If you want something approaching the genuine article, a ‘Bad Mother Fucker’ wallet will still cost you upwards of 15 quid on Amazon. It has been 20 years since Pulp Fiction was first released, but owning one will still (I’m assuming this has always been the case) save you from a fine if you are pulled over by the police. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where it won’t.
It’s unlikely I’ll ever have to, of course. Pulp Fiction was a watershed moment for cinema and, perhaps just as significantly, an immortal contribution to pop-culture. Even if we have stopped exclaiming when our burgers are tasty, or claiming that the task at hand warrants shotguns, we all know what ourphilosophical stance on the sensuality of foot massage is, and that we never, ever, want to be in a situation where an adrenaline shot is required to kick-start our heart, or worse still, a situation where we may be required toadminister one.
However, Pulp Fiction should be celebrated for more than just its stylish aesthetic, tense drama and punchy dialogue. While Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs enjoyed a profitable release, it was the staggering commercial success of Pulp Fiction that became his most salient contribution to the film industry during the ‘90s. It was pivotal in establishing the commercial viability of art film, and, besides being an important inductee into the annals of postmodern cinema history itself, paved the way for other like-minded independent films, prominent examples being The Usual Suspects and Boogie Nights. In fact, the influence Pulp Fiction has had on contemporary postmodern cinema over the past 20 years is tangible, informing tense dialogue-driven masterpieces such as Heat, through the devilishly clever crime-caper Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, right up to present day with features like Seven Psychopaths, which at times feels like a (pale) pastiche of Tarantino’s style; all this without mentioning the critical and commercial success of Tarantino’s own follow-up projects. It is this contribution to cinema that led Roger Ebert to call Pulp Fiction ‘the most influential movie of the decade’, not to mention the episode of Community dedicated to it – proof of its pop-culture credentials, if they were ever in question.
After Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s status was assured, but it also catapulted several stars into the limelight – Samuel L. Jackson, who had never had particularly prominent roles until this point, became an overnight sensation, and John Travolta, whose career had slid so far that playing a talking baby became his most regular gig, was reinstated as one of the coolest cats in the Hollywood gang. It was also a significant vehicle for Uma Thurman’s and Ving Rhames future careers; Mr and Mrs Wallace certainly leave an impression. What’s more, these were utterly deserved successes – I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jackson as good as when he’s Jules Winnfield, and part of me always wanted to believe that the point at which Jules Winnfield ended and Samuel L. Jackson began didn’t exist. I can’t be the only one. The chemistry between Thurman’s coked-up Mia Wallace and Travolta’s heroine-headed Vincent Vega is superb, and strips away all the pretense that could have made their Twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s an excruciating scene and that’s largely down to their performances (though the music in that scene is arranged perfectly too). However, it’s when Jackson and Travolta are together that they’re at their best; for hit-men they make an incredibly disarming duo.
Personally though, I just fucking love it all. Tarantino et al brought the world an astounding selection of anti-heroes (anti-heroes may even be too generous for some of them), whose virtues barely shine from under the grimy circumstances that surround them. There are elements to all of the characters that we recognise or understand, and yet they remain enigmatic without exception. From beginning to end Pulp Fiction flexes its meta-theatricality, from Jules’ assertion that it’s time to ‘get into character’ and Mia’s ‘don’t be a [square]’, to its layers upon layers of allusion and cinematic pastiche. I love the wonderfully played dramatic tension that courses throughout its intertwining threads: without Jules and Vincent’s carefree camaraderie as they drive across town, the scene where they collect the briefcase wouldn’t be nearly as taut; without the cocktail that is Mia and Vincent’s relationship, her accidental overdose wouldn’t be nearly as gripping.
As far as I’m concerned, Tarantino didn’t waste a single frame. For that, I’ll happily drink to Pulp Fiction’s 20th anniversary. I may even splash out on a $5 ‘shake.