It truly is a testament to Pulp Fiction how it remains a timeless joy to watch on every viewing, over twenty years after its 1994 release. That definitive shot of Travolta and Jackson, two guns raised, is the iconic image Banksy decided to parody, replacing guns with bananas.
The soundtrack, stuffed with songs eternally attached to Tarantino’s second film, include the standout Pulp Fiction track, Miserlou. “Royale with cheese”, “Ezekial 25:17”, “Zeds Dead Baby, Zed’s Dead” – endlessly quotable lines, reinforcing how poetic and punchy Tarantino’s writing can be. Its laid back slouchers, donning dressing gowns and faded t-shirts will never age as the relaxed man remains clothed in the same attire on a Sunday morning. Pulp Fiction is the film of an era and a masterpiece in its own right.
Try and imagine the pitch Quentin had to give to gain the green light. An ensemble, violent, multi-narrative tale. Three stories that begin as well-trodden film arcs: the gangster dating the boss’s wife; the boxer who refuses to go down in the fifth; the gangsters who reevaluate their profession after witnessing a miracle. Each fable then takes a sharp turn, in a direction no one expects: overdosing minutes before the perfect night came to an end; falling into the basement trap of S&M rapists; blowing the head of a backseat passenger. It’s also three-hours long. Anyone who toys with narrative so knowingly, aware of the conventions but subverting them, owes a debt to Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs has the same conceit, as the cliché “heist goes awry” plot develops in a manner no one expects. To imagine producers trusting the young Quentin Tarantino with this was a risk that paid off with a ground-breaking film that reshaped film itself.
The aftermath of Pulp Fiction proves how irreversible this moment of history was. The non-linear structure, adding a poetic edge to something so disposable, led directly to films like Boogie Nights, Go and Snatch in the following years. Dana Polan, in his BFI Modern Classic on Pulp Fiction notes that “geeky sloppiness itself becomes sexy and stylish” as evidenced by the many slacker characters of the film. Vincent, to save Mia, turns to chilled out, dressed-down Eric Stoltz to save the day. Butch is desperate to end his working life as a boxer and escape to a world where only he and Fabianne exist. Jules and Vincent, though sharp-suited as they pick up their stash from the [slacker] students, transform as events unfold – and even save Pumpkin and Honeybunny – when re-attired in the chilled fashion of a faded T-shirt and ill-fitting shorts. Pulp Fiction actively fights these expectations of professionalism and “attractively sloppy amateurism” and champions the dork culture that dominates cinema today (Comic-book films and computer games to remakes and reboots of TV and ‘classic’ movies).
Pulp Fiction, remains the default favourite QT joint. The consequential films, between Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight are big and bad, with complete free-reign for Tarantino to flex his cinematic prowess. Pulp Fiction, though epic in its length, was made with more foresight and caution. Tarantino was delivering something that no one – not even he – knew would be devoured by fans. This single film has carved out his career. Restaging Hitlers assassination or using Ennio Morricone to score his vast westerns is a big statement, and it’s showcased in a glorious fashion (“in 70mm” or “as part of a double-bill!” etc). But they’re not as intimate or considered. Pulp Fiction remains relevant and concise, with not a single ounce of fat. For cineastes, Pulp Fiction is perfection.
The Quentin Tarantino Season runs at BFI Southbank until 31st January 2016. To buy tickets, simply click here and go!
This was originally written for Flickering Myth