Blog Directory CineVerse: Separating fact from "Fiction"

Separating fact from "Fiction"

Friday, April 5, 2019

What can possibly be said about Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" that hasn't been said already? Plenty, at least if you love talking about movies that matter. And Tarantino's second feature is certainly one that matters in the grand scheme of the cinematic universe. Why? We detailed the reasons last Wednesday at Cineverse. Here's a recap:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?
  • It bucks so many conventions of the traditional Hollywood narrative:
    • That you have to tell a linear story with a clearly structured beginning and told in proper order and infused with conflict and resolution that’s dramatized in a straight line.
    • That gangster and crime figures have to conform to particular stereotypes; this is a decidedly different take on cliché characters, like the professional hit man and his targets, the underworld kingpin and his moll, and lovers on the run.
    • That these conventional crime characters have to abide by the language and lexicon laws of the cinematic universe; instead of the predictable dialogue you usually get in crime pictures, this film is replete with casual, everyday banter, funny anecdotes, and otherwise disposable lines that everyday people would say in the real world, not the predictable world of typical movie personalities.
    • That the tone of a pulp fiction story has to be consistently dark, violent, serious and noir-ish. Instead, Pulp Fiction conjures up big laughs and smiles as well as gasps, cringes, teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing. Interestingly, there is consistent suspense, even when the mood suddenly shifts to something funny or more lighthearted.
    • That a violent crime drama has to have a particular type of music soundtrack that features either a serious score or classic rock songs (Pulp Fiction primarily uses old surf music).
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • It encouraged filmmakers to explore more crime fiction characters and plots. It made creepy, degenerate, underworld and unsavory characters more acceptable to the mainstream, provided they were interestingly shaped, offered distinctive dialogue, and weren’t stereotypical or clichéd.
  • It introduced a new era where colorful and credible dialogue can serve as the heart of a story, a character unto itself that helps move the plot along.
  • The curious tonality of Pulp Fiction—which alternated between sudden extreme and repulsive violence and ironic comedy—emboldened filmmakers to explore more violent and disturbing content and situations counterbalanced by hipster humor and black comedy.
  • Its non-linear narrative and time shifts also made it cool to tell a different kind of story that forces the audience to pay more attention and derive meaning from a non-traditional three-act structure.
  • Its numerous pop culture references and nods to earlier films made it fun to pay attention and identify all the influences and winks to the audience. Consider that the movie feels very fresh and timely, yet it continually harkens back to a bygone culture as well as older films and songs.
    • The references come fast and furious: the Pepsi challenge, A Flock of Seagulls, the Quarter Pounder with cheese, Speed Racer, Fruit Brute cereal, Madonna’s Lucky Star period, The Three Stooges, Clutch Cargo, Green Acres, Fonzie, The Guns of the Navarone, and 1950s icons like Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly and James Dean.
    • Here’s just a small handful of the films and works of literature that Pulp Fiction references or was inspired by: The Killing, Kiss Me Deadly, Deliverance, The Bodyguard, Charley Varrick, J.D. Salinger’s Glass family anthology tales, and books by Elmore Leonard and Charles Willeford.
  • It rejuvenated the careers of John Travolta and Bruce Willis and put Samuel L. Jackson on the map as the cool actor everyone wanted to cast.
  • It demonstrated that a lower-budget independent movie could be an A-list picture that drew big audiences, garnered major award nominations, and produce big profits. This is the flick that turned Miramax into a critical and commercial powerhouse that dominated independent cinema for many years thereafter.
  • It made surf music cool again, if only for a little while.
  • It inspired a host of imitators. Other movies that were influenced by Pulp Fiction include: Destiny Turns on the Radio, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, The Usual Suspects, Suicide Kings, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Go, Amores Perros, Reindeer Games, The Way of the Gun, Zero Effect, Memento, Get Shorty, Be Cool, and Boondock Saints.
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in (movie name)?
  • Redemption. Butch, Jules and Marcellus are each redeemed in their own way, by the end of the movie.
  • Passing the test. Think about how the three main characters are each tested to prove their mettle.
    • First, Vincent is faced with a trial of loyalty—can he resist the tempting wife of his underworld boss?
    • Second, ponder Butch’s attachment to his watch and what that watch represents—an heirloom of honor passed down from brave and admirable ancestors in the military. Instead of leaving Marsellus to a fate of indignity and torture at the hands of his captors, he chooses to do the brave thing by selecting a weapon symbolic of honor and skill, a samurai sword. Thus, Butch passes the test of honor and distinguishes himself as not just another American who’s names “don’t mean shit.”
    • Third, Jules confronts a test of faith: Which path will he choose, that of the shepherd or the tyranny of evil men? The incident in the apartment where he and Vincent are miraculously spared from certain death inspires Jules to seek a more enlightened path and abandon his violent ways. In the coffee shop, he seems to pass this test by deescalating the Mexican standoff situation and letting Pumpkin and Honey Bunny depart with his blood money and their lives.
  • Luck and fortune smiles on the brave, the stupid, and the undeserving. Consider how Jules and Vincent are magically spared from close-range bullets; how Butch finds a way to kill the hit man stalking him, even up things with Marcellus, and get away with his girl and the money; how Marcellus is ironically saved by Butch, and how Vincent saves his hide by bringing Mia back from an overdose.
What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • Because the film is such a pastiche that blends myriad pop culture references, styles, fashions, music, and eras, it hasn’t dated and arguably never will.
  • On the other hand, Tarantino has his own hipster style and panache that stamps movies like this as very grounded in 1990s postmodern sensibilities; thus, it could date this film for some.
  • The frequent use of the “N” word, especially used by white characters, likely touches a nerve for many and perhaps stands as Pulp Fiction’s most egregious or archaic element today.
What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?
  • Its dialogue. Hearing credible as well as quirky conversation uttered by infinitely interesting characters will always be refreshing and satisfying. This movie has some of the most quotable lines in all of cinema. Roger Ebert said in his review that this movie would work as an audio book.
  • Its narrative structure. The characters and situations take on different significance and shine with more resonance because the story is not told in chronological sequence. We realize, for example, that although Vincent is a fun personality to follow, he dies an ignominious death two-thirds of the way through the movie; his return in act three, after we know that he will soon end up dead, possibly makes him less relevant as a character—one that can serve as more of a comic relief and sidekick to Jules, who takes on greater significance in the last third of the movie. Again, the non-linear narrative forces the audience to pay closer attention and compartmentalize each of the three main acts as vignettes that each tell their own important tale yet also serve the complete story.
  • The tonality. Tarantino is a master at mixing violence with comedy and building suspense out of both the extraordinary and the mundane. The black humor, perfectly timed to counterbalance moments of extreme suggested violence, gives viewers breathing room and makes the bloodshed and disturbing content more acceptable. You could describe this film as both distressing and delightful, shocking and silly, violent and hilarious.
Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 25 years? Why or why not?
  • The appeal and cult of Tarantino, while a few years past its prime, will probably persist for many years to come—he’s only 56 years old and likely has many more films left in him. That fact alone will keep what is considered by many to be his masterwork relevant for a long time.
  • Because Pulp Fiction provides such a high return on viewer investment—it offers plentiful rewards and new insights on subsequent watchings—it will remain a fan favorite for the indefinite future.
  • Then again, if we somehow become a more politically correct society that increasingly frowns on violent, profane or disturbing content—not likely—this movie could be less well remembered by future generations.

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