Pulp Fiction (1994)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #65

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Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: May 1994 (Cannes), October 14, 1994 (US)
Sub-Genre: Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $8,500,000
Box Office: $213,928,762
Running Time: 154 minutes
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Story: Roger Avary, Quentin Tarantino
Official Soundtrack Available From MCA
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Editing: Sally Menke
Studio: A Band Apart, Jersey Films
Distributor: Miramax Films
Stars: John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Kietel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Bruce Willis, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Frank Whalley, Phil LaMarr, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, Dick Miller and Joseph Pilato as Dean Martin

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Dick Dale and His Del Tones Misirlou

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What was the coolest movie to hit the marketplace in the nineties? The answer seems as obvious to me to the dick meat running through my ball canyon: no motion picture even stands close to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction right? You’re damn skippy. After those unruly Reservoir Dogs savaged our screens in 1991, this man was very much on every dude’s radar and the fact that such a furor broke out as he unleashed his petulant beast only served to heighten the frenzy for this, his sophomore feature and, ultimately, enduring legacy. The thing about Tarantino is that he has absolutely no concept of how to put a single foot wrong and hits the mark each and every time without fail and I do mean without fail. Despite any jive talk over Death Proof and Jackie Brown fumbling the baton, I believe them to be wholly successful ventures, particularly the latter which had the dubious pleasure of being next in line after Pulp Fiction swaggered into the whole world’s top five list.

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“That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence”

The stars were aligned in 1994 and, when this lovingly crafted slice of astutely titled pulp fiction landed in our in-trays, it inspired a slew of like-minded wise guys to attempt at emulating his triumph with considerably varying levels of success. Right off the bat I shall make this as clear as a crystal diaphragm that you won’t be reading a solitary gripe over the next 2000 words or so. You see, this is as perfect a movie as movies get. Moreover, it is Tarantino right down to its pulsing organ and a celebration of all his heroes, recited in a manner that is unmistakably Tarantino. Hence, it ignores conventional narrative in favor of a style of topsy-turvy storytelling that defies the rule set completely and unapologetically. It moves from past, present and future at will and could dumbfound freshman with its refreshingly unpandering structural approach. Those who dig the master however will gobble this shit up like pig swill. Look for me at the next trough along. Can’t talk, cheeks full.

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“What now? Let me tell you what now. I’ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ niggers, who’ll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy? I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass”

So what is Pulp Fiction anyhoots? That’s a no-brainer. I can tell you a few things it is – deeply gratifying, tight like a nun’s clenched pussy, more chic than a purple velvet walking cane with matching brogues, more quotable than Patrick Bateman after two verses of Sussudio and half a Cuban, cooler than a refrigerator full of ice packed Ray-Bans, slicker than an offshore oil spill, and possessing a soundtrack so affectionately compiled and consistently varied that it fits the optical hand like a fine silk glove. Indeed there was no need for a score to even be commissioned as this is one big multi-vinyl juke box of cool and that’s worth a quarter of anyone’s allowance in my book.

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“Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got sense enough to disregard its own feces”

One of the things that Tarantino has an uncanny knack for is revitalizing the flagging fortunes of those once deemed cool. In many ways, he is like a surgeon of film and his lens doubles up as defibrillator paddles for anyone in severe need of some cinematic voltage. John Travolta is a prime example – the strong chinned sex symbol had been floundering for years before Quentin came along and offered the shot in the arm that he so desperately needed. The role of Vincent Vega couldn’t have been more hand-crafted for him and the years roll back accordingly. Meanwhile, it’s great to see Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette getting a run out and the cast list reads like a who’s who of nineties cinema, with everyone clamoring for a part in the newly crowned king of cool’s latest outing.

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“I’m sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn’t mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What’s the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort. What does Marsellus Wallace look like?”

Then there’s the small matter of a certain Samuel L. Jackson and, if you’re looking for an iconic nineties turn, then best not rule him out or be prepared to pay the dividends. Indeed, his priceless reaction to being passed over for by Oscar for his role as Jules Winfield will be with me until my dying day. While others were trying to appear graceful in defeat, he displayed a look that spoke the words “well ain’t that a motherfucker!” without ever once moving his lips. Damn right he was robbed. Here he gets to break out the jheri-curlers, quoting biblical exerts with unshakable self-belief and awareness that Jules is the absolute shit. The dialogue between him and Vincent is pure plutonium and, while his anger is indeed furious, he’s also the cat you most wanna shoot the shit with (as long as you’re not sitting on bubble wrap that is).

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“I do believe Marsellus Wallace, my husband, your boss, told you to take me out and do whatever I wanted. Now I wanna dance, I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good”

Another prize is Uma Thurman as Marcelle’s wife Mia. There’s a good reason why Thurman became poster girl for Pulp Fiction as she exudes confidence and sass, whist keeping a lid on it just enough to have Vincent eating fries from her footwear. Their ding-dong exchanges crackle with sexual chemistry and it becomes easy to see how a man like Wallace (who can acquire any pussy he sees fit) is happy to be soundly whipped by hers. She also reveals just enough vulnerability to remind us that, beneath that assured exterior, is a little girl lost in a big man’s world. Indeed, her eleventh hour resurrection after a coke overdose appears to have shaken her from her drug-fuelled slumber and Thurman relays this transition exquisitely.

