Pulp Fiction – he flipped out over losing a watch that was in a stranger’s ass for three years?

A big confession. Until this weekend I hadn’t watched any Tarantino.

Friends of mine who are proponents of an auteur theory of cinema – that the director should be regarded as the “author” of a movie, using shots in the same way that a prose author uses words – in particular seem to be dismayed that I’ve never seen any Tarantino. Him being director, writer and actor in almost all of his projects gives him a large amount of control and so make his projects more personal than arguably any other director today. Other directors with a consistent visual style such as Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, and Tim Burton are the only others who come close.

So if Pulp Fiction is a very personal, Tarantino movie, what does that mean? Profanity, ambiguous morals, violence, and razor-sharp dialogue, but also a willingness to believe that the audience is intelligent. Pulp Fiction uses a non-linear narrative, jumping around the lives of various L.A. personalities (and in time) in a fashion that makes the film much more interesting to watch. It would be very easy for a studio to believe that audiences would find this confusing and that things should be realigned to be in order. But Tarantino trusts that we can keep up with this, much like he assumes that we can keep pace with the fast-paced dialogue. And it makes the film much stronger for it.

This also translates into the visuals. I watched the film only a few days after watching this excellent video essay about creating tension through editing, and something that Pulp Fiction does very effectively is use the long take intelligently. The amazing Tony Zhou has done a fantastic video essay on how Spielberg uses the long take, and Tarantino takes a leaf out of the same book. By allowing action to play out for almost three minutes without a cut in some shots, he allows us to draw our own conclusions from the film frame, letting our eyes roam where we like without deliberately showing us where to look with short, snappy cuts. I am a big fan of this kind of editing, as it doesn’t draw attention to the fact that you are watching a movie, and again treats the audience as intelligent. You are – effectively – trusted to be intelligent enough to look where is important. And in the age of Michael Bay-esque shots lasting frames rather than tens of seconds, it’s really refreshing.

This does lead me to a criticism of the film. My only criticism really. And that’s the episodic nature of the movie. Perhaps to make the non-linear plot a bit easier to understand, Tarantino breaks the film into sections, fading to black between them and in some cases introducing them using titlecards. Now this is very much a personal opinion, but I find this detracts from the pleasure of watching the film, because it draws attention to the fact that you are watching a film. In this sense Pulp Fiction is like an anti-Birdman, a film seemingly shot in one continuous take that tries very hard to hide the fact that you are watching a pre-prepared production that would not be possible in real life. Pulp Fiction embraces the impossibility of its own construction and runs with it. It is a movie meant to be watched ‘as a movie’ rather than being an ‘experience’ like Birdman. Choosing to run production credits before the movie as a 1950s picture would, having Thurman’s character Mia draw a square in the air with her hands, and having text appear on-screen with the entrance of Keitel’s Mr Wolfe reinforces this. Pulp Fiction is aware that it is a movie, but counteracts this by allowing the viewer to explore its frames by using long takes and trusting that you are intelligent to unpick its complex structure. It says “here, take me as I am – which is f*cking awesome”. Much, it’s worth noting, like the magazines and crime novels that the film takes its name from (and its poster reinforces). To some people, like my cinephile housemate, this is to the film’s advantage. To others, like myself, it detracts from the film. But it’s a very personal opinion.

No review on this website would be complete without mentioning the work of the cinematographer, in this case Pole Andrzej Sekuła. Pulp Fiction looks gorgeous. Using a relatively saturated colour profile with relatively high contrast, the film makes the most of the range possible visually. From exterior shots with a flat colour profile such as outside Butch’s apartment

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to the deep shots with pulsing neons of Jack Rabbit Slim’s

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almost every possibility is explored, much much more than was the case in my earlier watch, Forrest Gump. What is also worth mentioning is the film’s use of the colour red – in almost all of the major locations (and most of the main characters at some point) use the colour red. To my mind this reminds the audience that violence is always just around the corner, with blood a very common sight on screen, and even when it’s not, red upholstery, red lipstick, a red necklace, even a red ball-gag (or two) is. I’m sure that other colours were used repeatedly throughout but this was the only one that jumped out at me on first viewing. I loved the cinematography of this film.

