AFI List: Pulp Fiction – 1994 (94)

09 May

Movie: Pulp Fiction Year: 1994 Genre: Lordy…

I am an indy film lover. Truthfully, those are usually my favorites. Probably for the same reason Indy Label music tends to be my favorite – they’re indy. They don’t fit the mold. They tear it all down and put it back together again, but in a pretty creative way. Believe it or not, folks, this started out as an Indy film.


My earliest memory of this film is actually the soundtrack – remember how I have made commentary regarding the music in a film for almost every film on this list (except maybe Ben Hur)? The fact that I notice the songs – how they played (through a radio, for example) or how they are used for certain scenes? The selection of the songs? This is probably one of the films in my memory and of all I’ve seen so far that the music sort of made the film just *that* much better.

I owned the soundtrack for this film for MONTHS before I actually saw it… probably even a year. I used to run to the soundtrack to this film in college and, if it is possible to wear out a CD, I totally did it. Although I had no idea what was going on when these songs were played, I could not get enough of the soundtrack. I love surf music and this album is covered with it – Miseralou was my favorite and I swear, I had some of my best trail runs with that song. And I love Son of a Preacher Man which I belted out – loudly – in the car rides to and from work because, for some reason, I think I can sing that song. And, I (still) have a (giant) crush on Ricky Nelson so Lonesome Town is a perennial favorite for me and makes me all swoony when I hear it. And, yes, friends, I even love Jungle Boogie for all of it’s discoey goodness. All this awesome music in one place – the movie *had* to be a good one.

My friends, I was not disappointed.

My first viewing of this film was a memorable experience for me because I had never, ever seen a story presented that way and it blew my mind. Even better, I followed it, it made perfect sense to me, and I thought it was pure genius. By the time I got a chance to see it (I’ve always been late for watching movies it seems), I was long out of my film class and a couple of years removed as a Blockbuster employee. A few of my friends had seen it, but weren’t really all that impressed. Still, I had high expectations because the soundtrack was “soooo awe-suuume” (imagine a valley voice with a slight southern twang to it).

I saw it on video (I still had my membership card to Blockbuster and it was on the “wolfline” and within walking distance from my apartment) and I don’t really remember anybody else being there – I remember being totally sucked into the movie – the story – the freak show going on in front of me. I was disturbed by a lot of things (I’ll get to those in a minute) but was absolutely intrigued by how the stories were told and how they intersected.

I got that same sensation again when I saw it this time.

Clearly, Quintin Tarantino spent *a lot* of his youth reading comics – that much is clear. Not just from this film, but others of his I’ve seen – all equally gory, all equally weird. I think the thing that sets this one apart from the others for me is that it was the first to tell three different stories completely out of order and still (kind of) come full circle… with pretty awesome music.

So… first of all, let me say that after I wrote what I did about Last Picture Show being disturbing to me, I watched this film and did not feel disturbed in the same way. There is a lot of violence in this movie – and some explicit drug use which disgusts me and disturbs me. However, I think the uneasiness I got from Last Picture Show was because it was more realistic – I can relate to those characters because I lived in a town similar to that one. I can’t at all relate to any of the characters in Pulp Fiction – I don’t lead a life of crime nor am I involved with crime bosses nor am I a junkie. I don’t even do the Twist. So, the disturbing parts of Pulp Fiction were just that: pulp fiction. Figments of the imagination of a guy who read too many comic books. However… I will say this (and the reason I put “Lordy” as the genre) the film has some funny lines in it and some of those lines were placed kind of inappropriately (like Mia’s overdose scene) – I felt like a bit of a creep laughing at some of them – though the pig personality conversation at the end in the diner resonated with me because I don’t eat pork, either.

There are a few themes that I didn’t pick up on the first time that I noticed this time. The first is the use of the surf music – unfortunately, it is used in some of the more disturbing/violent scenes. I read that it was done that way to simulate (in a way) the way the Morriconne compositions were used for the “spaghetti westerns” of the late 1960s. I didn’t like it, but I got it. The other was the use of the bathroom – or using the bathroom. There were a lot of scenes of people (Vincent in particular) using or talking about using or emerging from bathrooms. It is funny, albeit a little juvenile now that I noticed it.

Another notable thing about this film are the actors in it. The casting was very well done in my opinion. John Travolta was pretty much the butt of a lot of jokes around that time. He had gained weight and the last film I remembered him in before this one was “Look who’s Talking” (fortunately for him, I didn’t remember Look Who’s Talking Two or Look Who’s Talking Now…) He was very far removed from svelte, hip swinging Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. This was almost like a second chance for him, and it proved to be just that – he went on to make several films ranging from comedies to dramas to action films. Ironically, the last film I remember of John Travolta also contained Bruce Willis (he was the voice of Mikey in Look Who’s Talking). In spite of that film, he was still pretty much in his prime – smack in the middle of the Die Hard franchise, among others (the man was in 4 films released in 1994 alone – he was pretty busy). I read that it was considered a huge risk for him to do this film. Yet… I honestly couldn’t imagine anybody else playing Butch. It was as though the role was written just for him. Uma Thurman had quite a bit of success before this film, but will most likely be remembered only for her part in this film (well, and as that of Bride from Kill Bill, but that’s not on this list), primarily because she’s the face of the film. She’s the movie poster. Samuel L. Jackson is a very convincing as a bad ass turned straight and is pretty adept at scaring the crap out of people. Ving Rhames – this was the first substantial role for him that brought him to other films like the Mission Impossible franchise, as well as a slew of TV series in both recurring and walk-on roles. Even the much smaller parts were all pretty memorable: Christopher Walken – nobody else could have delivered the “watch up my ass” speech in quite the same way. Eric Stoltz as Lance the drug dealer – just looked the part. Rosanna Arquette as his stoner girlfriend. Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth as Pumpkin and Honey Bunny – the start and the finish of the film. Harvey Kitel as the Cleaner. Quinten Tarantino as, pretty much, himself. As far as I’m concerned, just brilliant casting.

