Until the ’10 year Anniversary’ AFI List, Pulp Fiction was the newest film to be present in the top 100. Released in 1994, it became a huge hit and poster child for the “new, hip indie” film movement. Compared to many of the other films of the time, the style was unique and lack of linear story telling made it stand out. Combined with a killer soundtrack and amazing cast, Pulp Fiction became a film that a new generation of people could call their own and another turning point for Hollywood.
Directed and written by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, was his second theatrical release. Two years prior, he had directed/written Reservoir Dogs and gotten a fair amount of praise for the film. However, he was still considered an outsider to the Hollywood establishment. His films were filled with violence, language, and sexuality; something that studios tried to avoid. Miramax, a formally independent studio, had been bought by the Walt Disney company when Tarantino and Lawrence Bender (his producer) approached them with the Pulp Fiction script. Harvey and Bob Weinstein were the co-chairmen of Miramax when Tarantino came with his script and they loved it. They would later go on to have a very long professional relationship together after the success of Pulp Fiction.
With a studio behind him, Tarantino began to assemble his dream cast. Many of the characters he wrote with specific actors in mind including Jules, Mr. Wolf, and Pumpkin/Honey Bunny. The most interesting casting choice was that of John Travolta as Vincent Vega. Originally meant to be played by Michael Madsen, he passed to be in another film. Despite his producers pushing for Daniel Day-Lewis, Tarantino went with Travolta. John Travolta had seen a decline in his career from the 80s and was generally though to be washed up. His appearance in Pulp Fiction helped to revitalize his career and brought him back up in Hollywood. The movie also helped to bump Bruce Willis’ career as well. Still considered a movie star, he had seen a few box office flops when he took the part in Pulp Fiction. It turned out to be a great gamble for him. It proved him an excellent actor and even paid off financial for him.
In addition to Willis and Travolta, the cast also includes Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Ving Rhames, and Uma Thurman. Truly an ensemble film, each of the actors in the movie are nothing short of excellent. Many of the memorable moments seem to stem from the perfect marriage of Tarantino’s writing and the actors delivery of his words. The writing is, undeniably, one of the best aspects of the film. In the same way that Seinfeld seemed to capture a heightened style of speech, Tarantino’s dialogue seemed to walk a line between real and stylized. So often people think of the great lines that came out of the film when they talk about the movie. Often, for me, those lines of dialogue are connected to the soundtrack. Using no “scored” music, Tarantino used existing music as his films soundtrack. In the same way a director pays attention to the pacing of the film, Tarantino will pace his scenes to the music. The soundtrack to the movie is almost as memorable at the movie itself.
The plot basically revolves around Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, two hired guns who are sent to retrieve a mysterious case for their boss, Marsellous Wallis. They encounter a robbery attempt, a near-death experience, a ‘sticky’ situation, and eventually go their own ways. This is an oversimplification of the plot, but to try and explain each plot element within the film would be a great undertaking. You can’t truly appreciate the movie until you really think about just how interconnected each character is within the stories. What is interesting to me about the movie is we see the very beginnings of what would become Tarantino’s style and way of telling a story.
It’s hard for me to think about this movie without thinking about watching it for the first time. Actually, my first exposure to the film was through the cassette soundtrack my father had in is 1987 Celica. We listened to it from A side to B side on a trip to Ohio from Florida. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I was allowed to watch the film. It was almost like a right of passage for me. After years of knowing of the film, I was finally going to be allowed to watch it. Needless to say, it instantly became one of my favorite films and a fan of Quentin Tarantino. From the excellent “Royale with Cheese” dialogue to the stomach turning gimp scene, the film lived up to the expectations I had formed for it over the years.
Pulp Fiction was a cultural phenomenon and has seeped it’s way into all aspects of our culture. From parody to homage, many people over the years have used it’s style as a launching pad for their own ideas and voices. The film established Tarantino as a legitimate director/writer and gave him the freedom to go on to make the movies he wanted to make. Much like Easy Rider found it’s voice in a generation, Pulp Fiction was embraced by a generation of people who were looking for something they felt separated them from their parents. Of course, in my case it’s a film that allowed me to bond closer with my father. Even with the violence, language, and sexuality, the film was more then just shock for shock sake. It was a story in a very unique universe from a very unique person. Despite what someone might feel about Tarantino and his movies, there is no denying the fact that Pulp Fiction is an important film to a generation.