Dir: Quentin Tarantino | Year: 1994 | Cert: 18| Country: USA
Running Time: 154 mins
Pulp Fiction was re-released in UK cinemas during May, still playing as mesmerically and masterfully as ever. The intervening twenty years since its 1994 release have done nothing to blunt that razor sharp wit, thrilling soundtrack and gratuitous triumph of style awash with substance. The film affirmed Quentin Tarantino as one of the most talented directors of the time.
Can it be said since?
Drawing upon lurid low-life characters lurking within the cheap yellow-paged crime novels of the 1930’s and 40’s, Tarantino developed the same narrative structure employed in Reservoir Dogs two years prior, successfully stitching together three tales of small-time criminal life in Los Angeles. These distinct yet combinative strands – two hit men on a job, a boxer supposed to throw a fight, the date between a hit man and his boss’s wife – hinge upon the film’s opening in which a couple of thieves contemplate the possibility of holding up restaurants in a diner.
Pulp Fiction remains as cinematically rich now as then. The weight of Tarantino’s homage to other movies underpins a sophisticated cinephilia allowing narrative to occupy centre stage. The film strides forth with undeniable purpose and panache, there is none of the ill discipline symptomatic of later works (Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained spring to mind) in which one uneasily observes tinkerman Quentin overplaying his hand. Post-Pulp Fiction, the borrowings no longer stand up without the same considered idea or morality behind depictions and techniques. A film about criminal life in L.A immunises itself against this failing in a way that a movie depicting Nazism or the American 1800’s slave trade cannot.
A self-professed student of film history, Tarantino will always be a collector and a borrower, creating colourful landscapes bursting with stylistic gestures, scores, moments and set pieces derived on and off screen, from one age to the next. In closing, we look at some of those gleaned from Pulp Fiction over repeated viewings, some gathered more in accident than by design. Nothing here appears as a creative distraction or sideshow, references respect the parameters enforced by the narrative signposts within the film.
- The unknown contents of the briefcase owe a debt of inspiration to Robert Aldrich’s film, Kiss Me Deadly, made in 1955. The idea that it contains Marsellus’ soul gained popular currency in the mid-1990’s.
- Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho is visually referenced in the scene where Butch stops at the traffic lights only to be confronted by the sight of Marcellus crossing the same road. In Psycho, Janet Leigh also stops at a set of lights to see her boss crossing the road.
- The dance performed by Vincent and Mia at Jack Rabbit Slims draws upon a similar performance by Gloria (Barbara Steele) and Mario (Mario Pisu in Fellini’s 1963 classic 8½. The competition is also influenced by Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film Bande A Parte which Tarantino named his production company after.
- The chapter entitled ‘The Bonnie Situation’ portrays Jules alongside his friend Jimmy, a reference to Truffaut’s 1962 film Jules et Jim.
- The pawn shop rape derives inspiration from John Boorman’s 1972 film, Deliverance. Whether Pulp Fiction’s prevailing violence softened an act that loomed large as the overriding moral dilemma of the earlier film, remains to be seen.