There is so much more that I would love to talk about this film. Its repeated theme of saving people. Specific shots of decisions being made. The almost ASMR-y sound design. The music. The question of what was in that case. But alas I’m stricken with freshers flu. And I should probably get back to writing my thesis.

If a movie can be smart and sexy, then Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is it. Perhaps above all else it is just cool. It takes some of the worst parts of modern society – violence, drug use, organised crime – and glamorizes it into something that is slick and stylish and obviously constructed. I loved watching it, but I wouldn’t call it one of my favourite movies of all time. Its episodic nature renders it too artificial (for lack of a better word) for me to want to truly put a ring on it. Some of its dialogue seems unnecessary to the film’s construction (the taxi ride, for example). But from its great screenplay, colourful characters, and even more colourful cinematography do I recommend that you watch it if you haven’t already?

Correctamundo.

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Forrest Gump – 40 years of American history, as seen by a violent halfwit and his child-abused girlfriend.

Entirely how this film passed me by I will never know. I remember seeing the distinctive white case in just about every VHS collection in friends’ houses when I was growing up, but for some reason I never saw it myself. Robert Zemeckis’ most famous film could have been a saccharine mess in the hands of a lesser director but instead carries some real narrative heft, though still occasionally strays into over-sentimentality.

If you – somehow – also haven’t seen the film then I’ll spare you spoilers, but the condensed plot of the two and a half hour run time is the life of Tom Hanks’ eponymous character, spanning from his childhood in the 1940s to the film’s conclusion in the 1980s. Gump finds himself at several famous events from the time, including meeting Elvis, JFK, and Jon Lennon. Notably almost everyone that he meets seems to end up dying. These famous encounters are only a sideshow however, with the main narrative being Forrest’s lifelong love for his childhood friend Jenny, and his attempts to be with her across the years.

Somewhat unsurprisingly for such a well loved film I enjoyed it a lot, and found myself moved especially by the film’s conclusion underneath Gump’s childhood tree. As well as being moving it was really quite funny, with almost all the laughs coming from Hanks’ justly-lauded performance. The editing of Arthur Schmidt also deserves praise, with effectively placed jump cuts breaking the unobtrusive style of most of the film.

I do take issue with the film on a few areas however. For one thing the way in which Gump resolves conflict – namely, violence – is never addressed, nor are many of its characters fleshed out beyond pantomime-esque roles. That said, the main three characters of Gump, Jenny and the legless wonder Liutenant Dan (played by Gary Sinise) are wonderfully complete. My primary gripe with the film is its visuals. Cinematographer Don Burgess uses a relatively muted colour palette, bringing out warm pastel tones and only occasionally straying from a relatively flat profile. The notable exception to this is the storm sequence and a few shots of the Vietnam war. This aesthetic fits in with other films from the mid 1990s such as Mrs. Doubtfire – interestingly, also driven by a strong male lead performance and appealing to a wide audience (and featuring a turn from Sally Field) – in being inoffensively low contrast, using smooth tracking camera moves and relatively wide shots. To me this is rather boring. I would much rather have seen more contrast between different parts of Gump’s life visually, such as employing a greater contrast and harsher lighting in the Vietnam sequences, and gradually increasing saturation of the film as time went on. This would mirror what the soundtrack does most effectively, changing as the times do. This could also have created a greater contrast between Gump’s mainstream cultural life and Jenny’s counter-cultural one.

A last point to be made is the film’s commendable use of visual effects to mesh Gump into historical footage – sometimes very effectively, while sometimes less so. Being released only a year after the huge breakthroughs of Jurassic Park and three years after Terminator 2, the film’s subtle use of computer technology (including the removal of Sinise’s legs) is definitely to be commended, even if some of the historical sequences have aged well into uncanny valley territory.

So did I enjoy Forrest Gump? Yes. Did it deserve as many academy awards as it received (6)? I’m not hugely convinced. Especially given the strong competition offered in 1994 by The Shawshank Redemption, The Lion King, and Pulp Fiction, I think the film is somewhat overrated. But if like me you haven’t seen it, give it a watch.

And that’s all I have to say about that.