Friday, November 6, 2015

Top 75 Things I Love About Pulp Fiction (that no one talks about)

The Hateful Eight countdown continues as I dive into my second favorite film of all time, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. I absolutely adore this film, so I did have a lot to say about it, which I hope you dig. Come back next Friday as I dissect Jackie Brown!

Reservoir Dogs doesn’t contain a single female character with direct lines of dialogue. In Pulp Fiction, the second person to speak is a woman. Love that.

Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) staring at her server so lovingly.

Tarantino’s first three films don’t get enough credit for their cinematography. Notice how the start of Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny’s conversation is shot on tripods, with the camera never moving. But when Pumpkin goes to make his point about not robbing anymore liquor stores, the camera slowly pushes in to emphasize his point. That’s how you get the audience to subconsciously invest in characters.

Honey Bunny saying “Thank you” so quickly after her hubby pays her a compliment.

The hard ‘t’ Honey Bunny puts on “Pretty smart.”

The accurate sound design of Pumpkin putting his gun on the table. So many movies pay such little attention to the sound a gun makes simply by handling it.

The soundtrack music switching when the “Music Supervisor” credit appears.

Stealth oner (i.e.: a long take that doesn’t draw attention to itself for being a long take): The opening shot of Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) in the car goes on for a glorious 51 seconds.

One of the reasons the film works so well is that Tarantino physically lets the actors talk how real people talk. Example: The line isn’t, “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?” Technically, it’s, “You know what they call uhh, uhh, uhh a Quarter Pounder with Cheese uhh in Paris?” Those stammers feel real.

Vincent keeping his right hand up against his stomach. Gotta stay close to that gun.

Stealth oner: Vincent and Jules’ foot massage banter is captured in one shot lasting 2 minute 41 seconds.

“It’s like, if you were gonna take your buddy’s wife to a movie or something.”
There’s something about the simplicity of that line that has always struck me. A great, succinct way to make a point.

Jules silently instructing Roger to put his legs back up on the couch.

Speaking of which, Roger is played by director Burr Steers, who made the great Igby Goes Down and the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Always loved that there is a slight echo in this apartment. The kind of echo you hear when you don’t have much furniture or anything on the walls, which is the case with this shithole.

Jules subtly revealing his weapon when he finally asks Roger where the shit is at.

Vincent’s admiration during this exchange.

Vincent getting ready during Jules’ Ezequiel 25:17 speech. Yeah, they’ve been here before.

I mean really, who introduces a character with a two minute, nearly dialogue-free reaction shot? Such a bold choice.

I love that Paul (Paul Calderon) gives Vincent and Jules drinks without them having to ask. How did he know that Jules wanted beer and Vincent wanted coffee? He just did.

“Then what’d you fuckin’ ask me about it for… (barely whispering) asshole.”

I have no idea why Vincent hates Butch (Bruce Willis) so much, but I love that he does.

This is my favorite camera move in the film. The way the camera pans gracefully on Butch’s shocked and offended face as Vincent walks away. The efficiency of movement, “Let’s Stay Together” on the soundtrack, Willis looking directly into the lens – chills.

The way Lance (Eric Stoltz) calls out to Jody (Rosanna Arquette) before opening the bedroom door.

The barely-there sound of a heartbeat right as the needle punctures the skin.

The flash white transition of Vincent reading Mia’s (Uma Thurman) note, to him walking inside her home.

The slightly ajar backdoor.

I love everything about Vincent’s behavior in the Wallace home. The way he takes a nice long whiff of the scotch, how he leans politely against the fireplace… it’s excellent character choice after excellent character choice.

Vincent waving his finger to himself as he strolls through Jack Rabbit Slim’s.

Vincent’s sincerity when he asks, “You know any of them old jokes?”

“I don’t see Jayne Mansfield, she must have the night off or somethin’.” 
My second favorite line of the film. Kills me.

Mia’s devious grin when she says that Tony Rocky Horror “Fell out of a window.”

Love how bored Buddy Holly (Steve Buscemi) is in the background. Great actors always stay in character.

Vincent clapping his hands before he starts dancing.

