director Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 epic Pulp Fiction may (or may not) be the best film of the 1990’s, but it’s pretty easily one of the most important and influential films of the last decade of the 20th century.
Interestingly, and perhaps uniquely, until now, I’d only seen Tarantino’s crime portmanteau once, in the cinema back in 1994, and then never again for 20 years. The oddity herein is that Pulp Fiction, like a lot of other popular cult films of the 1990’s was watched over and over and over again by fans almost immediately upon its release. With its classic musical soundtrack featuring snippets of dialogue as well as Tarantino’s hand-picked tunes, even if you’d been like me, and only saw the film on its release, you were still inundated with popular elements from the dialogue, scene snippets replayed, or even played to death almost in its praise.
I’d recalled reading a someone referring to Pulp Fiction as a “shot of adrenalin to the heart of American filmmaking” or some such thing back in 1994 when it came out. And I’d always thought that the apropos if obvious metaphor, lifted directly from one of the film’s most famous scenes, to describe the movie’s inventive story and its resonant effect on the film industry of the time. Pulp Fiction invigorated a lot of careers directly associated with the film, but gave berth to the “Indie” as the Hollywood machine lumbered forth with bloated blockbusters and Oscar fodder, with nary an invention in sight.
I still recall the excitement of watching the film in 1994. It was clever, inventive, surprising, and fresh. But I also sensed to overwhelming fan-obsessive qualities that drowned the film in manic praise for years to come. While it was still a pre-internet media world that embraced and celebrated the movie, the tonality was a precursor of the incessant overworking of popular movies by the multitudes who dedicate their time to any particular cult obsession. And so, I never felt the need to see it again.
Not long back, I rewatched Reservoir Dogs (1992) for the first time. Though I’ve kept up with Tarantino, watching his movies over the years, I don’t know that I’ve ended up re-watching any of them before now. Though now, 20 years out from Pulp Fiction seems as good a time as any to reassess the writer/director/actor who changed the landscape for filmmakers in America.
Overall, I think Pulp Fiction is pretty great film-making. It’s funny, but like in Reservoir Dogs, the kitschy pop dialogue that made Tarantino such the hipster hero to so many aspiring screenwriters (and video store clerks) at the time seems to be the film’s weakest element.
Where Tarantino excels, however, is in selecting and directing actors to deliver his words.
Samuel L. Jackson. Of course this guy is exactly the guy you want to read “Go the Fuck to Sleep”. He even makes bad Capitol One Quicksilver card commercials entertaining.
But Tarantino does a great job of shooting these scenes, not just getting good actors reading his lines, playing his characters, but pulls off the ballet of set-ups, framings, cuts, and everything to make Pulp Fiction ridiculously entertaining and watchable.
And iconic. Maybe that is one of Tarantino’s biggest coups, making such iconic moments out of a film so jam-packed with homage and cultural reference.
The bottom line is I enjoyed the movie again, seeing it just now.
I’ve been thinking about the 1990’s in part, I think, because my film queue has a number of films like Pulp Fiction that I saw once back in the day but never got around to seeing again. Films with huge cult followings. And I started to wonder about the 1990’s. What are the best films of the 1990’s? Is Pulp Fiction the best film of the 1990’s?
My short answer, I think, is: No. There are other cult films from the 1990’s that I have watched over again, but there are a lot that I have not. There are actually quite a few good movies from that decade; who’s to say what is “the best”?
This film diary, since I write about every feature film I see, has sort of pushed against re-watching. It’s not that any one response I have is so definitive about a film, but there is a bit of tedium and futility in writing a full response to the third viewing or fourth viewing of a movie. And there are so many movies that I haven’t yet seen…
Pulp Fiction‘s importance is easily appreciated. And I think its impact will keep it in the discussions of American films of the 1990’s for ever and always and rightly so. And, as I said, I think it’s highly entertaining. It’s also pretty damn long. And it has its shortcomings.
I will be delving further into 1990’s movies. So, doubtlessly more to come on the topic, and references to Tarantino and Pulp Fiction will abound, no doubt.