1 Year, 100 Movies: #94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

by Trey Hock on July 4, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!

posterAll right I know that what I’m about to ask you to do is all but impossible, but please try.

Imagine if you will, that this is a time before BMF walletsRoyale with Cheese t-shirts, or Jules and Vincent action figures. This is a time when you may have seen “Reservoir Dogs,” a flawed but exciting first film from a young up and comer. Or maybe you missed it, but word on the street was that you needed to catch his second film.

You purchase your ticket, find your seat, sit back and relax as the theatre dims. “Pulp Fiction” begins. The opening scene comes up and you spend 10 minutes in a small coffee shop getting to know Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), two small-time criminals that are discussing previous heists. This is all tone and little action, but the conversation is engaging.

Still we wait for something to happen, a moment of clear action, and when Pumpkin jumps on to his seat and waves his gun announcing that this is a robbery, we viewers all sit comfortably knowing that this is the moment we were expecting. We are all wrong, because at this exact moment we are torn away and thrown into the credits. When we return, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny are gone, and we slowly realize that the intro was mostly a way for director Quentin Tarantino to set the tone for the movie we are about to see. This is cool filmmaking at its pinnacle.

Everything about this movie is cool, from the music to the dialogue to the pacing,–even the fonts of the titles are cool. And that’s how I felt when I left the theatre dazed from the nonlinear radness of the story. This was not high modernism. This was not Kubrick, or Wilder, and definitely not Welles. What Tarantino was showing us was straight joy of film.
pumpkin and honey bunny
As I revisited “Pulp Fiction,” this is what kept impacting me. If you listen to the dialogue it is unnatural and constructed. Everything about it is written and composed, but it always feels right. It always works. Tarantino doesn’t shy away from revealing his brush strokes, whether it is scripted dialogue or camera angles or moves. This is film impressionism. What we are watching isn’t real, but it gives us the impression of something real, and delights our senses with the process.

Another thing that Tarantino does so well is to focus on the moments in between.  While other filmmakers focus on the moments when the door is kicked in and guns blaze, Tarantino shows us the ride to the job, conversation before the guns come out, and all of the behind the scenes stuff that makes two gangsters human. By doing this, we believe Jules (Samuel L Jackson) when he has his religious moment, instead of callously dismissing his “moment of clarity.”
jules
I will be honest, of his early work I prefer “Jackie Brown” to “Pulp Fiction.” I just think the story is even tighter and there is a subtly in “JB” that “PF” has little time for.  And if you prefer “Jackie Brown” you don’t get as many drunken, flip-flop and white ball cap wearing douches screaming quotes at you.  But upon my nth viewing of “Pulp Fiction” when I stretch my imagination to its limits and remember a time before all of the extraneous garbage that now surrounds it, I must admit that there is really little if anything at all wrong with this still surprising gem.

Since this is one of the most contemporary films on the AFI list so far, feel free to post any good stories about where/when you first saw “Pulp Fiction.” I am a believer in theatre viewing, and know there have to be some good stories out there.

As for mine, I was on a date at the Westloop Cinema in Manhattan, KS. I was shocked/amazed at how entertained the young woman was by the movie.  Let’s hear your story.

Next up #93 The French Connection (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #95 The Last Picture Show (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #96 Do the Right Thing (1989)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #97 Blade Runner (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #99 Toy Story (1995)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #100 Ben-Hur (1959)

1 Year, 100 Movies: An Introduction

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier July 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I’ve never really thought about Tarantino’s films as film impressionism but your completely right. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of watching pulp fiction, its just so enjoyable and endlessly entertaining

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2 Xavier July 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I’ve never really thought about Tarantino’s films as film impressionism but your completely right. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of watching pulp fiction, its just so enjoyable and endlessly entertaining

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3 Xavier July 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I’ve never really thought about Tarantino’s films as film impressionism but your completely right. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of watching pulp fiction, its just so enjoyable and endlessly entertaining

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4 Eric Melin July 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, I remember the feeling I had when dick Dale’s Miserlou started up right after the opening robbery scene. Simply put, I got chills. It was amazing how quickly a piece of film could do that. Ever since then, QT’s been concocting little scenes fraught with tension that all add up to one big, bad movie. And until I saw the Leone movies, I didn’t realize where he got that episodic structure from…I must have seen Pulp Fiction 5 or 6 times in the theater.

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5 Eric Melin July 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, I remember the feeling I had when dick Dale’s Miserlou started up right after the opening robbery scene. Simply put, I got chills. It was amazing how quickly a piece of film could do that. Ever since then, QT’s been concocting little scenes fraught with tension that all add up to one big, bad movie. And until I saw the Leone movies, I didn’t realize where he got that episodic structure from…I must have seen Pulp Fiction 5 or 6 times in the theater.

