A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

Watching Pulp Fiction again -- I don't know how many times I've seen it but it feels like a lot -- I'm struck by how much the film is about language. In a way that's appropriate, given that it was nominated for seven Oscars but won only for the screenplay by Tarantino and Roger Avary. And certainly language comes to the fore in the way the film tramples on taboos like the f-word and the n-word, which are repeated so often that you're numbed to the expected shock. And then there's the great biblical tirade by Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), extrapolated from a passage in Ezekiel and repeated three times to make sure we get the point that Jules is some kind of prophet. And of course there's the familiar pronouncement by Vincent (John Travolta) that the French call a quarter-pounder with cheese a Royale with cheese. But throughout the film characters encounter semantic problems, as when Jules asks Brett (Frank Whaley) what country he's from. The puzzled Brett asks, "What?" thereby provoking Jules's response, "'What' ain't no country I've ever heard of. They speak English in What?" Or when Esmeralda (Angela Jones) asks Butch (Bruce Willis) what his name means, and Butch replies, "I'm American, honey. Our names don't mean shit." Or when Pumpkin (Tim Roth) calls out, "Garçon! Coffee!" and the waitress (Laura Lovelace) corrects him: "'Garçon' means boy." Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) have even decided to give up robbing liquor stores because they're owned by "too many foreigners [who] don't speak fucking English."  For Pulp Fiction's characters language is a means of establishing dominance, as when Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) refuses Vincent's request to say "please" when he's giving orders. It's also a way of establishing intimacy: When Vincent brings Mia (Uma Thurman) home after she has overdosed, she finally tells him the silly joke -- a pun on catch up/ketchup -- that she refused to tell him earlier. So maybe Pulp Fiction isn't exactly about language -- it's also about violence and God and a lot of other things -- but I don't know of many other recent films that are so memorable because of it.