Saturday, March 02, 2013

Pulp Fiction

The other night, Becca and I sat down and watched Pulp Fiction on, I think, one of the HBO channels. Neither of us had really seen it in a decade or more. We had just watched both volumes of Kill Bill last weekend (I still think cutting that film into two separate films was Tarantino's biggest mistake), and I wanted to go back to this one. Luckily, it just happened to be on.

Do you remember just how big Pulp Fiction was? It was a game-changer in American filmmaking, the kind that only comes along once every decade or more. That was back when theaters would still hold movies over if they did well; I think it came out in September 1994, and I remember still going to see it in theaters--first-run--as late as January or February. People just kept going and going. I went to see it a dozen times. I went to see it with two different girlfriends; it was in the theaters long enough for my relationship with Christy to end and my relationship with Becca to begin. (I told Christy, by the way, that Samuel L. Jackson was going to be a household name. She told me I was crazy. Never forgot that.)

And after that, I remember seeing it a few times in the second-run theaters into the summer of '95. It had such a huge impact. After that movie came out, filmmakers wanted that characteristic dialogue. Studios were more willing to take chances with non-linear structures. A lot of indie filmmakers became rock stars, and a lot of indie actors were being put in mainstream pictures to add something different to routine blockbusters. Pulp Fiction changed how films were made and what was expected from them. And yes, it was also the film that killed indie cinema and made it a business. Like Star Wars before it--and yes, I maintain that Star Wars was driven by the same outsider auteur aesthetic that the '70s "Golden Age" traded in--it overtook and basically killed the movement it was created by.

What I forget in all of the talk about how historically important Pulp Fiction is in film history is that it's really just a damn great movie. It's a masterpiece. It's Quentin Tarantino at his most confident. (I love his films, but I might argue that much of what he's made in the past 15 years is Tarantino at his most over-confident.) He does what he does best: takes everything he loves about storytelling, every type of film he digs, every song he's ever liked, throws it into a blender, and manages to pull out something bold. It's not the material that's fresh and original, it's his approach and the genuine affection he has for what he's doing. And it's fun to watch. When we were watching it the other night, I was once again in awe of how much fun Pulp Fiction is, how well-made, how confidently put together, and how well it all comes together in the end. It is great filmmaking. It's a masterpiece. And it comes from a time before Tarantino was weighted down with all of these expectations and all of this critical bullshit that castigates him for making homages and exploitation flicks, as if it's some kind of surprise that that's what he does.

And for me, the heart of the film is Samuel L. Jackson's performance. It blew me away then, and it still does. Jackson is an interesting actor, one of my favorites. I think, like a lot of people, he has a tendency to coast, but I put some of that down to people just wanting him to play the same presence over and over again and him getting a little tired of it. Watching him in Pulp Fiction still today is electric.

It also took me back to an earlier time in my life, when I was 18 years old and I thought I was going to do more with my life. That was a great, scary, joyful time in my life. It doesn't color my perception of the film, but it is a nice added bonus. It's that great moment of seeing something you loved when you were younger and haven't revisited for a very long time and finding it holds up even better than you thought.

I fucking love it.

Anyway, Vanity Fair has a piece up about the making of the movie from the new issue that's pretty interesting. I know Tarantino can be weirdly polarizing, but I thought I'd point that out.


Chris said...

If you like Tarantino in general and Pulp Fiction specifically, I'd seriously recommend The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I always had the sense that Tarantino saw that film and said "Wow, I could make a career out of movies with that tone, style and casting choices."

Tallulah Morehead said...

The building that the photo you've posted was taken in stood at 1500 N. Van Ness in Hollywood, half a block north of Sunset Blvd. It was severely damaged in the January, 1994, earthquake and was torn down by the time Pulp Fiction was released. I know this because I lived in that building for three years back in the 1980s. (I hate this movie, and indeed, loathe all of Tarantino's output, but that's no reason for you to.)

Kelly Sedinger said...

One of my very favorite movies. I saw it twice in 1994. The first time was the day after I saw it reviewed on "Siskel and Ebert"; they raved, and the clips made it look amazing, so I went. And as the word-of-mouth had yet to take off, I was the only one in the theater.

Saw it again a month later...and this time, the place was packed.

I still love it.

M. D. Jackson said...

Well, it brought John Travolta's career back from the dead. Only a truly amazing movie could have done that.

Roger Owen Green said...

One of the two Tarantino films (Jackie Brown being the other) that I've actually seen! And yes, it's good.

SamuraiFrog said...

Chris: Oh, yes, I love that movie, and of course the score. I saw every Leone movie I could lay hands on in high school. The only one I could never find was Duck, You Sucker!, and now I've just never seen it, despite it's being on MGMHD a lot... my to do list.

Tallulah: That's interesting; I've never been sure how much of that building was real and how much was a set. I think Tarantino likes a certain aesthetic where things look like they could go either way.

Kelly: I remember how that film just built and built the audience through word-of-mouth and great reviews. Today, where the opening night is all, movies don't seem to be able to do that anymore.

MD: And then they started sticking him in everything, and we got really sick of him again. Get Shorty? Yes. Face/Off? Definitely. Battlefield Earth? Here's your obscurity back.

Roger: We watched Jackie Brown on Netflix last night. Samuel L. Jackson should have been nominated for an Oscar. And the soundtrack... I listened to the Jackie Brown soundtrack much more than the Pulp Fiction one; it was the soundtrack that opened up the world of soul music to me. I didn't hear much of it growing up, and now I think it's pretty much the most perfect music there is.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Opening night/weekend: the scourge of movies now. I still remember my utter disbelief last year when I was reading articles about John Carter's status as one of the biggest flops of all time, on the Monday morning after its opening weekend. I couldn't believe it -- how could a movie 'flop' in three days? And yet, when I saw it three weeks or so later, the theater was over half-full. I really think that had they just shut the frak up about it and let it play out, word of mouth would have done good things for that movie. Instead, its reputation was bronzed before anybody could even say to anyone at the water cooler at work something like "Hey, I saw a pretty fun movie on Saturday...."

Roger Owen Green said...

Kelly - Steve Bissette was quite vocal that the "failure" of John Carter was manufactured by Disney.

SamuraiFrog said...

Disney is pretty stupid about its "failures." They did the same thing when Treasure Planet came out in 2002; they basically announced to the world that they were taking a huge write-down on the movie a couple of days BEFORE it was even released. It's just damning movies to failure, telling the world "Don't go see this movie, it's terrible." What a waste.

I've read stories about directors being told by studios that their movies are failures before the second showing on the first Saturday night of opening weekend.

Oblio said...

10-4, Mr. Green... this film rates among my Top 10 Faves, along with 'Young Frankenstein', 'Le Mans', 'Repo Man' and a few select weirdo others. Bruce Willis was a low-key excellent player, his last best role until his latest in 'Moonrise Kingdom'. It's almost a fantasy set in gritty real-world environs, I can not watch this movie enuf.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Tallulah: That's interesting; I've never been sure how much of that building was real and how much was a set. I think Tarantino likes a certain aesthetic where things look like they could go either way."

EVERYTHING presented as being inside that building was actually inside that building. Even the colors were the real colors. When Travolta and Jackson are talking while in the elevator, they're actually in the real elevator, standing on a spot where I've done - ah - stuff that I seldom see movie stars standing next to.

They did hang the elevator door over the entrance to either apartment 400 or 300 to get that long, long reverse tracking shot. I lived in 401. (My apartment was larger and nicer than the one where they obtain the briefcase, but that was a real apartment in that building.)