writes: > He truly blew his load on PF and I don't think it will ever come together > that well for him again. A movie about a lady who stops drug dealers. it > could be fucken Tuff Turf for all we know. Please argue. he doesn't make > any original projects. From:J.D._P._Lafrance@ridley.on.ca
(J.D. P. Lafrance) an argument for QT's originality...
There are very few films nowadays that tell a story. As the above quote states, most films are based on a situation with a bunch of sequences tacked on to an already weak structure. As a result you get a film that feels empty because there is no substance to it, there is no story. This may explain why Pulp Fiction (1994) was regarded by critics as such a welcome breath of fresh air. Quentin Tarantino's film was not content to merely tell one story but juggle three of them within a complex structure borrowed from literature and presented out of chronological order without the aid of flashbacks. Pulp Fiction is an extremely verbal film with numerous popular culture and film references some overt and some not while his characters spout some of the most hilarious and exciting dialogue you'll hear outside of an David Mamet play or an Elmore Leonard novel. As film critic Gavin Smith observed, "the verbal setpiece takes precedence over the action setpiece" (33). Where the narrative in most films is moved along by the actions of a character, the stories in Pulp Fiction are propelled by what the characters say not what they do. And herein lies the strength of Tarantino's film: a screenplay that cleverly places banal, everyday dialogue in the mouths of genre characters like hitmen and gangster's molls with unexpected and entertaining results. Pulp Fiction takes old stories and transforms them into something fresh and new again.
Essentially, Pulp Fiction is comprised of three stories that, according to Tarantino, "start with the oldest chestnuts in the world. You've seen them a zillion times. You don't need to be caught up in the story because you already know it" (Tarantino). The first story, entitled, "Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace," starts off with a "guy going out with the boss's wife and he's not supposed to touch her" (Smith 41). However, the date receives a startling jolt of energy when one of the characters overdoses on heroin. From there, we move on to "The Gold Watch" which concerns a "boxer who's supposed to throw the fight and doesn't" (Tarantino). Again, the film quickly veers off into uncharted territory as the boxer not only crosses paths with the crime boss he ripped off but a pair of rednecks who have their own bizarre secrets. And finally, perhaps the most entertaining and satisfying story of the film, "The Bonnie Situation," isn't that familiar a story but rather "an old familiar situation. The story starts with Jules and Vincent going to kill some guys. That's like the opening five minutes of every other Joel Silver movie a bunch of guys show up and pow, pow, pow kill somebody and then the credits start and then you see Arnold Schwarzenegger. So let's extend that whole opening, let's hang out with them for the rest of their day and the shenanigans that follow" (Tarantino). These "shenanigans" involve the disposing of a dead corpse, recovering a mysterious briefcase, and dealing with a restaurant heist a full day by anybody's standards.
Before Tarantino had written any of his films, he got the idea of "writing a crime short story, shooting [it] as a short film, then doing another and another and putting them together like a crime-film anthology" (Tarantino). At which point he could keep adding stories until he had a feature length film. It wasn't until 1989, after Tarantino had written the screenplays for True Romance and Natural Born Killers that he wrote the Jules and Vincent story while his friend Roger Avary wrote "The Gold Watch." Unfortunately, Tarantino was in no position to get a film into production and so his crime-film anthology had to wait.
After the success of his debut film, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Tarantino returned to the two stories that had been written in 1989 "and I got the idea of doing something that novelists get a chance to do but filmmakers don't: telling three separate stories, having characters float in and out with different weights depending on the story" (Lowry 28). Tarantino admired writers like J.D. Salinger and Charles Willeford who created a community of characters that would appear in a number of stories. Tarantino wanted to do the same thing with his film. And so, with that in mind, he had characters who were peripheral in one story become the focal point of the next one, creating the impression that all of them belonged in the same shared universe.
One of the most impressive elements of Pulp Fiction is the structure that encases all of these characters and the world they inhabit. As stated previously, the film's structure borrows from literature but, as Globe and Mail film critic Rick Groen observes, "depends on the ease and speed of film to guide us through the narrative thickets" (D1). Like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction is broken up into "chapters" that each tell a story but Tarantino plays around with this structure by moving characters in and out of the various chapters a la the films of Robert Altman (ie. Short Cuts). For example, in the "Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace" story, Butch the boxer (Bruce Willis) makes a small appearance when he and Vincent (John Travolta) exchange words. This moment foreshadows "The Gold Watch," where the roles are reversed: it is now Vincent who has a cameo role in a story dominated by Butch.
Tarantino is not content to merely move his various characters in and out of his stories, he is also willing to mess with the time frame within his film. Pulp Fiction has a circular structure the film begins and ends in the same restaurant. However, in the middle of the film, time has advanced beyond the end, "so we know what happens next and, as a result, the movie's climax resonates eerily into the future" (Groen D2). Now, this may seem confusing on paper, but it isn't when you watch the film, which is a testimony to Tarantino's skill as a filmmaker.