The first time I saw this movie, when the dance scene slowly began fading out, I yelled, “No, no – keep going!” THAT’S the sign of a great sequence.

This flawless shot composition.

Shower curtains being used as regular curtains. Hey, whatever works.

Amazing stealth oner (length: 1 minute 22 seconds). Starts with Jody in bed, moves to the living room where Lance and Vincent argue about the adrenaline shot, ends with Lance unable to find his medical book. So much going on.

Rosanna Arquette’s amused expression.

I love that Mia is in a tee shirt now. Oh, hey, sorry we had to shove a giant needle into your heart, but here’s a crusty tee so you don’t have to go home wearing your bloody shirt.

Captain Koons (Christopher Walken) glancing politely at Butch’s mother when he mentions Butch’s dead father.

The insane grumbling noise Butch makes as he walks to the ring.

Love that Jules has seemingly already been replaced by Paul. When a man’s gotta walk the Earth, a man’s gotta walk the Earth.

Love this little nod to Taxi Driver. My two favorite films, linked side by side.

Stealth oner: Butch’s entire conversation in the phone booth takes place in one shot lasting 1 minute 4 seconds.

Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) getting pissed at Butch for doing a stupid voice. That’s such an honest moment between a couple.

The camera slowly pushing in as Butch begins to look for his watch. Great way to build tension.

Butch flipping out about Fabienne when he’s alone in his car. Every guy has done this.

I love when characters see something important before the audience does. The longer the shot is held on their face, the better. What’s he looking at?! What’s he looking at? Voilà.

With the exception of Mia’s nosebleed during her overdose (which she caused herself), this is the first moment of bloody violence in the film. It’s 92 minutes into the movie. Sorry, I’ll just never understand why some people think Pulp Fiction is one of the most bloody and violent films ever made.

By far my favorite line of dialogue in the movie.

(Also, great nod to Psycho, another of my favorite films of all time.)

The sound design of this chase scene is incredible. Light traffic, a woman wailing in pain, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) struggling – it’s always felt so real to me.

Tarantino has said that the hillbilly rapists in Deliverance were a direct influence on his choice to make Maynard and Zed rednecks in Pulp Fiction. Yet another reference to one of my all-time favorite films.

This entire sequence has been discussed a lot (including on this site), so I’m not going to harp on it here, but I wanted to share that this whole set piece is the most influential bit of filmmaking I’ve ever seen. I first saw Pulp Fiction when I was 10 years old, and although I was already a movie nut, no scene had toyed with my emotions more than Marsellus and Butch’s time in Maynard’s shop. From curiosity to fear, panic to dread, horror to confusion, understanding to triumph – no scene in the history of film had fucked with me more than this one. In 13 minutes, my entire scope of film was redefined. I had no idea you were allowed to do what this film did. The only other times I felt something this profound from a film: the final shootout in Taxi Driver, the opening to Persona, and the binge in Shame.

“What happened to my Honda?” 
“I’m sorry baby, I had to crash that Honda.” 
I love this exchange. He had to crash it. Fucking hilarious.

This poor bastard’s (Alexis Arquette) confused expression as he listens to Jules recite Ezequiel 25:17.

Jules’ high pitched voice as he’s rushing Marvin out of the apartment.

“Yeah and I bet you $10,000 he laughs his ass off.”

The clever use of reflection here.

Arguably my favorite moment between Vincent and Jules. I love the way Jules flips out on Vincent, then regains his composure and makes it clear that, while he respects Vincent, you simply do not fuck up a man’s hand towel. And Vincent’s pouty response, “Just go handle your friend, I don’t care,” is just perfect.

The briefcase just chilling on the washing machine.

The Wolf (Harvey Keitel) at a hotel casino party. Keep in mind, it’s still really early in the morning, probably around 8 a.m. Did this party start early, or has The Wolf been there all night?

Jules’ shocked reaction (“You sendin’ The Wolf?!”), mixed with Jimmy’s (Quentin Tarantino) nervous reverence, tells us everything we need to know about The Wolf. He’s as respected as he is feared, even though that is never explicitly mentioned. THAT’S excellent storytelling.