Reply

6 Eric Melin July 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, I remember the feeling I had when dick Dale’s Miserlou started up right after the opening robbery scene. Simply put, I got chills. It was amazing how quickly a piece of film could do that. Ever since then, QT’s been concocting little scenes fraught with tension that all add up to one big, bad movie. And until I saw the Leone movies, I didn’t realize where he got that episodic structure from…I must have seen Pulp Fiction 5 or 6 times in the theater.

Reply

7 Nick Spacek July 5, 2010 at 12:12 pm

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, I was something like 15 years old. I couldn’t even drive a car, and had to have my mom drop me off after a forensics tournament. They’d gotten it at the Leavenworth theater as part of the Oscar re-release, and seeing it on the big screen, on a Saturday night, blew my mind. It was so there, so cool, so big and bad-ass, that I couldn’t begin to explain it to anybody at school on Monday morning. It was one of those movies where you just told people, “Just go see it.”

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8 Nick Spacek July 5, 2010 at 12:12 pm

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, I was something like 15 years old. I couldn’t even drive a car, and had to have my mom drop me off after a forensics tournament. They’d gotten it at the Leavenworth theater as part of the Oscar re-release, and seeing it on the big screen, on a Saturday night, blew my mind. It was so there, so cool, so big and bad-ass, that I couldn’t begin to explain it to anybody at school on Monday morning. It was one of those movies where you just told people, “Just go see it.”

Reply

9 Nick Spacek July 5, 2010 at 12:12 pm

The first time I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, I was something like 15 years old. I couldn’t even drive a car, and had to have my mom drop me off after a forensics tournament. They’d gotten it at the Leavenworth theater as part of the Oscar re-release, and seeing it on the big screen, on a Saturday night, blew my mind. It was so there, so cool, so big and bad-ass, that I couldn’t begin to explain it to anybody at school on Monday morning. It was one of those movies where you just told people, “Just go see it.”

Reply

10 Michael Smith July 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I was a theatre manager in Baltimore when the film came out. My projectionist was a MAJOR Tarantino fan who raved on and on about “Reservoir Dogs,” which I hadn’t seen. About two months before the film openend I attended an event called “Movie Day” in NYC. Lots of events to help promote upcoming films. I was pretty psyched because I had ran into Adrian Zmed on the street and he signed a sweet autograph which included his classic “Bachelor Party” line, “Check out the cans on that bimbo!” At the end of the day they had an auction of various items. I ended up buying my son a football autographed by the entire cast of “The Little Giants.” Anyway, there were two premieres up for grabs: the latest “Star Trek” film and “Pulp Fiction.” The “Trek” one went for like $900 bucks. Apparently I was the only one there that had heard of “Pulp Fiction” because my $100 bid was the only one received. So, two months later, and a week before the film was due to open, I invited 350 of my dearest friends to the theatre and hosted my own “Premiere” of “Pulp Fiction.” A great time and a great film.

Reply

11 Michael Smith July 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I was a theatre manager in Baltimore when the film came out. My projectionist was a MAJOR Tarantino fan who raved on and on about “Reservoir Dogs,” which I hadn’t seen. About two months before the film openend I attended an event called “Movie Day” in NYC. Lots of events to help promote upcoming films. I was pretty psyched because I had ran into Adrian Zmed on the street and he signed a sweet autograph which included his classic “Bachelor Party” line, “Check out the cans on that bimbo!” At the end of the day they had an auction of various items. I ended up buying my son a football autographed by the entire cast of “The Little Giants.” Anyway, there were two premieres up for grabs: the latest “Star Trek” film and “Pulp Fiction.” The “Trek” one went for like $900 bucks. Apparently I was the only one there that had heard of “Pulp Fiction” because my $100 bid was the only one received. So, two months later, and a week before the film was due to open, I invited 350 of my dearest friends to the theatre and hosted my own “Premiere” of “Pulp Fiction.” A great time and a great film.

