To celebrate the release of the long awaited Inglourious Basterds on Friday, I had planned to do a whole week of Tarantino flicks (and still do), only to have some sort of nasty shoulder problem flare up Sunday and continue through Tuesday. So we’re picking up today and I’ll be picking up the rest of the slack through the week, provided I can find all my copies of Tarantino flicks.
I’m starting out with Pulp Fiction, not Reservoir Dogs, which chronologically makes no sense. Pulp Fiction, though, was the first Tarantino film I ever saw. I was eight and my parents rented it. We made it through about fifteen seconds of the Royale with Cheese scene before my parents shut it off. They were horrified and returned it shortly thereafter, never to be brought up again. (The subject of Quentin Tarantino to my parents is one massive eyeroll, I think). Another eight years later or so, I would finally watch the whole thing.
To an eight year old, I think those first five or six minutes of Pulp Fiction were about the coolest thing you could see.
Watching Pulp Fiction for me still brings back strange thrills of being young and feeling like maybe you were watching something you weren’t supposed to watch, even though I know better since I’m a grown woman now. Instead of dissecting and analyzing Pulp Fiction since thousands of others have done so more thoroughly and better than I could ever do, I’m just going to reminisce a bit.
It’s hard to believe that we are in the fifteenth anniversary of Pulp Fiction’s release. It can’t have been fifteen years, can it? Nothing seems quite right about it.
Then again, nothing about Tarantino’s second movie feels quite right. It’s like the movie itself exists in a reality connected to ours with a few threads clipped away. The choppy timeline only serves up more disorientation. Traditional product placement is replaced with now easily recognizable Tarantino staples like Red Apple cigarettes and Jack Rabbit Slim’s (which is on its own like a retro diner ground through a bad acid trip, if you ask me).
Even after all Tarantino’s made and done since this movie, Pulp Fiction still feels new, even with the rip-offs and inspirations that followed. The juggling of storylines out of order and syncing them at the end requires an awful lot of deft handling. What required even more that’s amazing is that Pulp Fiction may be the talkiest Tarantino movie ever, which is saying something. Short bursts of action and moments of absurdity, like the Confederate flag owning boys bringing out the gimp, pulse in between long drawn out moments of hired guns waxing philosophical about life, cheeseburgers and foot massages. It’s weird. It’s strange. It is bizarre at times. Somehow, it all makes sense.
For all the accolades that Uma Thurman, John Travolta, and Sam Jackson got for their roles, I always found Eric Stoltz’s drug dealer Lance and Harvey Keitel’s Mr. Wolf to be equally interesting. In fact, I’d say the only weak link in the acting chain is Tarantino himself as Jimmie, something that felt too egotistical and had too little sense for my taste.
Tarantino himself has always presented a complex problem for me. While there’s no denying he’s one talented guy, at least in my mind, I get the sense that especially these days he’s bought deeply into his own hype. While this might be the kiss of death for other guys, in some odd fashion Tarantino’s superseded this, making movies like Kill Bill, which is probably my favorite out of all of his films. (Then again, I enjoyed the much maligned Death Proof.) He is as interesting as he is manic and for all the entertainment he provides, his enthusiastic hand waving and constant jittery manner are equally off-putting.
He lifts wholesale out of others’ films, but in a way I’ve come to accept and embrace that. I once jokingly told a friend that someone could probably make a book out of Tarantino’s films and all the references and lifts he’s put in his movies from others’ work. He takes the best bits of nostalgia and mixes them in with his own ideas to come up with movies that feel new and old all at the same time. His films always have a sense to me that for hardcore film geeks, one aspect watching them is sort of like solving the really difficult Sunday New York Times crosswords. If you can catch all the lifts, references, musical cues and every other godforsaken cinematic reference Tarantino knows into a flick, then you know a good amount about film.
Out of all of Tarantino’s movies, Pulp Fiction may be the one that’s most seared into the American consciousness, for better or worse as far as Tarantino’s merit goes. It is now an unconscious link in my mind from the movie to the rattle ‘n’ thrum of Miserlou that I don’t know if anyone my age can shake. It’s a well crafted movie for sure, but one that also marked something very big for the film world.
Pulp Fiction will always be that one movie that defines Tarantino, just as much as Tarantino defines every aspect of Pulp Fiction (subtract his keen knack for speech and dialogue and his near encyclopedic knowledge of film and I doubt Pulp Fiction would have been half as good as it is now, and that’s only counting his screenwriting credit with Roger Avary, not his work in the director’s chair at all).
It is equal parts beauty and dark grit, relics of days past and modern times, heroin and Chevy Novas. It isn’t shaken or stirred but carefully spliced and jigsawed together into a gorgeous whole.
Kind of scary when you consider Pulp Fiction was his second movie ever, huh?