The Wolf’s humble appreciation of Jimmy’s serious, gourmet coffee.

“Out of my way, Rex.” 
Would love to know if that dog was there by accident, or placed there on purpose. That’s the type of shit I’m fascinated with.

Hey everyone, look, it’s Pat! (Actually it’s Julia Sweeney, famous for her character Pat on Saturday Night Live in the ‘90s).

The stereotypical La Cucaracha music playing in the coffee shop kitchen.

Recognize the coffee shop manager’s (Robert Ruth) voice? He’s also one of the sportscasters commentating on Butch’s fatal boxing match.

Forever in love with this extended Jules perspective shot.

The way Jules sees Vincent’s with his peripheral vision. So perceptive.

“Jules, you give that fuckin’ nimrod $1,500 and I’ll shoot him on general principle.”

This focus rack.

Few closing shots match these two bad motherfuckers strutting out of this diner.


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  1. There's so many things about the film that I love. That shot of the Wolf drinking the coffee and realizes how fucking good it is in his glance to Jimmy is my absolute favorite moment of the film. Lotsa cream, lotsa sugar. It's one of the definitive films of the 1990s and even though it took me 2 years after its theatrical release to finally see it. If you were a teen during that time and had seen the film, you'd quote that shit to death. It's one of these films that sort of brings cliques together in school because it's so fucking good.

    1. Dude, your final two sentences are SO on point. That was my friends and I in middle school. If we found out that another kid "got" a Pulp reference, then we were automatically friends with them. So, so true.

  2. I couldn't love this post any more. Every single item on the list is pure pleasure.

  3. Wow. Like, I need to rewatch Pulp Fiction right now. This is all your fault (and I thank you for that, and for yet another amazing and detailed list)! Do you think Pulp Fiction would be as universally loved if it were released in 2015?

    1. Haha nice!

      Well, that question is almost impossible to answer, because cinema literally changed after Pulp Fiction. That film changed the entire landscape of American independent cinema, which in turn affected the entire film market.

      What I'm trying to say is that so much of what we love about film from the past 20 years is because of Pulp Fiction. So if Pulp was released today, that means nothing it influenced would have been released either, right? So, by that rationale, yes, I think the film would be as universally loved. Because we still would not have seen anything like it before.

  4. Damn... that was absolutely spectacular to read!!! Once again, phenomenal writing as always. I'm super excited now for Kill Bill Vol 1 and Death Proof. Also, do you think the controversy surrounding Tarantino will at all hurt The Hateful Eight's chances at the box office, as a fan I can't help but scared and worried.

    1. Thanks so much! A Death Proof fan, huh? I love that movie.

      No, I don't think the baffling ignorance of the police will hurt The Hateful Eight. Two reasons: 1, QT has been laser sharp in his rebuttals to their threats. 2, these internet controversies have a very short life span, and the film is still nearly two months away from being released. So I think it'll be all good. But the behavior by the police really is shocking.

    2. You're welcome and oh yes, the second Tarantino film I ever saw first being Kill Bill :) such an under rated film and also criticized far too much. And, well I will confess that I am on Tarantino's side with his views and I do hope that this will be the case.

    3. I think it's criticized far too much too. It's an exploitation film! I don't think too many people "got" what he and Rodriguez were going for there. But, then again, you either dig exploitation films or you don't.

  5. Awesome list! I actually just watched Pulp Fiction for the first time about a month ago. I admit, some of the hype was a little lost on me only just watching it now, but your list was so cool and made me realize it's more awesome than I give it credit for! Definitely such an interesting film with a lot of small subtleties (which I LOVE in movies!)

    1. Thanks! I hear that a lot from people who are just seeing it now for the first time. All good, makes total sense. But back in '94, this movie changed movies. So many films that have been released since were directly influenced by Pulp. So I always think it's important to remember that context :)

  6. Excellent post as always. I love that you pointed out the shower curtains, and that it doesn't get bloody until 92 minutes in the film. That's certainly something people don't talk about enough, because the film is often described as brutal.

