Trips to the cinema are usually beholden to an edge of excitement, of curiosity and – occasionally – of dread. As dictated by the cinematic experience the next ninety minutes of your life will be filled with uncertainty. For example, the work of a great auteur could disappoint, or a comedy starring the Alumni of the current SNL could actually be funny and so on. You never really go into a cinema knowing exactly what to expect and part of the charm is finding out how each trip will measure up to your expectations.
But on the night of Tuesday the 20th of May my experience was one entirely different from that. For at the cinema – for one of the first time in my life – I went in seeing a known quantity. I’m not talking about how you sometimes go to the pictures to see a certain film twice. One viewing can’t cement your opinion of a film and the second could produce an entirely different reaction. No this was a film I had seen a dozen times before, a film that myself and my film going brethren had made our minds up about years ago. This film was Pulp Fiction.
It surprised me how odd I felt about going to see this, how bizarre it was for me to see a film that I knew both myself and the audience would most definitely enjoy. A film that has not only a solid reputation but is judged to be a work of cinematic magnificence created by one of the great writer/directors of his generation; a work so universally adored and influential it is credited with being one of the cornerstones upon which the foundation for 21st century film was laid.
You’d be surprized then to learn that my prevailing emotion was anxiety. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Pulp Fiction, I was perhaps a little more naïve when I last saw it and most certainly more juvenile. I was beginning to fear I might think the same about this movie. Especially as now I’m a critic and duty bound to think of Jackie Brown as my favourite Tarantino flick.
Of course my fear was unfounded, but my experience here was certainly different to the solitary nights spent with Pulp Fiction playing in my PS2. Its strange how in the many nostalgic essays it provokes, the humour is always played down. People talk of the cool factor, the confidence and the violence. But if people discuss the laughs it’s almost as if to remind us that it has any. The aesthetics of the film are so strong that we always associate it with the crime genre or the gangster epic. Hell, as most of the discussion centres on its sense of style there is a big argument claiming it to predominantly be a fashion statement.
But the main state my fellow audience members and I were in during the viewing was fits of laughter. Yes the film has lots of suspense and a side of romance but even these are relived/punctuated respectively with a series of excellently well timed visual jokes and knockout punchlines. As well as that the dialogue is hilarious, the violence is slapstick and the segments which rely on the comedy of manners (especially the segment blessed with the presence of Winston Wolfe) are jaw achingly laugh inducing. In fact, to not say that this films overarching genre is comedy would put most of the comedies I’ve seen in recent years in some serious trouble. Pulp Fiction has not only beaten the vast majority of them for laughter, but it did so using intelligence and linguistics in a way all too rare .
The one thing I think was missing though, was surprize. Pulp Fiction is a film that leads the viewer down the path towards an excellent – if generic – crime thriller in its opening scenes, then grabs them by the wrist and takes them along paths they never dreamed could have existed in conventional, narrative driven cinema. What’s sure to end in Vincent and Mia having sex, ends in a cluster fuck of an attempt to stop Mia dying from a heroin overdose. What’s sure to end in a climactic battle between Butch and Marsellus ends with them bonding over surviving a raping at the hands of a couple of gun nuts.
Because these scenes are so memorable they simply cannot have the same impact the second time around. You’d think that a film so reliant on blindsiding, misdirecting and bamboozling its audience would suffer when they all came back for seconds. But it doesn’t. Pulp Fiction’s icing may be the surprizes that lurk around every corner, but the cake is the endlessly quotable dialogue (which we won’t go into here, after all what’s left to be said about it?) and assortment of colourful and incredible characters.
Sure they all might sound like the split personalities of Tarantino himself, but each actor adds a different shade to his pop culture philosophies, each one adds their own cadence to the deliveries and their own gestures that separate them from the pack. They and the words they say make the appeal of this film both universal and eternal, and makes the concept of seeing a film on the big screen as one of a congregation of cinema geeks, one that any film lover – no matter how jaded – should always value.