Jules: “You know what they call a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese in Paris?”
1994. The year Justin Bieber and Harry Styles were born – luckily the world was not ready yet for those two (was it ever ready?) and instead, we had actual art like PULP FICTION to lift us from the grave, like The Bride in KILL BILL VOL.2. Interestingly, much like The Bride PULP FICTION had to fight through the suffocating dirt that went with making an independent film in the 90s. Before we delve further in to the humble beginnings of the iconic film, 1994 was the year DUMB AND DUMBER, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, FORREST GUMP, THE LION KING, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS were released. Not a bad year for film you could say, certainly for a young kid growing up then. I must admit, I wasn’t totally aware of PULP FICTION at that time, but I was accidentally introduced to the world of Quentin Tarantino at the innocent age of 5 or 6 years old when RESERVOIR DOGS was on terrestrial television. I had experienced what every adult in the cinema experienced when watching the ear slicing scene, which is still utter horror and awe at the same time. PULP FICTION soon followed suit but with more goodies to offer…
This year is it’s 20th Anniversary, which is a remarkable achievement especially when it’s still so relevant and in our thoughts, debates and on our bedroom walls. To celebrate this, we are going to take a look back to where it first began and the cultural and cinematic impact on us today.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery
Producers: Lawrence Bender
Music by: Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, Kool & The Gang, Al Green, Dusty Springfield, Link Wray and more.
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L.Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Amanda Plummer and Quentin Tarantino.
Running Time: 154 Minutes
Budget: $8 Million
Gross: $107 Million
Vincent: “All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup; I’m talking about a glass of beer”.
You could say, without Tarantino’s three month writing session in Amsterdam, this fruitful dialogue would have ceased to have existed – including the famous “Royal With Cheese” line. After the success of RESERVOIR DOGS and promise of a new film deal, Tarantino decided to jet off to another country with his numerous notebooks, that contained his golden ticket to The Oscars. Roger Avery (co-writer) soon followed him and they both gathered all of their writings that they had ever done, spread out on the floor to see how they would fit. One of Avery’s scripts “Pandemonium Reigns” formed the basis for the “The Gold Watch” sequence, which Christopher Walken would feature in as Captain Koons. Even the odd scenes that were never included in TRUE ROMANCE worked their way in to the script, including the accidental death of Marvin but the two-writer-relationship turned sour after Tarantino’s attorney turned up at his door, demanding that he accept a “story by” instead of a co-writer credit. Tarantino wanted in the opening credits to say, “Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.” Avary accepted the offer feeling betrayed, but recently he has said he is at peace with the Director, and his credit on the film.
TriStar and other studios who had read the script, passed due to the violence and drug use. It was only until Danny DeVito (Actor and Producer) passed it on to Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein, that started the ball rolling. PULP FICTION would seem like an unlikely choice for Disney who had made an $80 Million merge with Miramax, but Weinstein had the upper hand and made the deal with Tarantino to start casting and shooting the film.
Vincent: “Jules, did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits that he’s wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings? Have you ever heard that?”
Its not easy getting the cast you want for a film as Tarantino found out – especially when Harvey Weinstein is concerned that is. The character of Vincent Vega was originally meant to be played by Michael Madsen (Mr.Blonde from RESERVOIR DOGS), but the actor had already signed up for another film, so the Director later turned his eye to John Travolta. Travolta’s career had certainly dwindled in the late 1980s to early 1990s, with films such as LOOK WHO’S TALKING and PERFECT. Weinstein took an instant dislike to this choice and offered Tarantino other alternatives, including Sean Penn and Daniel Day-Lewis. Tarantino being typical Tarantino, would not sign a deal until he had ALL of what he wanted, otherwise he would move on other studios that were dying to get a look in. Harvey knew he was stupid to let this opportunity go, so he agreed at the last minute – funnily enough during the first 20 minutes of the test screening, he jokingly said, “I’m so glad I had the idea to cast John Travolta!”
Due to the film’s modest budget, all of the actors (apart from Travolta) were paid equally an under-average amount of $20,000 a week. In ye olde Hollywood terms – these actors were working for nothing but some of the major actors shared a percentage of the films profits. A good deal for all in the end.
That Killer Soundtrack
Quentin Tarantino: “When you take songs and put them in a sequence in a movie right, its about as cinematic a thing you can do. You are really doing what movies do better than any other art form”. (Total Film – 2009)
Tarantino has described making PULP FICTION and his other films, is just like creating a mix-tape like a DJ. He explains that when taking all of these known actors such as John Travolta, then adding a blend of music from the 60s and 70s, you end up with a personally made mix-tape by him. He explains, that if you get the formula right with visuals and music, the audience will not be able to listen to the song the same way again, without thinking about the film. It is evident throughout his films, music is thoroughly investigated and thought about, not just thrown in for padding by the Director.
Take for example, the unforgettable cool opening credit song (see video below), “Miserlou” by Dick Dale and His Deltones. The song is very direct in that it makes a directional statement about the tone and mood to the rest of the film which incorporates similar sounding music. Tarantino doesn’t like to describe the soundtrack as Surf Music but more like an Ennio Morricone, rock n’ roll, Spaghetti Western style. It is from this, Tarantino has gradually been building up throughout his films a Spaghetti Western musical vibe that has then eventually led on to DJANGO UNCHAINED and now, THE HATEFUL EIGHT. In 1994, the soundtrack sold 1.2 Million copies worldwide which was surprising for a film, and it demonstrated to the Hollywood big wigs that music too, could make money.
Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION is one of my top favorite films. I have watched it several times that I have lost count how many, which is a lot! It was only until my mid teenage years that I started to fully understand why it is labelled one of the greatest American films ever made. It completely bends the rules of the classical Hollywood film, with its narrative, dialogue and its mix-tape soundtrack. Everything about it should have been so wrong, but it got it so right! It was the catalyst that would inspire the public that wanted to be a filmmaker, that they too could be one day in Tarantino’s shoes. A classic rags to riches story that was actually happening in real life, not just the films.
After countless viewings, PULP FICTION still surprises me and as with most Tarantino films, you spot something new every time. This is why he is my all-time favorite Director, every viewing brings originality to your eyes and ears. It’s also a great way to play the “Film Reference” game with your fellow cinephiles. It was the first independent film to make as much money as the bigger productions at the time, such as BATMAN RETURNS. It revived John Travolta’s career, in which he had roles later in GET SHORTY and BROKEN ARROW. It made stars out of Uma Thurman and Samuel L.Jackson, plus The Weinstein’s became major, major players in the film industry. Not bad for a high school dropout who worked in a video store, eh?
With his 8th project, THE HATEFUL EIGHT on its way next year, what will be next for the popular Director? He has said that he may retire by his 10th film, which has shocked many devoted fans and considering the quality of his work in the field he could easily retire to start writing those books on film theory he’s mentioned he in the past. Besides this, it’s obvious that PULP FICTION will live on for years to come for other generations to discover. Maybe, just maybe, it will eventually knock that pesky THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION off the top of the 250 best films list on IMDB…
PULP FICTION 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Box Set is out now. Buy it here: Pulp Fiction 20th Anniversary Deluxe Box [Blu-ray]