This year sees the 20th anniversary of Quentin Tarantino’s carbonated postmodern masterpiece Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino broke into the industry in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, a ground-breaking heist movie that saw the young filmmaker propelled to stardom in a storm of sliced ears and sharp suits. Just two years after his triumphant debut, Tarantino delivered Pulp Fiction, silencing the stubborn few who predicted that Reservoir Dogs was a fluke. Tarantino’s second film cemented his position as the leading light of US indie cinema and opened the floodgates for other indie filmmakers, whose invasion of mainstream Hollywood had lasting effects on the industry throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
Pulp Fiction has aged beautifully; twenty years on it looks and sounds as good as it ever did. The film still packs the same jaw breaking smack that it did in 1994, retaining a blistering and energetic effervescence that has softened little with age. Tarantino’s trademark snappy, sweary writing style came into its own in Pulp Fiction, in which a carefully crafted mix of mundane and explicit dialectical slang combined to give the quick-fire dialogue an exciting, otherworldly quality, an amphetamine magic-realism.
The film skips back and forth between interwoven storylines, skits and interludes, disregarding a chronological linear structure in favour of an exciting, circular barrage of vignettes and sections. 20 years on, this episodic structure now means that watching Pulp Fiction is like watching Pulp Fiction’s Greatest Hits; it isn’t necessarily the narrative(s) in this film that people love and remember, but rather the iconic moments, of which there are many. Whether it be Travolta doing that dance, Samuel L Jackson doing that speech or Bruce Willis finding the gun next to the toaster, everyone has a favourite moment from Pulp Fiction.
As well as giving Quentin Tarantino a warm seat at the auteur’s bar in Hollywood, Pulp Fiction did wonders for its many cast members, especially those who had fallen by the wayside in the industry. The cast of Pulp Fiction is a riotous mix of carefully chosen cinematic legends and has-beens for which the film provided a much needed platform for reinvention and revitalisation. Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta, arguably the film’s two main stars, were both in need of a pick-me-up in the early 1990s, and Pulp Fiction undoubtedly helped reinvigorate their careers.
Pulp Fiction is littered with references to popular culture and classic cinema and the self- reflexive cameos from 1970s legends like Christopher Walken and Harvey Kietel are good examples of how Tarantino often makes these references just by casting alone. Tarantino’s cinephilic tendencies are not overpowering, and despite the geeky, often tenuous references and in-jokes, Pulp Fiction remains accessible: there are hardcore cinema references for those who want them, (French New Wave, Blaxploitation, Noir etc) but they are hidden just out of view, they don’t constrict or compromise the accessibility and entertainment value of the film.
Despite maintaining a superhuman momentum through the nineties and into the millennium, Tarantino’s career has come under greater scrutiny in recent years. Films like ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Kill Bill II’ fell foul of critics, who jumped at the chance to tarnish his reputation as the quintessential young- gun of independent Hollywood. While he may not be as vital or effective now as he was in 1994, Tarantino can still put bums in seats, as demonstrated with the superb ‘Django Unchained.’
Just like its director, Pulp Fiction has been imitated, parodied and rehashed so many times that it is easy to forget just how innovative, exciting and transgressive it was at the time of its release.
20 years on Pulp Fiction is the certified cult classic that you always knew it would be, ingrained in the very popular culture that it so lovingly references. While many copycats have lifted the conventions and structure of the film in an attempt to recreate its energy, none have even come close.
Who knew that hard drugs and organised crime could be so fun?