Saturday, May 25, 2024

Review: "PULP FICTION" is Still a Wild Child

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 23 of 2024 (No. 1967) by Leroy Douresseaux

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Running time:  154 minutes (2 hours, 34 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong graphic violence and drug use, pervasive strong language and some sexuality
DIRECTOR:  Quentin Tarantino
WRITERS:  Quentin Tarantino; from stories by Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino
PRODUCER:  Lawrence Bender
EDITOR:  Sally Menke
Academy Award winner


Starring:  John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Paul Calderon, Bronagh Gallagher, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Walken, and Harvey Keitel

Pulp Fiction is a 1994 crime film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.  The film follows the lives of an ensemble of characters, including two mob hit men, a boxer, a pair of armed robbers, and a gangster and his wife in a series of intertwined tales of violence and redemption.

Thirty years ago, this month, May 1994, brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the then co-chairmen of Miramax Films, blew into France with the entire cast of Pulp Fiction for the 47th Cannes Film Festival.  On or about May 21, 1994, the Weinsteins unveiled Pulp Fiction at a midnight screening.  From what I read lo those many years ago, that screening cause a sensation.  Pulp Fiction would go on to win the festival's top prize, the “Palme d'Or,” for Tarantino.

I had been putting off seeing Pulp Fiction during its initial release, but it was re-released in the spring of 1995 in the run-up to the 67th Academy Awards (March 27, 1995).  Pulp Fiction had been nominated for seven Oscars.  A friend encourage me to see it with her, which I think we did a week or so before the Oscars.  I'd seen Reservoir Dogs (1992), which I considered to be an exceptional film of that time, but even the uncommon nature of Reservoir Dogs did not prepare me for the demented nature of the audacious art that was (and still is) Pulp Fiction.  In preparation for this film, I recently rewatched Tarantino's other early films, Jackie Brown (1997) and Reservoir Dogs.

Told out of chronological order, Pulp Fiction is set in and around Los Angeles.  It opens in a diner, where a couple, Pumpkin/Ringo (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny/Yolanda (Amanda Plummer), decide to pull of an armed robbery. Elsewhere, two hit men, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), seek to retrieve a brief case that belongs to their employer, crime boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), from a small group of thieves who tried to double-cross Wallace.

Later, Vega takes Wallace's wife, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), out to dinner – by request of Marsellus.  They banter.  They dance.  They deal with an overdose.  Also, a palooka boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), double-crosses Marsellus.  Now, he's on the run, but before the night is done, Butch and Marsellus will find themselves delivered into evil.  Finally, Jules meets Pumpkin and Honey Bunny.

Reservoir Dogs is “neo-noir,” which is a modern versions of “Film-Noir,” a term that refers to the stylized Hollywood dramas – especially crime dramas – covering a period from the 1930s to the 1960s.  So if Reservoir Dogs is “neo-noir,” Pulp Fiction recalls another vintage American genre of fiction, the storytelling of the pulp magazines and hard-boiled crime novels of the mid-20th century.  Tarantino grabs the lurid, exploitative, and sensational, and also the violence and corruption that were featured in some pulps and crime novels and grafts that onto Pulp Fiction's non-linear narrative tale of people living, working, cheating, screwing, and killing in the criminal underground of L.A.

Three decades later, I find that some of the film has not aged will, such as the opening scene at the diner and the early parts of the misadventures of Vincent and Jules.  The rest of the film still sparkles with cinematic magic, as Tarantino delights in the myriad elements of both American pop culture and international cinema that he borrows (or steals) for this film.  I will say that this film's last act – the diner scene featuring Vincent & Jules and Pumpkin & Honey Bunny – is what keeps Pulp Fiction in place as one of the best films of the 1990s.  If I can divide films into increments of a quarter-hour or so, I'd say that Pulp Fiction's last 17 minutes before the end credits form the one of the best sequences of film that I have ever seen.

Seeing it again, I was frozen in place, mesmerized, and riveted by the power of this moment in American cinema.  Honestly, Samuel L. Jackson,who was nominated for a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his work in this film, should have won the award based solely on his performance in this last act of Pulp Fiction.  And I say that even as I believe that the actor who did win, the late Martin Landau for Tim Burton's Ed Wood, was deserving of the Oscar.

Back in 1994, at the moment Dick Dale & His Del-Tones' 1962 surf rock anthem, “Misirlou,” blasts across the film's soundtrack, Pulp Fiction injected some much needed juice and venom into American cinema, even if some rejected that injection at the time.  Someone once described Pulp Fiction as a “succulent guilty pleasure.”  I'll still suck on it, and I won't feel guilty about its pleasures.

10 of 10

Saturday, May 25, 2024

1995 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary); six nominations: “Best Picture” (Lawrence Bender), “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (John Travolta), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Samuel L. Jackson), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Uma Thurman), “Best Director” (Quentin Tarantino), and “Best Film Editing” (Sally Menke)

1995 BAFTA Awards:  2 wins: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Samuel L. Jackson) and “Best Screenplay – Original” (Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary); 7 nominations: “Best Film” (Lawrence Bender), “Best Actor” (John Travolta), “Best Actress” (Uma Thurman), “Best Cinematography” (Andrzej Sekula) “David Lean Award for Direction” (Quentin Tarantino), “Best Editing” (Sally Menke), and “Best Sound” (Stephen Hunter Flick, Ken King, Rick Ash, and Dean A. Zupancic)

1995 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Screenplay-Motion Picture: (Quentin Tarantino); 5 nominations: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Quentin Tarantino), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (John Travolta), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Uma Thurman), and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Samuel L. Jackson)

1994 Cannes Film Festival:  1 win: “Palme d'Or” (Quentin Tarantino)

2013 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

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