Reply

12 Michael Smith July 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I was a theatre manager in Baltimore when the film came out. My projectionist was a MAJOR Tarantino fan who raved on and on about “Reservoir Dogs,” which I hadn’t seen. About two months before the film openend I attended an event called “Movie Day” in NYC. Lots of events to help promote upcoming films. I was pretty psyched because I had ran into Adrian Zmed on the street and he signed a sweet autograph which included his classic “Bachelor Party” line, “Check out the cans on that bimbo!” At the end of the day they had an auction of various items. I ended up buying my son a football autographed by the entire cast of “The Little Giants.” Anyway, there were two premieres up for grabs: the latest “Star Trek” film and “Pulp Fiction.” The “Trek” one went for like $900 bucks. Apparently I was the only one there that had heard of “Pulp Fiction” because my $100 bid was the only one received. So, two months later, and a week before the film was due to open, I invited 350 of my dearest friends to the theatre and hosted my own “Premiere” of “Pulp Fiction.” A great time and a great film.

Reply

13 Will Babbit July 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Liberty Hall, first date with someone.

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14 Will Babbit July 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Liberty Hall, first date with someone.

Reply

15 Will Babbit July 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Liberty Hall, first date with someone.

Reply

16 hellohawk July 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Saw PF for the first time with my dad at West Loop 6 Cinemas. I remember it made him very, very uncomfortable, because there just weren’t movies that were THAT violent or explicit at the time. Not really. I remember loving it, but I too was surprised at how extreme it was. I think my dad felt like a bad parent for taking me.

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17 hellohawk July 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Saw PF for the first time with my dad at West Loop 6 Cinemas. I remember it made him very, very uncomfortable, because there just weren’t movies that were THAT violent or explicit at the time. Not really. I remember loving it, but I too was surprised at how extreme it was. I think my dad felt like a bad parent for taking me.

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18 hellohawk July 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Saw PF for the first time with my dad at West Loop 6 Cinemas. I remember it made him very, very uncomfortable, because there just weren’t movies that were THAT violent or explicit at the time. Not really. I remember loving it, but I too was surprised at how extreme it was. I think my dad felt like a bad parent for taking me.

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19 Trey July 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Hellohawk, that’s like the time I saw Trainspotting with my younger sister, or Silence of the Lambs with my mom. Little does he know that he was an awesome dad for taking you.

Will, how did the rest of the date go. That sounds like a make or break moment.

Nick, I love those “just go see it” films. The ones that if you describe them will somehow take away from the experience of seeing it the first time. Good way to describe “PF”

Eric, you make me want to watch Once Upon a Time in the West right now!

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20 Trey July 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Hellohawk, that’s like the time I saw Trainspotting with my younger sister, or Silence of the Lambs with my mom. Little does he know that he was an awesome dad for taking you.

Will, how did the rest of the date go. That sounds like a make or break moment.

Nick, I love those “just go see it” films. The ones that if you describe them will somehow take away from the experience of seeing it the first time. Good way to describe “PF”

Eric, you make me want to watch Once Upon a Time in the West right now!

Reply

21 Trey July 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Hellohawk, that’s like the time I saw Trainspotting with my younger sister, or Silence of the Lambs with my mom. Little does he know that he was an awesome dad for taking you.

Will, how did the rest of the date go. That sounds like a make or break moment.

Nick, I love those “just go see it” films. The ones that if you describe them will somehow take away from the experience of seeing it the first time. Good way to describe “PF”

Eric, you make me want to watch Once Upon a Time in the West right now!

Reply

22 Reed July 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

It was my sophomore year of college. I had watched Reservoir Dogs the previous summer, so I was pumped up to see PF as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in the first week, it wasn’t showing in any of the on-campus theaters, and I didn’t know many people with a car. So I persuaded one of my female housemates to drive, saying that it would be worth it for her to see it. In retrospect, she only went because she had a crush on me, so maybe I was using her for the car, but I definitely didn’t realize it at the time. Also in retrospect, she never should have gone to see the movie. About halfway through, she blurted out “Are there any likable characters in this thing?”

But I was more like Eric. At that exact moment when Dick Dale chimed in, I knew I was in for a treat. That was the moment when the roller coaster crests the hill and you scream with exhilaration. That’s exactly how I felt. When my housemate blurted out her comment, I wondered if we were watching the same film. I was blown away, and each passing chapter made me more clear that I was witnessing greatness.

Later, PF of course came to the on-campus theater where it screened for three solid years. The theater renamed itself “The Home of Pulp Fiction.” Like Eric, I probably saw it a half-dozen times on the big screen. A couple years later that same theater had a screening of Reservoir Dogs. Somehow, I ended up bringing that same girl and her boyfriend. This time her reaction was stronger. She had to leave the theater to go throw up. But her boyfriend loved the movie.

Of all the films that have come out in my lifetime, I can’t think of any that have had a bigger impact on the film industry than this one. I also think it’s interesting that when you ask someone what their favorite Tarantino film is, the answer could be any of his works. And it’s totally justifiable. But for me, Pulp Fiction is the top one. I must have seen it 25 times or more by now, and it still never gets old for me.