    1. Thanks Brittani! I mean, people are allowed to have opinions about how violent any given film is. All good. I've just seen soooo many more films that blow the violence in Pulp away. But annnyway, I'm so glad you like the post!

  7. Great film. Definitely one of Tarantino's best. One of my favorite little details about the movie is that the coffie shop owner is just credited as Coffie Shop in the credits because he get's cut off as he speaks: "I am not a hero, I'm just a coffee shop--". Now that is attention to detail. I can't wait for The Hateful Eight now. I watched about half the trailer before turning it off because i really didn't need more to get pumped for that one.

    1. Love that Coffee Shop credit. And I love Lawrence Bender's "Long Hair Yuppy-Scum" credit as well. Sooo excited for The Hateful Eight.

  8. "The Wolf’s humble appreciation of Jimmy’s serious, gourmet coffee." - I love how you can see Jimmy smiling and enjoying the compliment :)

    Also there is this :)

    1. Gotta love The Wolf. That man has weight.

      Haha yeah I love that credit. I didn't mention it here because, clearly, people talk about it a lot!

  9. As usual, you've made want to rewatch a great movie. Lots of great moments pointed out, here. I couldn't imagine watching this at 10 years old, though. My entire world would've been altered. Great post!

    1. Thanks Wendell! Today, it does seem crazy to say that I watched this when I was 10. But man, at the time, it was completely normal to me. I was watching everything by then, you know?

  10. I always feel like the long takes from Pulp Fiction aren't discussed enough. And also, WOW, this time around you really did something fantastic. This might be your best Things I Love About post, so far. I always was kind of interested to see your favourite films get a post of this kind.

    Also what I want to mention (this might be a spoiler) about Pulp Fiction is that weapon of choice scene when Butch takes all the weapons that we later see in Tarantino's other films (and also the car crash that is a nod to Death Proof).

    1. Thanks Budai! Really glad you dig the post. A little confused by your final sentence though - you're saying the car crash in Pulp is a nod to a future film? Or that the car chase in Death Proof is a nod to Pulp Fiction?

    2. I'm saying that Tarantino probably has a bigger plan in his mind then we think. I'm not sure if he really had all in mind when he made Pulp Fiction or that he has nods in every of his films. Time probably will reveal.

  11. Another spectacular post--you always outdo yourself. I love your attention to detail in the opening scene. I'm going to have to re-watch this very soon :)

  12. This is one of the couple movies I saw a couple summers ago that instilled the desire to expand and just ignited that fire that is under my butt now. No lie, when I first saw this I watched it each of the next four days as well. It might be cliche for someone my age to use Tarantino as a gateway, but whatever. As long as I didn't stop at the gate.

    A couple of my favorite parts off the top of my head:

    Jules stares down Brett as he sucks down the last of the tasty beverage.
    Then right after that when he calls Roger Flock of Seagulls.

    "Oh, that 'what now'."

    When Vincent just keeps on walking around Jack Rabbit Slims instead of stopping at their table and then Mia has to call him back.

    The way Fabienne says "blueberry pancakes". Just saying this to one another can give me and my sister fits of laughter.

    How the "non-essential" dialogue actually comes up later (Royale with cheese). This just makes me happy. Yeah, it's a funny conversation to quote, but it is so cool that it comes back up, and you're like "Wait, Jules didn't even know that five minutes ago..." Just great. Kind of similar to the Dude re-using "to use the parlance of our times" after he hears Maude say it, just so he can sound smart.

    "I think I cracked a rib."
    "Giving me oral pleasure?"

    When Vincent is trying to drag Mia into Lance's house and Lance keeps resisting, so Vincent just drops Mia on the ground so he can get in Lance's face.

    "I gotta -- I gotta stab her three times?"

    When Butch finally gets back and has trouble coaxing Fabienne into leaving. This is just one of my all time favorite scenes. Like you mentioned, the dialogue is really free. A few times Butch kind of starts saying one thing and then switches to another phrase. I love that he corrects her two times to tell her it's a chopper, not a motorcycle. And when she starts crying because she was worried and he seems not to care the she was worried, so he tells her he's fine and asks her about breakfast (didn't it seem so meaningless earlier when they had the breakfast convo) and that reassures her and makes it all okay.

