Sunday, September 15, 2019

Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction came out some twenty five years ago and only now do I see it. I have never been comprehensive in my movie watching. To me at least, few movies of such age hold up well. Pulp Fiction feels fresh, albeit imperfect.

Like Glorious Basterds, episodes twine loosely in Pulp Fiction. In fact, by the end of the movie the twining seems looser. The narratives become more discrete and relate less to each other. 

Having the vivid visual images of Jackson and Travolta burned into my brain as about all I knew of the movie, the opening scene had me somewhat at a loss. Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth at a restaurant talking petty crime. Where’s this going? Then they decide in an eruption to rob the place. Plummer’s sudden change from Honey Bunny to hellfire marks the first note of Tarantino’s bumptious hilarity. The scene *stops* in media res.

The next scene introduces Travolta and Jackson. We can start making sense. Tarantino’s strength, of course, is dialogue. His characters riff on whatever, often in the manner of Platonic dialogues. The dialogues don’t seem derived from the characters, however. Tarantino uses the characters as dummies for ventriloquism.

Before I go further, I should clear the air about John Travolta. I have avoided watching this movie and others because of Travolta’s presence. Something about him... He’s someone graced, and braced, by his look. Early on, even back to that atrocious sitcom, he discovered that his smile works. It is his confidence. Tho he has talent and skill, he trusts his smile more. His acting then becomes a strain. He can’t always use that smile so you see him thinking, scheming, to reach a place where he can use that smile. I see this in Tom Cruise as well. I won’t attach this to Scientology tho hmmm. So what I see is someone sweating too much, too self aware within the package of his character.

Anyway, the scene in which they visit the young guys, we see elooquent intimidation, a Hollywood staple, viz The Joker, most gangsters, masterminds, etc. Jackson starts as good cop then blithely kills one guy. He speechifies then he and Travolta shoot too many bullets into the second guy. All in a day’s work. Third guy huddles in a corner. End of Scene.

The episode with Uma Thurman shows off exotic nonsense like her hipster pad and the restaurant with Ed Sullivan as maitre d’/emcee. Travolta efforts to not get involved with Thurman, a gangster’s moll. Tarantino fractured our expectations of romance when Thurman snorts some overly righteous stuff she found in Travolta’s coat. She o.d.’s and we have a party of slapstick overdose humour.

I’ve said my say about Travolta. The rest of the cast seem like they’re having fun. Eric Stoltz as suburban drug dealer and Rosanna Arquette as his seedy wife. A shot of adrenalin saves Thurman and the scene ends with perchance romance in the offing.

The chapter with Bruce Willis is the most convoluted and superfluous. I place him in the same tank with Travolta and Cruise.  I guess he has some skill—albeit not on the harmonica—but not so much range. He plays a boxer who is supposed to throw a fight but doesn’t. He chases around trying to escape Thurman’s gangster. Things become more difficult when he has to go back to his apartment for the heirloom watch his father gave him. An earlier flashback/dream had Christopher Walken explain the history of that watch which Walkenfinally smuggled from a p.o.w. camp to be presented to the boxer as a then fatherless boy. The scene seemed so noble and telling until Walken, it had to be Walken, tells the boy he smuggled it in his ass. There is, by the way, no explaining Walken’s genius.

By chance Willis and the gangster meet and try to kill each other. Their battle enters a shop where the owner gets the best of both and ties them up. He and a cop, I don’t know how he got involved, take the gangster to another room and rape him. Just another shop of horrors. Willis frees himself and saves the gangster. That clears Willis who rides off into Hollywood happy ending. Tarantino playing to the cheap seats?

I didn’t mench that while back in his apartment Willis runs into Travolta, who was looking for Willis. Willis kills him, wait what?

We then go back to the scene where Jackson and Travolta apply muscle to the young guys. After Jackson’s interminable and not last recitation of a passage from Ezekiel a fourth guy comes out of hiding with gun blazing. And he misses. Jackson reads this as a sign from God.

The pair take the surviving guy. In the car Travolta accidentally shoots the guy. In a panic they get the gangster to call a fixer who, at the home of Jackson’s friend, played by Tarantino, helps them clean up and dispose of the car. The fixer is Harvey Keitel, who is lushly efficient and businesslike.

And after that, the two go to a restaurant for breakfast. Right, Amanda and Tim go forth with their robbery. Jackson calmly thwarts Tim but there’s a stand off with Amanda. Jackson invoked that damn Ezekiel passage again and lets the couple go, a sudsy happy ending. We are left thinking of Travolta’s imminent  doom. Except for that it’s a wishy washy ending.

Any Tarantino movie could be titled *Fun with Nihilism*.  That and the elegant violence seem consistent in his movies, from what I’ve seen. This movie had something of *Goodfellas* to it in the way it finds humour and elegance in the wrong places. Seems like he needs a grownup with him when he’s directing. Nonetheless, if you can take the violence and tidy grimness, this is a pretty fine movie. Even with John Travolta.