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23 Reed July 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

It was my sophomore year of college. I had watched Reservoir Dogs the previous summer, so I was pumped up to see PF as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in the first week, it wasn’t showing in any of the on-campus theaters, and I didn’t know many people with a car. So I persuaded one of my female housemates to drive, saying that it would be worth it for her to see it. In retrospect, she only went because she had a crush on me, so maybe I was using her for the car, but I definitely didn’t realize it at the time. Also in retrospect, she never should have gone to see the movie. About halfway through, she blurted out “Are there any likable characters in this thing?”

But I was more like Eric. At that exact moment when Dick Dale chimed in, I knew I was in for a treat. That was the moment when the roller coaster crests the hill and you scream with exhilaration. That’s exactly how I felt. When my housemate blurted out her comment, I wondered if we were watching the same film. I was blown away, and each passing chapter made me more clear that I was witnessing greatness.

Later, PF of course came to the on-campus theater where it screened for three solid years. The theater renamed itself “The Home of Pulp Fiction.” Like Eric, I probably saw it a half-dozen times on the big screen. A couple years later that same theater had a screening of Reservoir Dogs. Somehow, I ended up bringing that same girl and her boyfriend. This time her reaction was stronger. She had to leave the theater to go throw up. But her boyfriend loved the movie.

Of all the films that have come out in my lifetime, I can’t think of any that have had a bigger impact on the film industry than this one. I also think it’s interesting that when you ask someone what their favorite Tarantino film is, the answer could be any of his works. And it’s totally justifiable. But for me, Pulp Fiction is the top one. I must have seen it 25 times or more by now, and it still never gets old for me.

Reply

24 Reed July 6, 2010 at 7:44 am

It was my sophomore year of college. I had watched Reservoir Dogs the previous summer, so I was pumped up to see PF as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in the first week, it wasn’t showing in any of the on-campus theaters, and I didn’t know many people with a car. So I persuaded one of my female housemates to drive, saying that it would be worth it for her to see it. In retrospect, she only went because she had a crush on me, so maybe I was using her for the car, but I definitely didn’t realize it at the time. Also in retrospect, she never should have gone to see the movie. About halfway through, she blurted out “Are there any likable characters in this thing?”

But I was more like Eric. At that exact moment when Dick Dale chimed in, I knew I was in for a treat. That was the moment when the roller coaster crests the hill and you scream with exhilaration. That’s exactly how I felt. When my housemate blurted out her comment, I wondered if we were watching the same film. I was blown away, and each passing chapter made me more clear that I was witnessing greatness.

Later, PF of course came to the on-campus theater where it screened for three solid years. The theater renamed itself “The Home of Pulp Fiction.” Like Eric, I probably saw it a half-dozen times on the big screen. A couple years later that same theater had a screening of Reservoir Dogs. Somehow, I ended up bringing that same girl and her boyfriend. This time her reaction was stronger. She had to leave the theater to go throw up. But her boyfriend loved the movie.

Of all the films that have come out in my lifetime, I can’t think of any that have had a bigger impact on the film industry than this one. I also think it’s interesting that when you ask someone what their favorite Tarantino film is, the answer could be any of his works. And it’s totally justifiable. But for me, Pulp Fiction is the top one. I must have seen it 25 times or more by now, and it still never gets old for me.

Reply

25 Ryan July 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm

The first time I saw pulp fiction was a heavily edited version on the WB. Needless to say, I was missing out.

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26 Ryan July 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm

The first time I saw pulp fiction was a heavily edited version on the WB. Needless to say, I was missing out.

Reply

27 Ryan July 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm

The first time I saw pulp fiction was a heavily edited version on the WB. Needless to say, I was missing out.

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28 Eric Melin July 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

Heavily edited? wow. Bad first impression. The effect must have been slightly dulled.

Reed- Yeah, I think it really was a defining moment. It’s not really my favorite QT movie anymore (that depends on what day you ask me!), but no other movie had the same effect at that particular moment.

Wonder when another movie will catch lightning in a bottle like this one did?

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29 Eric Melin July 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

Heavily edited? wow. Bad first impression. The effect must have been slightly dulled.

Reed- Yeah, I think it really was a defining moment. It’s not really my favorite QT movie anymore (that depends on what day you ask me!), but no other movie had the same effect at that particular moment.

Wonder when another movie will catch lightning in a bottle like this one did?

