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.