Midnight Movies: Pulp Fiction
Friday, May 16, 2008
Single-handedly this film may have inspired a whole young generation to fall back in love with movies and with movie making much in the same way that the French New Wavers made filmmaking fun, sexy and a bit punk back in the 60s. Narrative structure fascinates writer-director Quentin Tarantino. In some ways the telling of the story is more important than the story itself. For him, going from point A to point B is not only too simple but it's simply not fun - like having sex without foreplay. Tarantino's solution is to chop up the narrative and rearrange the pieces in unexpected ways so that climaxes and reveals occur in unlikely places. He also takes delight in having his characters tell jokes and stories as another means of playing with our expectations about narrative structure.
But what makes the film such wicked fun is the way Tarantino delivers the familiar with a twist. He continually prepares us for one thing and then delivers another. As when he sets us up for a brutal torture like the scene between Michael Madsen and the cop in his earlier Reservoir Dogs but delivers a perverse surprise instead.
This approach aalso extends to the way he develops his highly eccentric cast of characters. He uses genre types as shortcuts to character and as a means of lulling us into certain expectations. Then he throws formula out the window. So the dumb fighter turns out to be smarter than the mob and the lethal hitman ends up getting caught with his pants down.
The film also crackles with the kind of tough, funny, and sometimes goofy trivial dialogue that actors relish. So two hit men discuss what you call a Big Mac in France. The pleasure of watching Pulp Fiction unfold stems in part from the giddy delight that Tarantino has in making it. Everything in the film from Dick Dale's surf music to actors like Harvey Keitel are only there because Tarantino himself loves them. He steeps his film in pop culture references that please him. He also loves referencing other movies because he's a movie geek and his films are his way of trying to share that geekdom with others. He wants to make move film junkies. My only complaint, though, is that Tarantino often copies scenes or shots directly from other films and doesn't always like to fess up to the lifts. He shouldn't be embarrassed by such confessions because the references only reveal the extent of his geekdom and make his films fun.
The only weak link in the film is the fight story with Bruce Willis. This section, conceived by Tarantino's co-writer Roger Avary, doesn't have the same sense of fuin as the rest of the film. But it does afford a flashback involving Christopher Walken that is a crack up. So let's not quibble. Pulp Fiction , despite the violence and a few minor flaws, is deliriously enjoyable. It may not tackle important themes but it has a brash exuberance that's irresistible.
Companion viewing: Scorsese's American Boy (the source for Uma's OD scene), Reservoir Dogs , Breathless (the Godard one), Rashomon
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