Comfortable and Furious

Pulp Fiction

This is the only genuine, landmark film I’ve ever seen cold, meaning that I went into the theater with no significant expectations. I was at the perfect age to enjoy the film – a senior in high school I think – and IÂ went in on the first or second day of its release knowing only that it got good reviews and that two characters did the twist. I was blown like I never have been before or since and dragged a friend back to see it the next day. I probably saw it two more times in the theater and quoted it like a sheep for months after words.

Now I’m old and I don’t like the movie as much as I used to. Part of that isn’t really the movie’s fault. Pulp Fiction is like Korn insofar as the original suffers because of hordes of unbearable imitations. When you listen to Korn now, you can’t help but hear a little bit of Kid Rock, Limp Biskit and Disturbed. In other words, all of the hacks do the shit more or less invented by Korn (following Pantera and Faith No More) so much, that it now sounds hackneyed and fake even when the originals do it. Watching Pulp Fiction again, a lot of that stylized dialog that once seemed so fresh nearly made me wince, like Vince’s little spiel about how you “do not mess with another man’s vehicle.” My near winces were not because QT’s writing is hackneyed, but because about one in five films to have come out after Pulp Fiction shamelessly rip it off.

For example, Pulp Fiction is loaded with those mundane little discussions that seemed fresh because of the novelty of putting mundane conversations in a film, or at least in this kind of a film. Now that these conversations are in every film, many in the originals seem just plain mundane.

So, I guess my favorite film of the nineties for the moment is no longer Pulp Fiction but, probably Leaving Las Vegas. Freeway may be ahead of Pulp Fiction, too. But that does not mean that Pulp Fiction is not a great film. Here are a handful of reasons, aside from the obvious – originality, superior writing, acting, directing, etc. – why Pulp Fiction stands apart from its imitators, and most other films.

  1. My favorite moment in this film. Jules is going on about divine intervention and how his lucky break a few minutes ago couldn’t have been mere coincidence. Vince’s gun goes off for no reason and blows Irvin’s head off. Brilliant! At one point during the extras, Sam Jackson argues that the film is about second chances and redemption.  This may be true, but the world of the film is still ruled by chance and luck. Those second chances come or don’t come by chance.
  2. The combination to the briefcase is 666. [Ed Note: We love Satan]  The film is wantonly sexist and nobody seem to notice or care.
  3. Nearly every woman in the film is a childish dim-wit, especially Butch’s bitch. Even Mia, who is semi-smart reminds me of the part in As Good as it Gets where the secretary asks Jack Nicholson how he is able to write women so well and he says “First I think of a man. Then, I take away reason and seasonality.”
  4. The film is pretty groundbreaking in how it handles race. I think every character in the film is subject to a racial slur at some point, but some same time, it takes the proper approach to the slurs.  Instead of giving them tremendous weight, the slurs are treated as virtually meaningless. Calling someone “nigger” is like calling him “stretch” or “tubby,” because the blacks in the film aren’t vulnerable little victims and because only gay rapist white trash are seriously bigoted. Naturally, this angered people who trade on racism and victimhood. [Ed Note: He’s talking about Spike Lee]
  5. That whole gay rapist white trash thing is ingenious. It’s one of only a few instances of an event in a film that is both totally unexpected and seamless. Sure, something similar happens in Deliverance but if you had never seen the film and someone stopped it just before Butch and Marsellus stumble into the pawn shop, it would take you at least five years to guess what was going to happen next. And the gay rapist white trash sequence actually makes the plot better, rather than being an odd turn that only serves as an odd turn. This scene is another example of how bits of chance and coincidence change and redirect the story.
  6. While the events in the film are dictated by coincidence and chance, the film is written carefully and things have a way of looping back on each other. The jig-looping has obvious, big pieces, but also smaller ones that are easy to miss, like how Vince insults Butch the first time they meet and the next time he meets him Butch is pointing a submachine gun at him.

    DVD Crapola

    This is the big whoop-dee-doo special edition. There’s some semi-interesting stuff, like a bunch of old interviews. There is no commentary and no excuse. I simply don’t believe that Tarantino would turn down any opportunity to shoot off his mouth. The best thing is an episode of Siskel & Ebert in which they talk about Pulp Fiction and Tarantino’s influence. Both men are excited because Pulp Fiction breaks all of the formulas of screenwriting that have dulled American cinema. Ebert expresses his hope that the commercial success of Pulp Fiction will usher in a new era of non-formulaic screenwriting. Oh well, it was just a hope. But at least the Tarantino rip off is a new formula, and I suppose increasing the number of formulas that hacks can choose from is something. Also, this is one of the few times where Siskel outshines Ebert.

    The deleted scenes are OK. There’s also this thing where Michael Moore sits with Tarantino and Samuel Jackson at the Independent Spirit Awards, which is arguably worth watching one time.

    Ruthless Ratings:

    • Film Overall: 10
    • Direction: 9.5
    • Acting: 9
    • Story: 10
    • DVD Extras: 7
    • Re-watchability: 8

    Special Ruthless Ratings:

    • Number of conversations you had in high school trying to convince your Mormon friend to see the movie: 4
    • Number of times you concluded with, “well, hopefully they’ll force you to watch it in college.”: 2
    • Number of times the movie was paused to do something else: 1
    • Your current high score in pinball is a super-human: 187, 855, 750
    • Number of beers needed to fully enjoy the movie: 3
    • Number of years since Tarantino’s made a freaking movie: 5

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