Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 35: Dance Good

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Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with a discussion of one of the best years in cinema, 1994, and his brother Ryan’s favorite films; Pulp Fiction.

In the course of my 40+ years on Earth I’ve been incredibly lucky to see several of what are considered the best years in Cinema history. I’m sure the people slightly older than me (but younger than 50) will very much argue for 1985 being the absolute best in our lives. With films like Back to the Future, Clue, Commando, Weird Science, and, yes, The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, it’s hard to argue against them. For me though, and maybe for Ryan as well, 1994 would be the landmark “Best Year of Cinema” of our lives.

A year that includes Forrest Gump, Leon: The Professional, Stargate, The Lion King, True Lies, Speeed, and Ed Wood would probably already raise some eyebrows in excitement. But, when you add in personal favorites like The Crow, Clerks, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Interview with a Vampire (A Ryan fav but a no from me), and PCU, we’re really cooking. In fact, I could list twenty more films, easily, that I believe we’d both admit to loving dearly at one time or another, a lot of which we would still occasionally bring up. There’s even one specifically terrible film we’d talk about at least once a year (Hi, Street Fighter!).

But, really, for me, there’s just one film from 1994 that makes it the greatest year in cinema history, and that’s The Shawshank Redemption. Since the day I first watched it, it has been my favorite film of all time, and I cannot imagine anything ever dethroning it. For Ryan though, 1994 saw two films that would become perennial favorites, both written by the same man and one specifically that he directed. The first is Natural Born Killers. The second is Pulp Fiction. And of course, the man is Quentin Tarantino, Ryan’s favorite cinema auteur. As I said a few weeks ago, I’ll maintain that The Breakfast Club was my brother’s favorite film of all time, even if he’d argue otherwise, but I’m sure Pulp Fiction is so close behind it that I’d hate to have to live on the difference.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A nice playlist of 40+ movies that were released in 1994, MOST are still discussed or remembered close to 30 years later. Enjoy the vibes of 1994 via this trailer mega mix tape…

What’s really funny is that even though 1994 produced literally dozens of our all-time favorite films, being only 15 at the time we didn’t see most them in theatres. We probably didn’t even see them on their initial home video releases. I know for a fact that’s the case with the three I just mentioned. I can’t say for certain when Ryan first saw Killers or Pulp Fiction, but I know I didn’t see either until he’d owned them on VHS, which probably wasn’t until 1996 at least, possibly ’97. And I didn’t see Shawshank until my senior year of high school when I made its cable premiere on Showtime.

I do remember that Ryan would talk incessantly about Tarantino around the time I was graduating high school (he dropped out in what should have been his senior year). Eventually, I caved and sought out everything he’d been telling me about, and, here’s a shocker for you, I wasn’t a fan. Especially of Pulp Fiction. Even worse? I still don’t dig it that much.

I’m almost certain that’s a camera we got for Christmas one year. And that I took this picture with my camera. Chris Nolan had nothing on us.

I think the movie shines in a few spots, particularly when it’s Vincent and Jules’ antics together. I think Bruce Willis turns in a performance that is so essentially Bruce Willis that it’s hard to argue any of his moments. I think the bookending scenes are pretty excellent, even if they don’t quite match up. But, there’s a lot in the middle, especially the Mia/Vincent stuff, that just…well, it’s not my bag. I guess Mia would say that makes me a square. Ryan loved it all, though; he adored Uma Thurman, one of his biggest screen crushes.

Somewhere in our shared storage unit is the one-sheet movie poster, which if you know your posters is much larger than a regular poster you’d buy at some retail store. It usually had a place of prominence in wherever he called home, from the day he acquired it. He’s also got some Kill Bill merch, including a standee of the Bride (that would be Uma) somewhere. I don’t know if Pulp Fiction was the beginning of his love for her, but I’d wager good money on it. The Pulp Fiction poster though…well, like most pop and film enthusiasts around the time, it had a special hold on him. He loved seeing tribute images, and mock-ups that artists would do online with different characters posed in that style. Sadly, he only owned one homage to it for his own collection though, and that was courtesy of me.