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“You tried to fuck him. And Marcellus Wallace don’t like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace”

As Butch Coolidge, Bruce Willis gets to do what Bruce does best and his ongoing tussle with big shot gangster Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) provides the kind of second act shenanigans that make restroom breaks unthinkable and dumping in your own breaches entirely acceptable practice. A far cry from David Madison (but still retaining that cheeky twinkle in his eyes), Butch possesses the unflappable demeanor of John McClane and the payoff to his plight is pitched to perfection as perspective plays its part and his nemesis provides the only kind of pardon he could ever hope for.

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“The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slopes gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy’s birthright, so he hid it, in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you”

Christopher Walken is provided with a single moment to shine and we already know that is all this man could possibly need. His monologue as returning Vietnam veteran Captain Koons is as golden as the wrist watch that spent a five stretch ticking against his colon and his casting is even more of a masterstroke given that we have witnessed the horrors of war first-hand through his eyes previously. As he presents this token to Butch, we too feel swollen with a sense of honor and duty bound to ensure it remains safe at absolutely any cost regardless of whether it smells a little ominous. Walken provides us with one of the film’s most poignant moments and, this in itself, is a gift to forever cherish.

Kool & The Gang Jungle Boogie

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“Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet”

Indeed, Pulp Fiction is one of those rare creatures where all involved are on top of their game, each raising the ante and clearly relishing the chance afforded them. From a wonderfully edgy Tim Roth as Ringo and similarly twitchy Amanda Plummer as his honey bunny Yolanda, to Harvey Kietel as the world’s most efficient house maid Mr. Wolfe, and Tarantino himself as the far more flappable Jimmie, every last cog is greased and turning in unison. Of course, a burger can look tasty but, should the meat in the bun be of inferior quality, then no triple thick shake in the world can mask the indigestion and Tarantino’s cuts are both tender and moist. He possesses that rare human insight that others only wish for and not a single word ever feels wasteful.

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Of course, dialogue only accounts for one of the five available senses and the eyes are given a workout too. Tarantino is a visual creature and, in Andrzej Sekula, has a director of photography who shares that exclusive vision. Every last detail is spot-on, no matter how insignificant it may appear and his lens provides its own narrative throughout 154 minutes that may as well be thirty. It may be epic in length in duration, but it is no less magnanimous in invention, scope and single-minded focus. The fact that he achieves this on a rather nominal $8.5m is utterly befuddling and proof that, aside from his unquestionable filmmaking chops, he is also an astute businessman. The screen is embellished with every last dime and a fair few things that money just can’t buy.

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“I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I’m a fuckin’ race car, right, and you got me the red. And I’m just sayin’, I’m just sayin’ that it’s fuckin’ dangerous to have a race car in the fuckin’ red. That’s all. I could blow”

One of his most notable achievements with Pulp Fiction is that it has far wider reach than Reservoir Dogs which, for all of the hype and controversy, still only appealed to a specific demographic. This is a film for anyone with a passion for cinema and most critical is that there is no point during proceedings where you feel that his vision has been compromised to suit anyone other than himself. It can be confused as arrogance on his part but I prefer to think of it as having courage in your convictions and that is an invaluable tool to any aspiring filmmaker as, if you don’t benefit from your works, then how can you expect others to? I think that for me is key: Quentin is a self-confessed geek and I imagine his DVD collection to be both meticulously ordered and comprehensive. By making movies that cater for his own perversions, he provides the very best kind of quality control.

The Centurions Zed’s Dead Baby

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Am I gushing? Good. My intention is to do so frequently as, to me, this movie represents the pinnacle of a career comprising stunning motion pictures. Take a long hard look at the rest of his résumé: Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, not to mention his sizzling screenplay for Tony Scott’s True Romance. Does that look like the output of a man who struggles for inspiration? However, whilst never saying never, I’m fairly assured that no film this man ever makes will ever have quite the same impact on me as Pulp Fiction and my reasoning is purely selfish as I watched it during a particular creative flourish and would go as far as saying that I wouldn’t be the writer I am now had it not been for the mental five-a-day which his masterpiece supplied me.

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Quentin Jerome Tarantino – I salute you sir. Should you be perusing my love letter to the most influential filmmaker of my generation, then I trust you will feel the affection that flows from my Crimson Quill (with admittedly a fair degree of healthy man-crush, nothing Ice Man). I stubbornly believe that in five short years I shall be sipping frothy latte with this cool cat and that is the goal I’m working back from Pulp Fiction style in his honor. Normally I would be required to justify presenting a movie with perfect marks but, in this case, anything less would be downright suspicious. Beauty is traditionally in the eye of the beholder but Tarantino broke the mould with this one and I would question the integrity of anyone foolish enough to suggest otherwise.

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“Okay man, it was a miracle, can we leave now?”

In closing, imagine a candy store created with all your favorite confectionaries and run by a man who makes Mr. Magorium seem positively morose. Okay, now translate the image you conjure to screen and the result will invariably be Pulp Fiction. Looking for leather clad gimps suspended from chains? You got it. Backward redneck inbred fucks with death wishes? Got them too. Chicks with guns and potty mouths? Present and correct. Music that makes love to your ears and leaves a rose on your pillowcase? By the Chevy-load. Dialogue to die twice for just so you can hear the epitaph? You’re darn tooting. In fact, show me a way this could’ve hit the target with more pin point precision and I’ll eat my hat stand and every motherfucking last hat on it!

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10

 

Read Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair Appraisal

Read Death Proof Appraisal

Read Planet Terror Appraisal

Read Tarantino Unchained

 

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)

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