I'm not a die-hard fan or anything, but I am currently writing a little something that involves Pulp Fiction, and while I have seen that film multiple times, I had never before seen two of Tarantino's early films, True Romance and Natural Born Killers, both of which he wrote (although QT told Rolling Stone back in 1994 that NBK had basically been rewritten by Oliver Stone, who directed). In any case, I watched both of these movies recently, and then I rewatched Pulp Fiction after reading an entire host of scholarly and critical readings of these films. I can't say that I totally enjoyed myself while doing this, but I offer some things I noticed while revisiting the early 1990s.
Although everybody makes a big deal about Vincent Vega being in the bathroom for so many scenes in PF – Sharon Willis, for example, offers (and I don't totally disagree with her) that "the bathroom anchors a dense nexus that connects blood and violence to anal eroticism and smearing, that permits delicate intersections of aggressive soiling impulses with tense efforts to consolidate, to clean" – Tarantino uses exactly this same scenario in the final shootout in True Romance, in which Clarence White is in the bathroom talking to his mentor–Elvis when the Sicilians, the police, and the drug dealers all shoot each other. Indeed, Alabama kills James Gandolfini in the bathroom of the motel where they’re staying. The bathroom, to be sure, is not a standard location for crime films or for the well-made play (although there is at least one key scene in a bathroom in Point Blank), but the bathroom shows up rather a lot in Tarantino’s version of the gangster flick.
This film has just as much pop culture pastiche in it as the rest of them. The characters in TR cathect through pop culture. They fall in love by talking about movies, form relationships by discussing Elvis fandom (as Clarence does with a total stranger at one of the many burger joints he visits), and characters establish trust by trashing movies they both hate. The characters fall in love while talking about Sonny Chiba. They connect with one another not because they are particular people – we really know nothing about who Alabama is (except that she is from Tallahassee and is a call-girl) except that we know or think we know that she likes specific pop-culture products. In truth, I wouldn't even remember anymore which pop-culture products these characters liked unless I had made notes. I remember Sonny Chiba, of course, because he comes up again and again in QT's work, but the thing is that it doesn't much matter which objects these characters like; it's arbitrary.
* * *Natural Born Killers is almost nothing like a Tarantino movie. It’s an enormous satire on television media. What is, perhaps, ironic about this is that, although this movie got pulverized for being some kind of indication of the way movies have just gone too far vis-à-vis violence, the film is, in fact, about television. It cites Married… with Children and those true crime shows explicitly.
There is one similarity between NBK and PF – the phony backgrounds through which the cars drive. In both movies, it is obvious that the backgrounds are movie screens. This is, I would say, without thinking much about it, a kind of internal reference within the film, to the fact that the characters themselves understand themselves as stars of the films of their lives, to the way they make sense of their own worlds through movie-culture. These are characters who believe themselves to be characters.
Otherwise it is rather hard to believe that Tarantino even wrote this thing. It really has very few of his themes and (to my mind) showcases few of his obsessions. As much as NBK appears to be in on its own ironic jokes, I don't think it actually is. The irony all feels pretty forced here. It's as though someone who takes himself very seriously (Oliver Stone) is trying to loosen up a little.
I mostly hated this.
Oooo. But I liked Tommy Lee Jones. He was over-the-top and very funny.
* * *
I've seen PF a bunch of times, and I am actually writing about it for something that I want published, so I won't say too much here, but, two things:
QT uses his someone-in-the-bathroom-while-a-shootout-is-happening thing twice in PF. It happens in True Romance, it happens at the house where Jules and Vincent kill the three boys, and then it happens again when Honey Bunny and Pumpkin hold up the Denny's or Spires or whatever it is.
For me, Pulp Fiction mostly holds up – it's been 22 years since it came out! I still like the "Gold Watch" section the best, and the stuff with Samuel L. Jackson continues to be a highlight. But I also continue to be bored by the Mia Wallace section. I find that whole section so phony. Not that any of the dialogue seems natural because it doesn't, but the Mia Wallace section seems especially writerly or contrived or arch to me. I find that entire sequence to be bloated.
On The Hateful Eight.
On Django Unchained.