The story of Pulp Fiction is actually three individual short stories that were written individually and cobbled together to make a single story where the characters paths crossed. That was pretty cool in and of itself, but the way they cobbled it together – without making it linear and boring, yet still make sense – is what fascinated me.

All of these stories are held together by a collective element I’ll call Marsellus and Mia Wallace – they are in almost every scene and inserted in every story. Marsellus is a crime boss – or a Godfather, if you will. Mia is his wife, a coke addicted former actress.

Story 1: Vincent and Jules – they are the muscle of Marsellus’s crew and are responsible for “taking care of it” when people don’t pay or otherwise double-cross Marsellus. Their story starts when they are collecting a briefcase that some kids who got in over their heads had obtained. Jules customarily recites a passage from Ezekial in the bible because he thought “it was some cool shit to say”. After bumping off two of the boys, one comes out of the bathroom – gun blazing – and misses both Vincent and Jules. Jules takes it as a sign and decides to quit the business. Jules and Vincent take the 4th boy – their informant – to meet Marsellus and return the brief case when Vincent’s gun accidentally fires and he kills the boy in the car. They go to a friend’s house (played by Tarantino) to call Marsellus to get help cleaning out the car. Marsellus calls in his “cleaner” (Harvey Kitel) to help Vincent and Jules clean the car. They get the car cleaned, go have breakfast (get robbed – more on that in a minute), and then meet Marsellus in an empty bar to return the brief case where they meet Butch (more on that in a minute). Later that night, Vincent – doing Marsellus a favor – agrees to take out his wife, Mia. On his way to get Mia, he pays a visit to his heroine dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) and buys some from him. He then goes to get Mia – the two go to dinner at a 50s themed place called Jack Rabbit Slims. They talk (my favorite line is when she addresses a rumor that a man was thrown out of a building for giving her a foot massage and says “when you scamps all get together you’re worse than a sewing circle) and win a twist contest. He takes Mia home and, while in the bathroom, Mia finds his heroine, mistaking it for cocaine, and snorts it. He finds her, takes her to Lance’s house to get an adrenaline shot, which he administers. She survives, and he takes her home and says goodnight. The next day, we see him at Butch’s fight, and then one more time in Butch’s apartment where he is shot… coming out of the bathroom.

Story 2: Butch – this story starts when he is a boy and is visited by a soldier (Christopher Walken) who was in POW camp with Butch’s dad in Vietnam and is bringing to Butch (at his deceased father’s request) a gold watch that was passed down from his great grandfather (and incidentally, was “up the ass” of both Butch’s dad and Walken). Flash forward to an adult Butch, now a boxer, making a deal with Marsellus (when he first meets Vincent in an empty bar) to throw his next fight. He agrees to throw the fight, but the next night, not only wins the fight but kills the guy he was fighting. He and his French girlfriend Fabienne are now on the run. He meets her in a hotel, showers (and I can’t believe I never noticed before, but there is Bruce Willis frontal nudity!) and the spend the night. The next morning, he looks for his watch only to realize Fabienne had not packed “the one thing I asked for” and he goes back to his apartment to get it. While in his apartment, he discovers a machine gun on the counter and that someone is (surprise, surprise) in the bathroom. It is Vincent, and when he opens the door, Butch kills him with his own gun. Butch takes off back toward the hotel, but at a stop light encounters a now very angry Marsellus crossing the road. Marsellus sees him and Butch tries to run over him, but ends up hit by another car. When both men come to, the start chasing each other until they end up fighting in a pawn shop. The pawn shop owner kidnaps them and calls “Zed” over to, we eventually discover, sodomize them. They take Marsellus first, and while he’s in the other room, Butch frees himself, almost escapes but then decides to save Marsellus so he selects from an array of weapons in the pawn shop, ending on a sword and killing the pawn shop owner. He manages to keep Zed at bay long enough for Marsellus to shoot Zed in the groin and deliver his famous “I’m going to go Medieval on your ass” line. Marsellus tells Butch they are even as long as Butch gets out of town and never comes back to LA. Butch agrees, steals Zed’s chopper and picks up Fabienne so they can leave.

Story 3: Pumpkin and Honey Bunny – the film actually starts and ends with these guys and their part of the story is actually pretty small in comparison. They are small-time hold-up artists – they usually go for banks or convenience stores, but are tired of hitting up smaller places for small returns. They’d like to just have one good one that will last a while. The start of the movie is them beginning the hold up; the end is the rest of the robbery scene that, if this film was done in a chronological order, would be after the clean up, but before the empty bar visit with Marsellus. So, just a couple of hours after Jules’s decision to quit the business. Jules, fresh off the miracle epiphany from the shoot out just a few hours before, decides to try to talk sense into Pumpkin (who he calls Ringo – Tim Roth) and explain – one criminal to another – why he’s giving up and what the Ezekiel passage now means to him – that maybe, he’s trying to be the shepherd to Pumpkin and Honey Bunny and help them see the light. He gives Pumpkin all the money in his wallet – about $1500 – takes his wallet and the brief case and he and Vincent leave.

I’m happy to announce that, although I’ve seen it a few years ago, this film still does not disappoint.

Next up:  Titanic #83 – I had to see it in the theater in IMAX 3D… post coming soon…


Posted by on May 9, 2012 in AFI 100 Years List


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2 responses to “AFI List: Pulp Fiction – 1994 (94)

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