A few years before he passed I was at a small comic book convention in Atlanta, Ga, and came across a copy of Incredible Hulk #441. It wasn’t a cover I was at all familiar with, and seeing it was clearly a homage to my brother’s beloved movie I pulled out my phone and texted him a picture. Within seconds I got a call asking where I was and if that was the actual comic or just a print. I gave him the scoop and told him that I was happy to pick it up for him if he wanted it (I was going to buy it anyway). The answer was an enthusiastic yes, and as I started to hang up I noticed that the issue was actually signed by both the writer (Peter David) and artist (Angel Medina). It had a whopping $15 price tag on it, and now we were both even more excited. I quickly paid before the dealer had a chance to second guess the price and went about my way.

These days it’s housed in his daughter’s room, framed and hanging on her wall. Shortly after he passed away we decided to go through his comic book collection so that she could pick out the things she wanted to keep close. I know she recognized the fact that it was an homage cover, but I don’t know if she knew the further significance of it. She also scoffed at keeping the giant Pulp Fiction theatre poster in her room, electing instead to go through some of his CD cases and pull out the inserts and paper her walls with those.

Ryan in his cancer year, out to dinner with my Mom (right) and a friend. Shortly before this he’d been staying with me and introducing me to Tarantino.

None of this really has anything to do with the movie itself, or the reason I decided to rewatch it.

As I said, it’s not a film I really like all that much, not as a whole, but it’s been on my mind since I brought it up while talking about The Breakfast Club. I also wanted something that I knew pretty well, that would remind me of him, and that maybe wasn’t so emotionally charged for me. There might not be a film that fits that bill better than Pulp Fiction.

There are things (besides the bookends) that I do really enjoy in the film. The soundtrack, for starters. I think it’s maybe one of the best collections of the late 20th Century, along with the soundtrack to Forrest Gump, which was its biggest contender (and ultimate victor) at the Oscars that year. Every song is perfectly placed, with the added bonus of having some of the dialogue peppered between the tracks if you’re listening to it.

I also enjoy all of the performances, even if some of the set pieces irk me so much that I have to fast-forward past them. It’s easy to point to Travolta and Sam Jackson, or even Bruce and Ving Rhames as really good turns, but I really dig the smaller bits; Frank Whaley’s five minutes as Brett, Walken’s weird monologue as Captain Koons, Keitel stealing Travolta & Jackson’s thunder when The Wolf enters the scene, and (as previously mentioned) Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer as Pumpkin and Honey Bunny.

Outside of that, maybe what I appreciate the most about Pulp Fiction is the way Tarantino plays with the chronology of it all. Like so many my age, it was probably the first time I’d ever seen anything like that in a film. I should also admit that I saw it as nothing more than an editing gimmick when I was younger, just his way of trying to break convention and stand out. But as I’ve aged and come back to it, probably a dozen times or so in almost 30 years, what I started to see was a way to illustrate something most of us don’t want to think about.

While most of the time our lives feel like a series of events randomly happening, one on top of the other, or even just a series of choices we wind up having to make and hope for the best, the truth of it all is far scarier. It’s not only our choices that affect us, it’s also the choices of the people who we intersect and interact with every day, and the people that they crossed paths with before us, and so on and so forth, that can determine our fates.

Christmas during Ryan’s cancer year, with our stepfather. Yes he’s smoking in doors next to someone dealing with cancer. That’s the world we used to live in, no one second guessed it back then.

It’s Marvin getting shot in the face because Vincent didn’t go into Burger King in Amsterdam. It’s Vincent himself getting killed, because his day took a detour after he shot Marvin in the face, and he’s late getting to Butch’s apartment. It’s Butch killing Vincent and winding up in that basement because Fabienne forgot his watch. Something that couldn’t have happened if Captain Koons had met his ultimate fate before delivering it. It’s Pumpkin getting the sage wisdom of Jules laid out before him because he decided to stop robbing banks and rob restaurants instead, and because Jules’ partner in crime shot their buddy Marvin in the face. It’s dominoes upon dominoes, spread out in a chaotic universe, and no way to predict how or when they will fall.

Sure, we’re not all neck deep in mobsters, drugs, shootings and robberies, but those are just extreme examples. We’re all forces in the lives of people we’ll never even meet, and in some cases, the lives of people who haven’t even been born yet. You can be a force for the light and cause immeasurable pain in the life of someone you’ll never know and you can be a force for the darkness and wind up saving someone from unknowable agony. When those dominoes fall, you’re the only one that has to be okay with the choices you made, and that is absolutely terrifying.

Moving Pictures will be back in two weeks…

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