
October 30, 1994. My friend Jason and I were supposed to go watch Stargate. When we got to the theater however, the film playing on the other screen was a movie we had both heard a lot about; Pulp Fiction. I was fourteen at the time and Jason was a couple of years younger, so needless to say we were getting dropped off at the theater since neither of us could drive. It was a stroke of luck that his parents were dropping us off (mine were a little more strict on the R-rated movies) so we got Jason’s mom to buy the tickets for Pulp Fiction instead.
Let me explain something for the youngsters in the crowd; theaters were a lot more lax on letting under 17’s into R-rated movies in 1994. In most cases you could get in without a parent at all, but in all cases if a parent bought the tickets for you, you could go in no problem. This seemed to change towards the late 90’s but by that point I was of age, so it didn’t matter to me.
Pulp Fiction was a different story apparently. The ticket taker, who was by no means old, decided to try to talk Jason’s mom out of letting us watch the movie due to its apparently excessive violence. All this amounted to was us telling Jason’s mom we could handle it and her agreeing and buying the tickets. We were a couple of minutes late getting in so we missed the majority of the first Pumpkin and Honey Bunny interaction. Just as we got settled the opening credits began to roll, Misirlou by Dick Dale started to play, and Jason and I went on a ride that I’ll never forget.
To say that Pulp Fiction was influential to me in my formative years is an understatement; it is THE most important pop culture moment of my teenage years. More so than any other movie, album, comic, TV show, Pulp Fiction would cast a shadow over what I thought was cool and interesting for years to come, and I am certainly not alone in this.
For at least five years, but more realistically ten, there were Pulp Fiction wannabes, rip-offs, and homages coming out in a pretty steady stream. Be it Two Days in the Valley, Mulholland Drive, Smokin’ Aces, or any other of their ilk, none of them ever seemed to catch that Tarantino magic. The question that I posed myself for this article though is this; after twenty years does Pulp Fiction hold up, and more importantly, does it deserve its lofty place in movie history?
The Tarantino Conundrum.
Over the years, it’s become harder and harder to separate Quentin Tarantino the filmmaker, from Quentin Tarantino the mouthpiece. Since Pulp Fiction he has made 6 films. Although not exactly a light output, Woody Allen he is not. For several years, between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Volume 1 he was in the news more for his mouth than his movies.
Full disclosure-Jackie Brown is my favorite Quentin Tarantino film. I feel like it tends to get forgotten because it is an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard book, and because it is a much more nuanced, less geek friendly movie than the rest of his films. I also feel like it’s less than stellar box-office performance and muted fan response, has led to Tarantino to eschew his independent film credentials in favor of a more Robert Rodriguez like career trajectory.
Tarantino seems to preach to the converted at this point. In the Kill Bill movies he did his kung-fu/revenge films, Inglorious Basterds is his men on a mission film, Django Unchained is his spaghetti western. The good thing about the geek uprising of the 21st century has been the higher profile of genre-centered entertainment by new filmmakers; the bad thing is the fact that it has stunted the growth of promising filmmakers as well, and Tarantino and Rodriguez are two of its most glaring casualties.
So what about Pulp Fiction today? How does it hold up?
“You’d Dig it the Most.”
Pulp Fiction as an adrenaline shot, much like the one to Mia Wallace’s chest, works like gangbusters. It’s still hard to think of a movie with as much crackle and fizz as Pulp Fiction. Some of the dialogue isn’t quite as good as it seemed at the time, the middle portion still drags a bit, and Quentin Tarantino almost blows the whole thing by casting himself in the third act (he’s not a very good actor), but all in all Pulp Fiction holds up on a surface level. But what about the heart that beats underneath?
Any criticism of the film has always seemingly had to do with its lack of soul, or that it is simply a mish-mash of other movies. Although I will agree with that take on most of Tarantino’s post 90’s work (does anyone really care about any of the characters in Inglorious Basterds?), I do not feel this way about Pulp Fiction. To me, the movie has always been about redemption, as all good noir/crime movies tend to be. Does it rewrite the book? No, but it does tell a well-worn story in such a novel way that you never really forget it. The characters are all lowlifes sure, but they are interesting lowlifes who are at personal crossroads. Some of them make good choices and are rewarded; some of them make bad choices and are punished, be it physically or metaphorically (an argument could be made that Roger Avary, Tarantino’s co-writer on Pulp Fiction, is the reason for this but that’s another article all together).
So twenty years on, Pulp Fiction’s still got it. I dare anyone to watch it and not laugh at certain parts and gasp at others, and although my feelings about Quentin Tarantino have changed over the years, I still look forward to what he’ll do next. I am hopeful after Django Unchained; there were flashes of the guy who made Jackie Brown in that one and it was easily his best film since the 90’s. Here’s hoping that Tarantino’s back on the right path, and that maybe he can get Robert Rodriguez to quit making Machete movies.
Until next time…