September 01, 2011

Understanding Cinema Lecture: ‘Pulp Fiction’

In an essentially commercial film industry like Hollywood, or even ours, cinema has the tendency to be complacent, the tendency to identify successful formulas and limit itself to those. From a creative field, it changes itself to something churning out products as in a mass-production unit. And then we need movies that shock and stun, not only the audience and the sociologists, but the film industry, and redefine the possibilities of movies as a commercial venture. When we talk about such a movie, the first name that comes to mind is Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994).

Made at the modest budget of under $9 million, the movie grossed around $240 million worldwide, apart from acquiring a cult status and a worldwide fan-following. This achievement by a movie that broke several rules (read Commandments) of conventional cinema was shocking. And hence it could stir a revolution, apart from helping the indie movement, and went on to become possibly the most influential movie of the decade.

It is easy to understand why some people do not like the movie, as is obvious why some are absolutely crazy about it. In fact, there is a lot in this movie (drugs, violence, sex) that can be instantly popular among young filmmakers and audience. And though it is not inimitable, it is extremely difficult to create something as good as it. Because making something like ‘Pulp Fiction’ can not be taught or learnt in film-schools or through years of practice and making movies. You can only be a born Tarantino.

Ironically, when the script of this film was making rounds of the studios, one of the executives remarked that “This is the worst thing ever written.” Today, it is perhaps the most widely read script around the world. In fact, you can read ‘Pulp Fiction’ like a work of literature, you can listen to its dialogues without watching the pictures and still be entertained. The film has an infective ‘aural ambience’, apart from a stylized visual one.

How a cinema borrows from popular culture and then, if it is good and memorable enough, itself acquires an iconic status in that pop-culture is easily illustrated by this movie. There are numerous tributes to other movies, TV shows, and popular music, within the movie. And today, all those lines on ‘hamburgers’ and ‘foot massage’, and the mystery of what was inside the suitecase have become a part of popular consciousness.

One can go on talking about ‘Pulp Fiction’. But there is one thing I wanted to highlight. Despite all screenwriting rules that it breaks, it does not break the most vital rule – it is the characters (in conflict) that make a film. If you can create an orchestration of characters as colourful and memorable as these, you can go ahead and break all writing rules. All screenwriting gurus made a little change in their ‘dos and don’ts’ after the success of this movie – don’t do ‘this’ and don’t do ‘that’, unless you are Quentin Tarantino. Well, most of us are not.

P.S. For its innovative narrative structure, delicious dialogue, incredible characters, and unforgettable scenes ‘Pulp Fiction’ truly qualifies as a must-watch-before-you-die (#19).

4 comments:

  1. Pulp Fiction is certainly one of my very favorite movies. Apart from all the amazing absurdity it possesses I also find a deeper philosophical connotation to this movie. This movie is a very significant part of world cinema and it will continue to be known for its uniqueness.

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  2. For me, the best parts are the crazy narrative style and the sacrilegiously funny dialogue. Talking of screenwriting rules, my husband has decided he wants to be a screenwriter and is educating himself on the 'Maginifcent Seven' or some such thing which apparently is the Holy Grail of screenwriters.

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  3. i am somehow at a loss of words here. having heard so much of this cult film, i somehow, dint find anything "cult - y" about it. it was just pulp, and no juice in it. hv nthing against sex, drugs or violence, neither do i hv anything aginst this film, but smhow i was not blown up or blown away by the film, as its reviews make u feel u vl b, watching it. maybe i need to watch it again to figure out the juice in this piece of pulp.

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  4. I see something new every time I watch Pulp Fiction.

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