For the past month, everyone and their dog has been telling me how I should see "Pulp Fiction" tout suite. What did niggle me was the variety of such people who raved about Quentin Tarantino's latest oeuvre. Friends who had watched "Pretty Woman" so often, their brains had turned to cheese, spoke movingly of its sheer brilliance. Even little old ladies buttonholed me on the street and said things like, "Git yo muthafuckin' ass t'the movies, boy!". So, expecting to have the closest thing one can come to a religious experience in Aber, last night I went to see it.
Tarantino, we are told, is the new enfant terrible of Hollywood. I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, but I could take a wild guess now and yes, the word "terrible" would certainly feature somewhere. Never before has a movie so uncomfortably straddled the line between cult phenomenon and mainstream entertainment. As a result, something somewhere just doesn't work; it's alternatively too pretentious for your average blockbuster and too banal for words. The plot goes something like this: two hitmen, a has-been boxer, a gang boss, his wife and a pair of screwball robbers have a pretty weird 48 hours in LA during which their various paths cross and all of them come close to dying. There's a lot more to it than that but given that you've either seen the film already or you're going next week, what's the point in me explaining it?
Much fuss has been made about a) the violence and b) the dialogue. Although I admit that in my old age, I prefer to avoid gratuitous gore, the violence isn't really anything to get upset about. True, it's nasty, cold and sudden and usually played for laughs, but it isn't worth getting upset about. It's about as worrying as a Tom & Jerry cartoon. The dialogue is sharp and clever but hardly memorable or hilarious. Much has been said about Vincent and Jules' dissection of European fast food mores ("le Big Mac") and the audience dutifully tittered as was expected; I must have missed the meeting where we defined that particular brand of humour. The best moments of "Pulp Fiction" raise a wry smile, little more.
At one point, Tarantino himself appears in the film. Is this a subtle hint that he is the new Hitchcock? I doubt it - Hitchcock's female stars had pointier breasts for a start (Amanda Plummer would be lucky to find nipples), and Hitchcock wouldn't have left any slack in one of his movies. "Pulp Fiction" has at least half an hour of it, combined. The spaghetti westerns it so consciously tries to unconsciously echo would have included ten minutes with nothing more than a man riding towards the camera on a horse, and you stayed glued to the screen for the entire time. Tarantino can fill thirty seconds with 300 words and still leave you wondering why you bothered to stay awake. One presumes that the part where Uma Thurman discusses uncomfortable silences was meant ironically.
So what does the enfant do right then? Well, he coaxes some brilliant performances out of actors that we thought were way past their sell-by date (the three main principles particularly). Much fuss has been made about Travolta's stunning rehabilitation (in one film?!), but the real plaudits should go to Samuel L. Jackson who, as hitman Jules, was searingly intense. Tarantino directs violence almost poetically; witness the scene where Willis opens fire as the toaster pops up. And his characters are unique and well-sketched.
The next question is: why do people like "Pulp Fiction"? I can only suggest a few reasons:
So is the emporer naked? Ummm...nope, but he's only wearing tshirt and jeans like the rest of us. "Pulp Fiction" lives up to its title admirably and is a good movie - but it's not the life-changing experience it's made out to be. Frankly, I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been told it was brilliant. So might you.