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Nerd of Noir Goes to the Movies: Pulp Fiction’s Return Theaters

Fathom Events (the company behind the screenings of Metropolitan Opera tapings that you no doubt make a point to go to at your local multiplex on account of you’re so cultured and what not) recently held one-night-only screenings of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction in theaters across America to mark director Quentin Tarantino’s 20 years making feature films. The fact that a blu-ray box-set containing all of his directorial efforts to date (plus Tony Scott’s True Romance, which QT penned) called Tarantino XX came out last month and that this month Q’s got a brand new film called Django Unchained dropping also helps explain why moviegoers were given the rare pleasure of seeing “old” movies on the big screen.

I got a chance to catch the Pulp Fiction screening and good God am I glad I did it up. Before the feature started there was brand-new, short documentary that had interviews with damn near everyone involved in the movie outside of Tarantino himself. Producer Richard N. Gladstein told a great story about convincing Harvey Weinstein (then head of Miramax, the company behind many nineties indie powerhouses like Pulp, The Crying Game, Clerks, and Sling Blade ) to make the film and John Travolta discussed how Tarantino really went to bat for him being in the role of Vincent Vega, a part that Bruce Willis wanted to do but settled for Butch Coolidge when told that that role was strictly for Travolta.

After the mini-doc a title card came up informing us that the following trailers were hand-picked by Tarantino himself from his own personal collection. The first trailer was for Giuliano Montaldo’s Machine Gun McCain (1969) starring John Cassavettes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, and Gena Rowlands, a cheesy, explosion-packed little production with plenty of small, awkward scenes being interrupted by MACHINE GUN KELLY popping up on the screen in big yellow letters. This was followed by the original trailer for Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) (a confusing choice as it’s not a particularly interesting or amusing preview nor an obscure film by any means) and a very violent, all-the-best-parts-are-right-there-and-in-the-right-order coming attraction for John Woo’s The Killer (1989). This was a highlight of the three trailers because a) it showed quite a bit of the best shootouts in the film in all their bloody glory and b) the preview really brought home – maybe even more so than the actual film itself – the oddly homoerotic relationship between Chow Yun-Fat’s hitman character and Danny Lee’s cop.

After all that decent-enough preamble (it thankfully started up right at seven o’clock as the doc, trailers and film altogether brought the event’s run time to just under three hours) the film started and I was reminded once again that yes, indeed, Pulp Fiction is one of the few true American masterpieces of the last thirty or so years. After two decades of films either borrowing or stealing ideas whole cloth from the movie, Pulp Fiction still holds up as one of the best times you can have at the movies. I got chills multiple times throughout, from the opening riff of Dick Dale and the Del Tone’s “Misirlou” playing over the opening credits (which come after Honeybunny’s immortal screeching of “Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!”) to Jules realizing “that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd,” I was just as in love with this film as I was when I was fresh-faced newbie crime fan oh so many fucking years ago.

Like many crime junkies, I definitely had my period of obsession with the film, a time where I knew damn near every line and had scoured the internet for (and interrogated my friends about) various questions the film raises. What’s in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase? How does Jules know a seemingly square guy like Jimmy? Why is Honeybunny’s line from the beginning of the film slightly different from the way it is repeated in the final scene? Why do both of the sexy women Butch Coolidge interacts with in The Gold Watch chapter, Fabienne and Maria Villa Lobos, have sexy foreign accents? Is the gimp mentally handicapped or a just a willing freak who gets off on living in a box?

When we see Paul, the bartender who tells Vincent it’s cool to go over to Marcellus Wallace once Butch is done talking to him, working with Vincent at boxing match, does that mean he was promoted to hitman in the wake of Jules’ retirement or was he always down for dirty work? Would Jack Rabbit Slim’s actually be a fun place to go on account of it doesn’t seem to serve alcohol at all? Why doesn’t anybody seem to actually eat the meals in front of them, be it Mia and Vincent at Jack Rabbit Slim’s or Vincent and Jules at the coffee shop?

Okay, I clearly went down the (jack)rabbit hole there for a bit, but these are still questions I enjoy thinking about to this day. And I still kept finding that with each new chapter, Vincent and Mia’s date, the gold watch saga, and the Bonnie Situation, I couldn’t decide which storyline I liked more. They’re all so perfect and wonderful on their own and fit so beautifully into the film as a whole. I was also surprised by how emotionally charged the film is. Much is made of the characters’ detachment from the violence, the main example often being Vincent and Jules discussing foot massages on their way into a confrontation that will end the lives of two-three-possibly-four yuppie kids. But when Jules interrogates Brett and shoots “Flock of Seagulls,” he’s genuinely terrifying. Yes, the scene is hilarious, but in a nervous, uncomfortable way.

And the scene in Zed and Maynard’s sex dungeon? Just fucking horrifying, jesus-did-this-ever-take-a-turn kind of shit going on there. But the true connection, love and friendship is what makes the stakes so high. Jules and Vincent seem to be actual friends, like they’d go to a bar together outside of work regularly. And there’s a real spark between Vincent and Mia that makes you almost wish Vincent would fail his “true test of loyalty” to Marcellus Wallace. And Fabienne and Butch? There’s no question that they love each other, despite their faults (her being dim and his definitely being a rageaholic).

So I guess I’ve never understood those who think the movie is detached or “too cool for school.” If you don’t think there’s real soul to Jules’ speech to Pumpkin at the film’s end, or appreciate the sacrifice that Butch makes by going back down into hell with a samurai sword to save his sworn enemy Marcellus, the problem lies more with you than this film.

Pulp Fiction is and will always be Tarantino’s finest film, just as Taxi Driver will always be Scorsese’s. Yes, they may make (or, in Scorsese’s case, may have already made) “better” films, but the exuberance, the look-what-I-can-do youthfulness of these films can never be topped. You can’t truly “breakout” twice, and it now seems almost impossible for any director to take the world by storm quite like Tarantino did in the wake of the international conversation-starter that is Pulp Fiction. I’m more than willing to watch him try (he’s yet to let me down in the slightest five films later) but I just don’t think there’s anywhere to go but ever-so-slightly down after creating something so wonderful and groundbreaking – not to mention such a commercial and critical success – as this film. Here’s hoping I get to see this film in theaters once again when there’s a Tarantino XL event.

The Nerd of Noir is a blogger in the Twin Cities. Links to his reviews of crime and noir fiction, film, TV, and comics can be found at his blog http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com . He’s a movie freak in general and is constantly giving 140 character reviews of every damn thing he sees on his twitter page, twitter.com/nerdofnoir . Apparently, the Nerd of Noir is also a blatant self-promoter. His real name is arguably Pete Dragovich.