Quintessential Quentin: 20 Years of Pulp
Quentin Tarantino’s stylistic cult classic “Pulp Fiction” turned twenty this year. It debuted at Cannes in May of 1994 and received the Palme d’Or, the award widely considered by film fanatics and critics alike to be an honor of the highest order. The inspired neo-noir crime drama was a thing of beauty, seamlessly stitching together multiple genres, character-developing dialogue, fractured chronology and the ironic juxtaposition between comedy and violence. Now, two decades later, fans are rediscovering how the passion and creativity of one filmmaker can translate into one of the most intelligently written screenplays of all time. Here is a short list of the most important and transcendent lessons that we’ve learned from twenty years of ‘Pulp’.
1) If You Ain’t Cheatin’, You Ain’t Tryin’:
One of the most important aspects of Tarantino’s work over the years has been his ability to write dialogue that not only excels in developing a deep and layered character, but is riddled with intellect and quick wit. Time after time, Quentin has given us characters that allow each audience member to connect with them. He does this so well – creates such familiarity with his characters – that its almost as if you know them. Well, in ‘Pulp Fiction’, that’s because you do know them. Each segment of the film has a very specific and familiar archetype. The two hit men doing the boss’ dirty-work; the boxer who is supposed to throw the fight, yet doesn’t; the employee who is sent to take out his boss’ wife on a date-that’s-not-a-date. You get the idea.
Now, if the simple task of stealing a character or reusing a story that has been told a thousand times is all a great film needs, then everyone would be doing it. However, it takes an incredibly clever individual to rehash these time old tales and make them into something fresh and exciting. Tarantino is a master at this, and the reason behind his preeminence is simple: he changed the situation that these characters normally thrive in. What happens after the boxer runs out of the arena, blowing off the gangsters who’ve just lost a fortune? Where are the hit men going once they empty their clips into poor Brett’s Big Kahuna Burger-less belly? What if the wife and her husband’s oh-so-loyal employee were blasted on heroin and cocaine throughout the date? Now that sounds interesting. Cheating? Stealing? Simply giving the world a fresh new perspective? Perhaps it’s all three, but as history has taught us, that is what makes an artist great.
2) Masterful Works of Art Do Not Need to Break the Bank:
Pulp’ was in no way a tent-pole film; meaning that the budget was fairly low. Tarantino had found only minor success in 1992’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’, but hadn’t yet broken the barrier into mainstream film-making. The production only cost about $8 million; the salary of the actors accounted for around $5 million of that. This should hardly come as a surprise, as Tarantino has always been a fan of using an ensemble cast. Even in 1994, actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel and Bruce Willis were well established and fairly expensive. So all in all, ‘Pulp’ was made for roughly 3 million dollars. Even for an independent film made in 1994, that’s pretty amazing. Quentin is deserving of immense respect for this one, not only because he was able to produce such an iconic film with so little money, but because he was able to recognize his own strengths and figure out what he could and could not get away with. This allowed him to seek out actors of the highest quality, thus ensuring that all pieces of the film held up artistically. Film is, after all, a collaborative form of art.
3) Interpretation – When Art Becomes The Magnum Opus
What the hell was in that briefcase, anyway? This, in the world of ‘Pulp Fiction’, is a time old question and an unsettled debate. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant things that Quentin Tarantino has ever done, in any film; his coup de grace so to speak. It was also improvised. The answer to this question, however, lies not in the case itself, or what it represents. In order to answer it, we must first look into what it is that makes art, in any form, so transcendent.
Art is something that crosses all language barriers and cultural divides. In its greatest form, art is rarely something you see, read, taste or hear, but something visceral, something that is felt deep within the confines of our bellies and proverbial hearts. I still have yet to meet someone, who upon hearing their favorite song, doesn’t feel that shooting tingle up and down their spine. This is because true art strikes emotional chords within us, whether it is in the mysterious valleys of our grey matter or the ever elusive soul, each and every human is familiar with that feeling.
Once these emotional chords have been struck by the creative work of an artist, a non-verbal conversation is immediately elicited between artist and spectator. As this conversation ensues, the composition becomes so much more, allowing the audience to interpret how it made them feel, thus, becoming a part of the artwork itself. That is why the contents of the briefcase (or lack thereof) are so important to ‘Pulp’.
First and foremost, the contents are never seen; only a warm, orange glow from inside the case dances across the face of whomever is gazing upon it. Fan theories have run rampant for years, as they should with any good film (i.e. ‘Inception’) and they range from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous. Could it have been Elvis’ golden suit? The diamonds from ‘Reservoir Dogs’? Michael Jackson’s other glove? OJ’s other glove?! Or maybe, just maybe, it held Marcellus Wallace’s soul… he did have a Band-Aid on the back of his neck. Or perhaps Ving Rhames simply cut himself shaving and the inside of the case held a 40-watt light-bulb, but where’s the fun in that? Either way, this leaves it up to the viewer to ultimately decide what’s in the case, leading to fan theories, interpretations, unanswered questions, and people leaving the theater, still talking about it, even 20 years later.
-Header Image by Loren Javier, used under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
-Second Image by Banksy
-Third Image by Ben van Brummelen, used under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/