Twenty years ago tomorrow, I saw Pulp Fiction, the highly-anticipated second feature film by Quentin Tarantino, with a group of college friends at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. The Uptown was an enormous cinema, with an entire balcony section, and the place was packed to capacity and then some. There were eight or nine of us in the party, and we couldn’t all sit together. That’s how many people were there, mobbing the place, waiting.
All of us were big fans of Reservoir Dogs and we hoped against hope that Tarantino would not be a one-hit wonder. We’d seen the trailer for the new film, we’d read about it in Premiere, we wanted it not just to be good, but to be socks-knocked-off amazing. To say that our expectations were impossibly high is understating how pumped we were, sitting through the previews at the Uptown (I was on the ground floor, at the left of the theater, on the aisle next to my friend Shelby). Nothing less than cinematic history would suffice. And you know what? That bad motherfucker delivered.
Reservoir Dogs has a tighter script, and Django Unchained is a better overall film, but when you consider the outlandish expectations and the packed movie house on opening night, I have never had a finer cinema-going experience. And I probably never will.
One of the criticisms of the film is that it isn’t about anything, that there’s no larger meaning behind all of the dazzling individual sequences. Not true!
Pulp Fiction opens with Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer in a diner. “Why,” he asks her, “don’t more people rob restaurants?” The entire film is an elaborate answer to that question, which is, in short: “Because Sam Fucking Jackson might be having his bacon-free breakfast there.”
The restaurant robbery is thwarted because Vinnie Vega was in the bathroom when the robbers flashed their guns.
Earlier in the movie, but later chronologically, Vinnie Vega dies because he’s in the bathroom when Butch returns to his apartment.
Live by the commode, die by the commode.
Here is a list of actors whose careers Quentin Tarantino either jumpstarted or resuscitated: Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Christoph Waltz, and arguably Uma Thurman. It’s not possible for a movie star’s stock to have plummeted as low as Travolta’s before Tarantino came calling—and managed to stave off the studio execs who wanted to cast someone else, anyone else, as Vinnie Vega.
Will Smith, you are a fucking idiot for passing on Django.
Harvey Keitel is horribly miscast as Winston Wolf. Wolf says he talks fast, but Keitel is physically incapable of talking fast. Why he was put in that part instead of chatterbox Steve Buscemi, I’ll never know.
Something Tarantino does very well is use metatext to heighten the overall film experience. Example: when Mia Wallace insists that Vega dance with her at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, we know what she does not—that her escort that evening is John Freaking Travolta, possessor of the best set of hooves in recent film history. Of course she wins the trophy. He’s got the wings of heaven on his shoes!
There are some lines of movie dialogue that enter the popular canon, that become part of how we communicate. “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” and, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and, “May the Force be with you,” and “Show me the money.” Pulp Fiction has one of these lines: “I’ma get Medieval on your ass.”
The Band-Aid on the back of the bald head of Marsellus Wallace. Who may or may not have thrown an associate out a second-floor window for giving his wife a foot massage. There has never been a cooler use of a Band-Aid in the popular culture.
Julia Sweeney is in Pulp Fiction. Why is Julia Sweeney in Pulp Fiction? I have no idea, and she probably doesn’t, either. Maybe Tarantino appreciated her work on Saturday Night Live.
Back in February, I wrote Sweeney’s personal assistant, hoping to shed some light on this, and was told Sweeney was not doing interviews this year. This year. So we may never know.
Here is Ezekiel 25:17:
“And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.”
Here is the monologue Jules attributes to Ezekiel 25:17:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the Valley of the Darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.”
Tarantino: God’s script doctor.
The “them” God promises to exercise great vengeance upon for their rebukes in Ezekiel 25:17? The Philistines. Maybe this is Tarantino’s roundabout way of answering the haters. If there were any haters. The guy is absolutely and unequivocally a screenwriting genius.
Jules looks like former NBA star Latrell Sprewell. Every time I watched Spree shout at someone on the opposing bench after making a big shot, I imagined he was yelling, “I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?”
Pulp Fiction is also about heroin. It shows the glorious highs (Mia Wallace, loopy and flirty) and the horrible lows (the floor of Eric Stoltz’s house).
The scene when Vinnie plunges that needle into Mia’s heart? Biggest live reaction from the packed house.
When Vinnie and Jules knock on the door to collect the suitcase, weren’t you a little surprised to see the dorks they were collecting the suitcase from? Who were those guys? When exactly did they wander away from the Magic:The Gathering gathering and run into Marsellus Wallace? Isn’t sending Vinnie and Jules to Brad’s apartment overkill, sort of like when the U.S. invaded Grenada?
I forget where I first read this, but in the Pulp Fiction universe, there are no cops, no G-men, no law enforcement of any kind. It’s the Wild West. Gimps and Zeds. Total anarchy.
Soon after watching the film, I wrote part of a Simpsons spec script. Actually, I didn’t “write” it; it only existed in my mind. In one section of this phantom episode, Bart is invited to a birthday party for Sherri and Terri, the twins with the purple hair. When he gets there, it’s a shot-by-shot spoof of the scene where Vinnie goes to pick up Mia Wallace. The twins are in a dark room, talking into a microphone. “Come in, Bart.” The Urge Overkill cover comes on.
I replayed this scene so many times in my mind that I’m almost certain it aired on the actual Simpsons.
The only one who can ever feed me / is the Domino’s Pizza man
Why has this not been done?
Before social media was born, before blogs existed, information was conveyed via forwarded emails. Most of these were bad lawyer jokes (or worse) that exposed the senders as closet racists/sexists/dipshits.
The best-ever forwarded e-mail concerned Pulp Fiction—specifically, what is contained in the suitcase that Vinnie and Jules retrieve. What the heck is in there that glows like that? Answer: the soul of Marsellus Wallace. That’s why he has a bandage on the back of his head—it’s where his soul was taken out by the demons. And the combination on the suitcase is 666. I think there was more. I don’t remember. Nor do I have any idea who wrote the original e-mail that everyone so dutifully forwarded and marveled at, but I suspect his name rhymes with Denton Carantino.
Was talking about this piece last week with Robert Burke Warren, our intrepid music editor, and he made an observation: all the characters in Pulp Fiction are part of a couple, and the couples are all functional. It’s “pro-domesticity,” as RBW put it, and there is a sweetness to it. The restaurant robbers are a couple. Mia and Marsellus are a couple (and his jealousy is the stuff of legend). Vinnie and Jules are a couple. Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette are a couple (“The one with all the shit on her face?” “That’s my wife!”). Butch and his girlfriend are a couple. Even Zed has a lackey. And in the third part of the movie, when Vinnie and Julies must dispose of the bloody corpse, the gag is that they have to do it before Quentin Tarantino’s wife gets home, because if she finds the stiff at his house, he’ll get divorced. This is why Winston Wolfe is summoned: to save the marriage. All this coupling off cuts the blood and violence and bad words with tenderness. It makes the characters more real, and makes us like them more.
I would not give a guy a foot massage.
Harvey Keitel is currently reprising his role as Winston Wolf for a series of insurance adverts. I’m not a huge Pulp Fiction fan, but still find that quite depressing.