    When Jules calls Vincent the n-word when he gets the towel bloody.

    Yolanda's dialogue when she yells to the customers is different the second time we see the scene.

    That you can totally see Vincent pull the trigger when he shoots Marvin.
    And then how totally calm he is about the situation, and he only gets upset when Jules makes it seem like a big deal.

    "Is that better, sugar pop?"

    Vincent's laugh when Mia tells her corny joke.

    Just one of the best ever. So much to make note of. I wish I could watch it for the first time again.

    1. Yessssss, I LOVE this comment. I love all those things you wrote, and even had a few of them in my first draft. But I didn't want the thing to be too long, you know? I love every minute of this film. I could write about it for days and days. So happy you're such a fan.

  13. "Motha…fucka.”
    By far my favorite line of dialogue in the movie."

    I was watching this again recently, and was wondering, whatever happened to Ving Rhames? I know he's still acting, but how is it that he never really had a bigger career after this? He's great in this movie. That line you highlighted, the line itself isn't anything special, but it all comes from his amazing voice, and delivery. Other gems include:

    "That's priiiiide fuckin' with you. FUCK pride!"

    "Oh, no fucking shit, she'll freak. That ain't no kind of answer. I mean, you know her, I don't. How much? A lot or a little?

    It's that deep voice of his, so cold, and blunt, that really sells these lines. Rhames is one of those character actors who you think could almost be the person he's portraying, that's how convincing he is.

    One other thing no one really talks about is Marcellus being on his way to Butch's apartment just before he's hit by Butch's car. He's carrying two coffees. One for himself, and the other for Vince. That means he's not just putting Paul or someone else on this job, he's personally taking it upon himself.This also shows the huge consequences that are a result of Jules deciding to retire; If he's still in the game, he's the one who is at the apartment, not Marcellus. Meaning he likely doesn't decide to go on a coffee run, letting Butch get the drop on Vince. Jules retiring ultimately results in Vince's death, and Marcellus's rape.

    1. Okay. Wow. This is brilliant. Your final paragraph is pure, unadulterated bliss. I've been in love with Pulp Fiction for more than 20 years, and I've never looked at that sequence that way. But you're so right: if Jules doesn't quit, the rest of that stuff likely doesn't happen. Incredible insight, thank you SO MUCH for sharing it here.

  14. Thanks! I can't take completely credit for it, though. I remember once reading a book that discussed the movie, and they mentioned the little titbit about Marcellus. But it makes sense. He probably doesn't think Butch is actually going to show up, but he goes just in case.

    What's also interesting is how Fabienne mistakenly forgetting the watch also dooms Vince, since she's the reason Butch goes back to the apartment in the first place. It makes me think back to when Jules and Vince witness the "miracle". Jules is changed completely by the experience, but Vince is derisive, and as Jules puts it, "blasphemes". Later, Jules decides to retire, meaning Vince loses his partner. And when Fabienne forgets the watch, Butch shows up, and kills Vince. It's as if God has intervened and is punishing Vince for not acknowledging the miracle. And it has been speculated that Marcellus is the Devil, what with the combination of the briefcase being 666. So in rejecting Marcellus (Satan), Jules lives. In rejecting God, Vince dies. And, possibly saves the lives of Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, since Jules lets them go, when the old Jules likely would have killed them.

    1. I get a little lost whenever religious subtext is assumed about a movie. If that makes sense. I see the fun in entertaining those notions, but I don't really buy into them. I mean, this of course depends on the movie, but I've never really "gone there" concerning Pulp. Still, I love that so much is left open and that we're able to interpret it so many different ways.

  15. Great work! It's such a rewatchable film, and it's easily one of my favorite screenplays of all time. I've not seen it in a few years, so it's probably time for another look.

    1. Thanks man. This has been my second favorite film of all time for a long while. I never, ever tire of it.

  16. shit, that was Alexis Arquette? Always reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld!

    1. Haha! I love that confused look Alexis has during the scene.