Thursday, 13 September 2007

Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction is the volcanic eruption of Quentin Tarantino's mind. What erupts is so original, so funny, obscene, violent, outrageous and clever that the film will be remembered as one that added a new dimension to the already zany world of movie making. That's it for the adjectives. The movie is to be seen, not described. It's devilishly hard to capture an explosion.

The new dimension is the mind of a 31-year-old ex-video clerk from southern California. The image is inescapable: Tarantino watching hundreds of hours of videotape, absorbing the B-movie subculture until he had to write about it. Does this mean that television, the country's demondrug of choice, may have an unexpected side-effect? Have all those hours in front of the box produced in Generation-X the ability to catch the world in fast-frame images so evocative and confusing and entertaining that we will have to learn the new language of image?

Can a movie that puts a hammer, baseball bat, chain saw and sword in the hands of thugs be funny? You bet it can, when the background is a running stream of hilarity. It's full of wacky juxtapositions: blood and civility, violence and compassion.

The movie is a twisted cat's cradle of three intersecting stories set in the underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles and inspired by the pulp fiction magazines that were newsstand staples in the 1930s, the kind printed on paper so cheap you could use it to soak up spilled milk.

Amanda Plummer's Honey Bunny and Tim Roth's Pumpkin are discussing career options in a coffee shop. Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are carrying out orders from their boss, Marsellus (Ving Rhames), who tells Vincent to baby-sit his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) while he's away. Butch (Bruce Willis) has been ordered by Marcellus to take a dive in a fight. Instead, he takes the money and runs. With a dead body in a blood-soaked car, Jules and Vincent turn to "The Wolf" (Harvey Keitel). Those are the bare bones of the thing.

Now, add a superb rhythmic score, vivid cartoon colors, a wealth of underworld detail and a cast of good actors who have somehow stepped perfectly into Tarantino's head. They run with his vision, but never too far. You will remember the barrage of electric images, Butch's moment of truth and Vincent's solution to his baby-sitting dilemma.

The actors all seem to understand they are interpreting ludicrous ideas from a wickedly original imagination. Carrying the film along at three levels beyond reality, they execute perfectly the images conjured up by an ex-video clerk who watched only so long before his mind spilled over. May we all be around for the next spill, and may Tarantino be lucky enough, always, to have such actors.

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