Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Time Flies: 20 Years of Pulp Fiction

I was 8 years old in 1994, when Pulp Fiction was released. Understandably, my mother did not rush me to the theater to see it. But the Tarantino effect was inescapable. I remember Pulp Fiction being referenced everywhere from that point on. Undoubtedly, Tarantino's sophomore feature continues to inspire film just as much as it was inspired by many films before it.

My VHS copy. Check out the price.
Today marks 20 years since the film was released in theaters. At this point, the movie was already a big deal, having stunned the festival circuit by winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Since we are celebrating Pulp's longevity and the years since its release, what better aspect of the movie to discuss than time? (Note: This is NOT spoiler-free. I shouldn't even have to say that, but I like to be considerate just in case someone from another planet happened to be reading this.)

Time is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting discussions within the world of Pulp Fiction. There are many aspects about time that are worth noting. First of all, with a running time of 164 minutes, Pulp Fiction takes up quite a bit of time to watch - just 16 minutes short of 3 hours, to be exact. This is where I must pay respect to the late Sally Menke who edited all of Tarantino's films except Django Unchained. I have seen this movie countless times, but I never feel like it drags. Between Tarantino's signature dialogue and Menke's brilliant cuts, Pulp Fiction stands the test of time.

The next aspect of time to discuss is one of the most influential things about Pulp, which also heavily involves Menke; the non-linear storytelling. The films opens with Ringo and Honey Bunny in the diner contemplating robbery. After the opening title sequence, Vincent and Jules are in a car discussing fast food in Europe. This is followed by Marsellus Wallace's instructions to Butch on "losing" a fixed boxing match. By the time we get to Vincent accidentally shooting Marvin in the face, we know Vincent has already been killed, and we realize that the film's beginning is actually the middle of the story, which is matched by the film's ending. It's not like Pulp was the first film to ever play with chronological order of events; this has been done in Citizen Kane, Rashomon, 8 1/2, and quite a few other groundbreaking films. It hasn't stopped happening either; since Pulp, we've seen nontraditional storytelling in Run Lola Run, Memento, Mulholland Drive, and even 500 Days of Summer. But there's something about the way it's done in Pulp Fiction that still makes it powerful today.

There are also several references to time throughout the movie. Vincent and Jules have to leave Jimmie's house before his wife Bonnie comes home since...well...she wouldn't appreciate coming home to see the corpse of a man whose head was blown off in her driveway. Harvey Keitel saves the day as Winston Wolf, who was 30 minutes away, says he'd be there in 10, but actually arrives in 9 minutes and 37 seconds. There is specificity in the mention of time. Christopher Walken as Captain Koons explains to a young Butch how important his birthright is. He details Butch's lineage and the amount of time/history his birthright entails. This obviously includes hiding his birthright up his rectum for years. What is the birthright? A watch, of course.

If you aren't sick of me talking about time in Pulp Fiction yet, hang on for one last point. We see Jules use a cell phone, and Butch's clothing is fairly modern, but much of Pulp is lost in time as far as setting goes. Just like all decades of film that influenced Tarantino, all of those decades are reflected on screen, essentially leaving it "era-less," which may add to its timelessness. Drug dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) watches The Three Stooges while eating Fruit Brute, a cereal that has been discontinued since 1983. Esmeralda Villalobos drives a cab from the 1940s-50s, which adds to the noir of the scene as she drives Butch home. Restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim's is like a time capsule in itself; a collection of vintage pop culture where the dance of choice is The Twist. Characters use terms like "daddy-o," refer to shows like Happy Days and Kung Fu movies from the 1970s.

Pulp Fiction was born in the mind of a complete fanboy, so it should be no surprise that the ultimate hodgepodge of time, genre, and culture are created within this world. It is the love child of Film Noir, classic movies, screwball comedy, Kung Fu, Blaxploitation, grindhouse, Horror, Gangster, and French New Wave. It is a little bit of every decade of film since its inception. It is time in terms of culture, chopped and screwed.

...'Til next time.

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