Perhaps Pulp Fiction's strongest element, which is also the most talked about one, is the dialogue. It is no secret that Tarantino is a fan of films the kind that quotes from them obsessively. This explains why much of the dialogue from Pulp Fiction has entered our culture and why the famous "Royale with Cheese" scene has been quoted ad nauseam by enthusiasts of the film. Tarantino knows what makes a film's dialogue memorable and has incorporated this knowledge into his own work.
Tarantino's dialogue is more than simply cult film fodder. He is much smarter than that. What makes the dialogue in his films so unique is that he gives "stereotypical people atypical lines, and what they say often deals (often hilariously) with the pragmatic minutiae of their chosen profession" (Groen D2). It is a rather simple notion but is one that works effectively. As Tarantino stated in an interview, "the idea is to take genre characters and put them in real-life situations and make them live by real-life rules" (Dargis 19). And so we have hitmen talking about everything from foot massages to the definition of a TV pilot. What makes this seem so odd is that Tarantino is breaking a major movie convention here. Genre characters like hitmen never talk about such mundane matters because they have nothing to do with the story at hand, but Pulp Fiction is willing to allow these sorts of digressions because that is what real life is like. What would normally be distracting in most films is transformed by Tarantino's colourful dialogue into something very entertaining and integral to the overall enjoyment of the film.
Another important aspect of the dialogue in Pulp Fiction is how it is used by the characters. As Gavin Smith observed, "more than what they do, what the characters say and they never stop talking guarantees their existence" (33). This is an important rule that governs the outcome of many confrontations in Tarantino's films. Where Reservoir Dogs resolved many of its arguments and conflicts violently, Pulp Fiction marks a change in that it ends on a peaceful note. The final three-way stand-off at gunpoint between Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), Vincent, and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) looks like it is going to end in a bloody shoot-out but is instead handled in a peaceful manner by Jules who no longer sees violence as the solution to everything. Tarantino has played with our expectations of his own films by setting up a similar scenario as with the ending of Reservoir Dogs and True Romance (1993), which ended in deadly violent resolutions, and opts for "lucky escapes from nightmarish, no-win predicaments" (Smith 33) with Pulp Fiction.
This is the crucial difference between Pulp Fiction and Tarantino's previous efforts. He was not content to repeat himself but rather explore new thematic territory. "What loyalty is to Dogs, redemption is to Pulp Fiction," remarked the filmmaker in an interview with the New York Times (Lowry). Pulp also differs from Dogs in the sense that it "works in a series of couples everybody's a couple...It's only when they become a team that they can do anything. Circumstances make them a couple" (Smith 41). From Jules and Vincent to Butch and Marsellus (Ving Rhames), characters are teamed-up to solve a problem or overcome a conflict. It is only when they are alone as Vincent becomes do they meet their untimely demise. The notion of coupling also dovetails rather nicely into the film's preoccupation with redemption. Characters are only shown the error of their ways and allowed to redeem themselves through working with another person. Butch is able to give up his life as a boxer and settle his grievances with his former boss, Marsellus Wallace only after they deal with a couple of nasty rednecks. Conversely, Jules is only able to give up the life of a hired killer after he and Vincent are miraculously unhurt after a gunfight and a subsequent attempted burglary. Any character who fails to recognize the error of their ways, as Vincent does in "The Bonnie Situation," dies a violent death.
What is so good about Pulp Fiction is that it works on multiple levels. On the surface, it can be appreciated as a funny, sometimes scary, often thrilling look at a group of low-lifes straight out of a crime/pulp novel. However, upon closer examination, there is a lot more going on in Quentin Tarantino's film. The theme of redemption and the three story structure are cleverly buried within so "you don't feel like you've seen three stories and I've gone out of my way to make them three stories, with a prologue and an epilogue! They all have a beginning and an end. But you feel like you've seen one story about a community of characters" (Smith 41). It's no surprise that the film came out of nowhere to win the Palme d'Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Tarantino's film came along at just the right time: American cinema had become boring and safe. Pulp Fiction took age old conventions and gave them a unique spin that made the gangster genre seem fresh, exciting, and new.
Sources:Dargis, Manohla. "Quentin Tarantino On Pulp Fiction." Sight and Sound. November 1994. 16-19.
Groen, Rick. "Crime Rave." The Globe and Mail. Friday, October 14, 1994.
Lowry, Beverly. "Criminal Rendered in 3 Parts, Poetically." The New York Times.
Smith, Gavin. "Quentin Tarantino: 'When you know you're in good hands.'" Film Comment. July-August 1994.
Tarantino, Quentin. "Quentin Tarantino On 'Pulp Fiction." Sight and Sound. May 1994.
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