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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

AFI/BFI #206: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary
Composer: Various Artists
AFI Rank:  95 (1998), 94 (2007)
BFI Rank: -


I remember buying the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and practically wearing it out, waiting for the film to finally hit rental so that I could watch it again. And I did, many many times. I had Jules' monologue memorized. I thought Tarantino was a genius. Hard to believe that was 17 years ago. The last time I watched Pulp Fiction was probably on Laserdisk in the late nineties. As I put in the disk to watch it for the first time in a decade I wondered to myself why I hadn't watched it more. Maybe it would be like the other things I loved back then, like the dueling guitar driven rush of Iron Maiden. Maybe I had outgrown it or didn't have the energy to enjoy it anymore. Some people call it maturing tastes but when it comes to music and film I am not sure it is as simple as that.

From the moment Honey Bunny climbed on the table and the first glorious twangs of Dick Dale's Misirlou blasted out the speakers I was transfixed. I can honestly say I enjoyed it even more than when I first saw it in 1994. Not only has it aged well but it has somehow gotten even better. I felt like an idiot for not watching it again sooner.

Tarantino brought virtually the whole crew from Reservoir Dogs onto Pulp Fiction. If Pulp changed the face of independent cinema then Dogs definitely set the stage. For me they form a trifecta with Inglorious Bastards as Quentin's greatest work. He is often attacked for being derivative and simply borrowing from years of popular, and more often less than popular, culture. I prefer to see it as cultural archaeology, bringing lost treasures back for a new generation. And he does it so very well. In the case of Pulp Fiction though he cannot take all the credit. Roger Avary was talked out of a co-writing credit and contributed significantly to the story. Quentin may be known for his dialogue but what lifts Pulp Fiction above his other films is the intertwining plots and exceptional story telling.

Pulp Fiction's place in popular culture is secured
The performances are as iconic as the set scenes. It was a shot of adrenalin straight to the heart for Travolta's career bringing it back from the brink of death and put Thurman, Jackson, Roth and Rhames on the A-list. It was a risk for Bruce Willis who was still a big star but had made some seriously bad diversions in the last few years. It not only put his career back on track but showed he was a much more capable actor than many had realized. Outstanding cameos by Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel threaten to steal the whole show. 

The critics may have been split on Pulp Fiction but the awards committees were unusually quick in recognizing what they had on their hands. Pulp Fiction garnered seven oscar nominations and was either nominated or took home awards from every major organization including the Palme d'Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.

I had wanted to see it in HD on Blu Ray and was amazed to find it has not yet been released outside of Hong Kong, France, Denmark and Poland?!? Unbelievable for a movie of this caliber. I didn't order one of the imports and instead settled for the DVD. A perfectly fine transfer but the Blu ray is now at the top of my wish list. Rumours of a release later this year in the US and UK.

One of the goals of Crucial Cinema is to convince you to watch movies that you have never seen but in the case of Pulp Fiction I would be surprised if there are many of you out there other than recently awakened coma patients, nuns and children. But if like me you haven't seen it in over a decade then I strongly recommend a repeat viewing. Unquestionably Crucial Cinema for decades to come.


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