Reply

30 Eric Melin July 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

Heavily edited? wow. Bad first impression. The effect must have been slightly dulled.

Reed- Yeah, I think it really was a defining moment. It’s not really my favorite QT movie anymore (that depends on what day you ask me!), but no other movie had the same effect at that particular moment.

Wonder when another movie will catch lightning in a bottle like this one did?

Reply

31 TS July 7, 2010 at 11:50 am

Nice write up!

I still laugh my ass off when Jules says “IMA MUSHROOM CLOUD LAYIN MUTHA FUCKA, MUTHAFUCKA”

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32 TS July 7, 2010 at 11:50 am

Nice write up!

I still laugh my ass off when Jules says “IMA MUSHROOM CLOUD LAYIN MUTHA FUCKA, MUTHAFUCKA”

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33 TS July 7, 2010 at 11:50 am

Nice write up!

I still laugh my ass off when Jules says “IMA MUSHROOM CLOUD LAYIN MUTHA FUCKA, MUTHAFUCKA”

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34 Colin July 28, 2010 at 8:21 am

One of the only batch of cool points I can lay claim to is having seen “Reservoir Dogs” during its initial theatrical run (at the Fine Arts Theater in Mission, KS), so I was primed and ready to see PF. I remember that the trailer for PF first premiered in front of a re-release of RD (again at the Fine Arts), and that the auditorium was packed with fans who wanted to see it. Until the Star Wars re-releases a few years later, it was the only time I’d heard people cheering at a movie.

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35 You know who I am. July 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm

And let’s just add that he stole his whole creative plot structure from Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train which is a better movie anyway.

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36 Trey Hock July 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm

YKWIA, I think that’s a bold statement since Pulp Fiction is a nonlinear narrative written in a loose five act structure, and Jarmusch didn’t invent that. If you just wanted to give Jarmusch a shout out, well I highly encourage such behavior.

Colin, sounds like a pretty incredible experience. Wish I had been there.

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37 Ralph August 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm

My best friend and I went to see PF on opening day, first showing. We went to get a bite to and met some friends who hadn’t seen it yet, so we took them left the movies, met more friends, ect. I think we saw PF 6-7 times the first day and a few more over the next week. It just wasn’t the kind of movie people would normally go see in our smallish town. The last showing we went to we had 30+ people with us.

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38 Abby August 22, 2010 at 10:19 am

My initial viewings of “Pulp Fiction,” I’m sorry to say, were patchy at best. I saw it once on TV, and bits and bobs during late-night viewings with friends during which I almost always fell asleep. I’d seen enough to remember the important lines and scenes and basic structure, but lacked a comprehensive viewing experience.

That was all changed when I went to Liberty Hall’s Midnight Movie Madness screening of the movie last August. I would argue that in the case of movies with a huge cult following like “Pulp Fiction,” there is no better way to see a movie for the first time than to see it with a theater packed with enthusiastic fans (I will never forget watching “Alien” in that same theater). We yelled, we laughed, we catcalled. It was beautiful.

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39 Trey Hock August 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Ralph,

I love those crazy momentum building movies. Ones which become events amongst friends. I’ve had a handful of those. Pulp Fiction would have been a fun one.

Abby,

Those big theatrical moments make it very clear that films should be viewed in theatres. A great crowd can make a bad movie good, and a good movie great.

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40 Terzah September 27, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Trey–Just catching up with your reviews. I saw Pulp Fiction in college with my roommate. And our reaction was much akin to that of Reed’s female friend, who wondered if there was anyone likeable in the film (my answer to that is NO). The scene where they accidentally shoot the kid in the back seat–which caused everyone in the sold-out theater to laugh but us–almost had me headed for the exit. I haven’t watched it since and don’t plan to. Violence is OK with me if it has a point (I love the Coen Brothers, for example), but to me Pulp Fiction was just a pointless exercise in arty cleverness, with violence as its unsavory vehicle.

However, I will say that your review has me seeing it in a slightly different light–not exactly favorable, but maybe a little more respectful. And I’ve known for years that I’m in the minority on this one, kind of like I am for the book Confederacy of Dunces. Don’t get it. My three-year-olds love potty humor, but I’m over it.

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41 Trey Hock September 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Terzah, I appreciate you bringing a nudge of dissent. I will say that the violence is more than arty cleverness, but I’m not sure that I would encourage you to go back for a second glance. Some stuff just doesn’t connect. With me it’s slasher films-I just don’t ‘em. If you do revisit Pulp Fiction, then the character of Jules is your point of entry. He is at a crossroad and is struggling with his gangster lifestyle. A truly cool and redemptive character.

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