Pulp Fiction redefines filmmaking as we know it
pulp n. 1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.
2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.
American Heritage Dictionary
New College Edition
In 1941, a film was produced which became known as the best film ever made. While I have yet to see it (I should be shot for it), Citizen Kane redefined filmmaking, using all sorts of different camera angles and new, inventive techniques. Nowadays, these techniques are used frequently, but they were very original back then. It has taken nearly 53 years for another film to redefine filmmaking. While there are remarkable efforts by directors and producers among these years (three notable ones are Psycho, Schindler's List, and Casablanca), none have quite had the effect as Pulp Fiction.
Almost completely ignored by the Academy, Pulp Fiction only earned one Oscar: Best Screenplay. Never have I seen a more daring and original film as this. The two definitions given at the beginning of the film describe the overall movie: a shapeless mass of matter and lurid subject matter. While it doesn't seem to have a shape to it, it really does, and this is the reason Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won for Best Screenplay. It almost seems that these two writers wrote several different stories, and then, with professional precision, manipulated the stories so that they would mix perfectly.
The technical genius of Pulp Fiction is mainly what makes the film such an outstanding film. But aside from that, the stories themselves are quite entertaining. The most interesting of them all involve Vincent Vaga (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), the wife of Vaga's boss. When Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) leaves town, Mia asks Vincent to take her out for a night of fun. Vincent arrives stoned, but not to be outdone, Mia sniffs a few lines of cocaine before leaving. They go to a 1950s-theme restaurant where Buddy Holly (that's Steve Buscemi!) is the waiter and Marilyn Monroe is a hostess. The dance sequence is my favorite part of the film. The choreography is wonderful and Thurman and Travolta are hilarious together. However, the night doesn't all go well. After arriving back at Mia's house, Mia discovers a bag of heroin, which she mistakens for cocaine. This causes the most memorable moment in the film in which Mia is administered an adrenaline shot.
The second story involves Vincent and his partner Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson). Their conversations are the highlight of their scenes, such as the McDonald's discussion about the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Their scenes together are very well written and provide a lot of humor, as well as a lot of shock (the shooting in the car is a classic). The third story revolves around an aging boxer (Bruce Willis) and a fixed fight. He is paid, by Marsellus Wallace, to lose because he is getting older. Because of this, he decides to show them that he can still fight, and kills the other boxer. This story is too complex to even begin to explain. However, the monologue given by Christopher Walken leads to one of the film biggest laughs. The fourth, and shortest, story involves a married criminal couple (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) who decide to hold up a coffee shop. The events that take place in the restaurant are inventive and very creative.
The first time I watched Pulp Fiction, I hated it. I had no idea what it was about. And I also wondered where it was going. I never figured the trickiness of director Quentin Tarantino. The second time I saw it, I loved it. Of course, the second time I saw it was three years later (1997). After seeing it again, I saw the brilliant direction of Tarantino and how skillful he really is. The plot, being a shapeless mass of matter, has no real direction, which normaly destroys a film. However, the jumping from one story to another and back is truly original and almost hard to keep up with. This film keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen next more than just the first time you see it.
The technical aspects of the film are truly a work of art. The editing is some of the best I have ever seen, and should have gotten the Oscar (stolen by a much, much lesser of a film, Forrest Gump). One of the best edited scenes is when Vincent Vaga and Jules Winnfield shoot a guy in a chair. The glow that cuts from shot to shot is a work of pure genius, reflecting the golden glow from the briefcase (we never did find out what was in that). Also, the cinematography is very original with probably the most memorable shot being a subtle shot from inside the trunk of a car. However, the writing is the key to this film, and it deserved every award it got. The dialogue is smart and realistic, and the silences are true to life (we've all gone through those awkward moments of silence). How Tarantino and Avary managed to make all the stories mesh is beyond me.
Pulp Fiction is rated R for extreme graphic violence, drug use, language, sexual situations, and some partial nudity. The R rating is well-deserved and appropriate. However, Pulp Fiction is a film that will be watched by virtually every person someday. The style and technique used have revolutionized the film industry, and multiple clones have been produced (but none nearly as good as this). Pulp Fiction deserves a spot right up there with Citizen Kane and it will probably attain that level someday. This is one of the best films ever made.
**** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie