A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “They Call It Royale With Cheese”. A 25th Anniversary Celebration Of Quentin Tarantino’s Influential & Essential Masterpiece “Pulp Fiction”. It’s A Cultural Watershed That Boasts Groundbreaking Direction, Brilliantly Staged Sequences, Cinematography, Music, Performances & Sharp Trademark Tarantino Dialogue. “Pulp Fiction” Is A Sprawling Crime Film That Remains A Pinnacle Of 90’s POP Culture.
Quentin Tarantino’s name is synonymous in cinema for his trademark dialogue, his lengthy snappy monologues, his flair for choreographing brilliantly staged sequences, his A-list casting and handpicking his soundtracks. 1994 had seen the release of his second directorial effort “Pulp Fiction”, after his stunning debut with “Reservoir Dogs”. While “Reservoir Dogs” got him recognized, it was “Pulp Fiction” that catapulted him from video store clerk to one of Hollywood’s leading writers and directors. It was a stunning achievement, the true definition of brilliance in filmmaking and one that can be defined as a perfect film.
CHAPTER ONE: THE FOUNDATION
“I’M SORRY DID I BREAK YOUR CONCENTRATION?”
The title of “Pulp Fiction” refers to the pulp magazines and hard boiled crime novels popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and punchy dialogue. As Tarantino has showcased in each of his films, he has his own style of graphic violence and punchy dialogue and “Pulp Fiction” is no exception.
Written between 1992 and 1993, Tarantino and his writing partner Roger Avary (Who in late 2008 pleaded guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and other charges stemming from the January 2008 collision that killed his Italian friend Andreas Zini and injured Avary’s wife). The two decided to write a short, on the theory that it would be easier to get a short made than a feature film. But they quickly realized that nobody produces shorts, so the film became a trilogy, with one section written by Tarantino, one by Avary, and one by a third director who never materialized. Tarantino and Avery eventually expanded their sections into a feature-length script.
The original title for the Tarantino and Avary project that would become “Pulp Fiction” was titled “Black Mask”, named after the seminal hard boiled crime fiction magazine. Tarantino’s portion of the script was made into “Reservoir Dogs”, his directorial debut. Avary’s contribution to the trilogy, titled “Pandemonium Reigns”, would become the basis for the “Gold Watch” storyline in “Pulp Fiction” (the storyline that starred Bruce Willis).
With work on “Reservoir Dogs”completed, Tarantino returned to the notion of making a trilogy film. Tarantino said: “I got the idea of doing something that novelists get a chance to do but filmmakers don’t: telling three separate stories, having characters float in and out with different weights depending on the story”.
CHAPTER TWO: THE SCRIPT
“SAY WHAT ONE MORE GOD DAMN TIME! ENGLISH DO YOU SPEAK IT?”
Quentin Tarantino started work on the script for “Pulp Fiction” in Amsterdam in March of 1992. He was joined by Avary, who contributed to the “Pulp Fiction” screenplay and participated in its rewriting as well as the development of new storylines. Two scenes that were originally written by Tarantino and Avary for Christian Slater’s “True Romance” screenplay, which was exclusively credited to Tarantino who wrote the script.
Tarantino had written “Pulp Fiction” out of chronological order. The film’s opening begins with a title card that gives two dictionary definitions of “pulp”. When Harvey Weinstein received the 159 page screenplay, he remarked “What is this, the fucking telephone book?”.
In traditional Tarantino fashion he stages the film into chapters or as acts as they are displayed on screen through title cards (I’ve used his formatting as inspiration for this write-up). He also devotes considerable screen time to monologues and casual conversations with snappy dialogue.
CHAPTER THREE: SHOPPING TO THE STUDIOS
“DON’T BE TELLIN’ ME ABOUT FOOT MASSAGES. IM THE FOOT F’ING MASTER”.
Tarantino and his producer, Lawrence Bender brought the script to Jersey Film, which is run by actor/director Danny DeVito. Before even seeing Tarantino’s debut “Reservoir Dogs”, Jersey Films had already attempted to sign Tarantino for his next project. Ultimately a development deal worth around $1 million had been made: the deal that would be made, was to form Band Apart. It would be Lawrence Bender and Tarantino’s newly formed production company, that would give initial financing and office facilities for Tarantino’s future films.
Jersey Films got a share of the project and the right to shop the “Pulp Fiction” script to a studio. Jersey had a distribution and first look deal with Tristar Pictures, owned by Sony which paid Tarantino for the right to consider exercising its option. In February, “Pulp Fiction”appeared on a list of films in pre-production at Columbia.
In June, however, the studio put the script into turnaround as according to studio executive of TriStar and chief Mike Medavoy, saying they found it “too demented”. There were resistant to back a film featuring a heroin user as one of the lead stars; there were also indications that the studio simply saw the project as too low-budget for its desired star-driven image. Miramax and now ex co-chairman Harvey Weinstein (yep that sleazebag), was enthralled with the script and the film became the first that Miramax had fully financed.
CHAPTER FOUR: FILMING
“YOU MIND IF I HAVE SOME OF YOUR TASTY BEVERAGE TO WASH THIS DOWN?”
To help hold costs down, Lawrence Bender executed a plan to pay all the main actors the same amount per week, regardless of their industry status and star power. The biggest star at the time to sign on to the project was Bruce Willis. Though he had recently appeared in several
big-budget flops, he was still considered a major overseas draw. On the strength of his name alone, Miramax garnered $11 million for the film’s worldwide rights, this helped to virtually ensure its profitability.
Tarantino said an in interview, “We had $8 million. I wanted it to look like a $20–25 million movie. I wanted it to look like an epic. It’s an epic in everything – in invention, in ambition, in length, in scope, in everything except the price tag”. The film was shot on 50 ASA film stock, which is the slowest stock they make. The reason Tarantino used it is that it creates an almost no-grain image and looks lustrous. “It’s the closest thing we have to 50s Technicolor”, said Tarantino.
The largest chunk of the budget which was $150,000 went to creating the Jack Rabbit Slim’s set. It was built in a Culver City warehouse, where it was joined by several other sets, as well as the film’s production offices. In the now iconic scene that featured Thurman and Travolta dancing to Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”. Uma had expressed her voice that she didn’t like the Chuck Berry song and told Tarantino about saying: “It just didn’t sound right”. Tarantino replied: “Trust me. It’s perfect”. And…it was. The dance itself was copied movement by movement from Fellini’s masterpiece “8 1/2”.
During filming Tarantino likes to spread his pop culture totems throughout his movies. Such as: Fruit Brute, a long discounted General Mills cereal. The cereal was of the monster cereal family, along with: Yummy Mummy, Frankenberry, Boo Berry and Count Chocula. Tarantino has held onto an original box of Fruit Brute and drops it into his films. He also creates his own brand of made-up commercial brands, such as: Big Kahuna Burgers. In which a Big Kahuna soda cup also appears in “Reservoir Dogs” and he regularly features Red Apple cigarettes.
Speculation at the time and still is that after 25 years within the films fan community, as to the nature of the mysterious glowing contents of the case, which Tarantino said was simply a MacGuffin plot device. Could it be Elvis’ gold suit, seen worn by Val Kilmer (as Elvis) in “True Romance”?. The most persistent theory is that it is Marcellus Wallace’s soul. The story goes that when the Devil takes a person’s soul, it is removed through the back of the head. When we see the back of Marcellus’ head he has a Band-Aid covering the precise spot indicated by tradition for soul removal. Perhaps Marcellus sold his soul to the devil which would also explain why the combination to open the briefcase is 666.
Quentin Tarantino has said that the band-aid on the back of Marsellus Wallace’s neck had nothing to do with an allusion to the Devil stealing Marsellus’ soul, but that Ving Rhames had cut himself shaving, and used the band-aid to cover the cut. According to Roger Avary, who co-wrote the script with Quentin Tarantino, the original plan was to have the briefcase contain diamonds (with an urban legend that they were the diamonds from “Resevoir Dogs”).
This seemed neither exciting nor original, so Avary and Tarantino decided to have the briefcase’s contents never appear on-screen; this way, each film-goer could mentally “fill in the blank” with whatever struck his or her imagination as best fitting the description. The orange light bulb that projected shimmering light onto the actors’ faces, was a last-minute decision and added a completely unintended fantastic element. In a radio interview with Howard Stern in late 2003, Quentin Tarantino was asked by a caller the contents of the briefcase, and he answered, “It’s whatever the viewer wants it to be”.
No stranger to controversial sequences, “Pulp Fiction” didn’t hold back including the Gimp torture scene. In the scene Tarantino had originally intended “My Sharona” by The Knack to be played during the sequence, but the rights had already been licensed to another film, the Ben Stiller directed “Reality Bites”. Even if the rights hadn’t been licensed, one of the members of the band had become a born-again Christian, and did not want the song to be associated with a scene of sexual violence.
Certainly two of the most popular scenes of the film is the needle in Uma Thurman’s heart, which was filmed backwards as you can see the pen mark disappear. The other being Sam Jackson’s Ezekiel speech. The Ezekiel Bible quote was taken from any early draft of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. As Harvey Keitel’s character was supposed to say it while walking backwards down the hallway, holding the cross as he is facing the vampires.
The scenes featuring Tarantino in his cameo was directed by Robert Rodriguez.
CHAPTER FIVE: CASTING
“THAT’S AN INTERESTING POINT. COME ON LET’S GET INTO CHARACTER”
As with any Tarantino film, his casting choices are always spot on featuring Hollywood’s best actors and actresses. The casting in “Pulp Fiction” is no exception.
- John Travolta as Vincent Vega:
Tarantino cast Travolta in “Pulp Fiction”because Michael Madsen, who had played Vic Vega in “Reservoir Dogs”, chose to appear in Kevin Costner’s western epic “Wyatt Earp” instead. Madsen has since expressed regret over his decision. Producer Harvey Weinstein pushed for Academy Award winner Daniel Day Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”) for the part of Vincent Vega. “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini turned down the offer to star as Vincent Vega and is the one who suggested Travolta. After accepting the role and a reduced rate to star in the film, Travolta had received between $100,000 – $140,000 payday.
The success of “Pulp Fiction” and receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Actor had revitalized Travolta’s career for the second time which found many box office failures. In 2004, Tarantino discussed an idea for a movie starring Travolta and Madsen as the “Vega Brothers”; but the concept still remains unrealized. Quentin Tarantino is an avid collector of vintage television show board games. During filming, he and John Travolta were reported to have sat on the floor and have played the “Welcome Back, Kotter” board game.
In an interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio (1994), John Travolta went into details of the many obstacles of tackling his role as Vincent Vega, the most challenging being that of how he was going to show the essence of his character as that of a heroin addict. Never using the drug himself, Quentin Tarantino had Travolta research his character’s addiction by speaking to a recovering heroin addict that he (Quentin) knew personally.
Travolta asked Tarantino’s friend to tell him how could he know what it felt like to be on heroin (without actually using it, of course). Tarantino’s friend explained “If you want to get the ‘bottom envelope’ feeling of that, get plastered on Tequila, and lie down in a hot pool. Then you will have barely touched the feeling of what it might be like to be on heroin.”
Travolta then explained that he was ecstatic to tell his wife that he was “told” in order to research aspects of his upcoming roles’ character, he had to get plastered on Tequila and lie in a hot pool. He stated she happily joined him at the hotel hot tub, which had shots of Tequila lined from end to end on the railings to assist him in his “research”.
- Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield:
Tarantino specifically wrote the part of Jules with Sam Jackson in mind. Jackson’s audition was the film’s final closing sequence in the diner and his performance had won over Tarantino, getting him the part. His character Jules was originally scripted to wear a giant afro, but Tarantino and Jackson agreed on the Jheri curl wig seen in the final film. Jackson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
- Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace:
Miramax favored Holly Hunter (“Raising Arizona”) and Meg Ryan (“When Harry Met Sally”). Jennifer Aniston was the one actress who narrowly missed out on the role. In what would have been a complete miscasting Julia Louis Dreyfus turned down the role due to her commitment on “Seinfeld”. Alfre Woodard and Meg Tilly were also considered, but Tarantino knew he wanted Uma Thurman after their first meeting. However she turned it down and Tarantino was so desperate to have her, he ended up reading her the script over the phone and finally convincing her.
Along with Travolta and Jackson, Uma was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Despite being launched into the celebrity A-List after “Pulp Fiction”, Thurman chose not to do any big-budget films for the following three years. She would later re-team with Tarantino in “Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2” in 2003 and 2004.
- Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolfe:
Tarantino had written the part of Wolfe specifically for Keitel, who had starred in “Reservoir Dogs”and was instrumental in the films production. In Tarantino’s words, “Harvey had been my favorite actor since I was 16 years old”.
- Tim Roth as Ringo/”Pumpkin”:
Roth had starred alongside Keitel in Tarantino’s debut “Reservoir Dogs”. While he had used an American accent in “Reservoir Dogs”, Roth uses his natural, London accent in “Pulp Fiction”. Even though Tarantino had written the part with Roth in mind, the studio preferred Johnny Depp or Christian Slater. Early in development, Tarantino had contemplated casting Roth as Vincent and Gary Oldman as Jules, rewriting the characters to be “two English guys”.
- Ving Rhames as Marsellus Wallace:
Before Rhames was cast, the part of Wallace was offered to Sid Haig (A regular in Rob Zombie films), but Haig turned down the role. According to Producer Lawrence Bender, Rhames gave “one of the best auditions I’ve ever seen”.
- Eric Stoltz as Lance:
Eric Stoltz best known as the original Marty McFly and as Rocky in the highly acclaimed “Mask”. Originally Tarantino wanted to play the part but he wanted to be behind the camera directing the overdose/needle scene. Gary Oldman ended up being the preferred choice among studio executives, based because of his portrayal of drug-dealing pimp Drexl Spivey in Christian Slater’s “True Romance”, written by Tarantino.
Courtney Love claimed that Quentin Tarantino originally wanted Kurt Cobain and her to play Lance and Jody (played by Patricia Arquette). However, Tarantino denies ever having even met Kurt, much less offering him a part.
- Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge:
Even though Willis was a major star at the time, most of his recent films had been critical and box-office disappointments. By participating in the modestly budgeted film it meant lowering his salary and risking his star status, but the strategy … paid off royally, as “Pulp Fiction”not only brought Willis new respect as an actor, but also earned him several million dollars.
Willis’ appearance and physical presence were crucial to Tarantino. Quentin has said: “Bruce has the look of a 50s actor. I can’t think of any other star that has that look”. Willis worked on the film for only eighteen days. Originally the role of Butch was supposed to be an up and coming boxer. Mickey Rourke turned down the role to become a professional boxer and because he didn’t understand the script. A decision he later regretted. Actor Matt Dillon was in talks to play the role, but never committed. Tarantino then changed the role, and is when Bruce Willis got the part, although he had been disappointed at not being signed to play Vincent (Travolta’s character).
CHAPTER SIX: SUCCESS
“THAT’S A PRETTY GOOD F’ING MILKSHAKE. I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S WORTH FIVE DOLLARS BUT IT’S PRETTY F’ING GOOD”
In the time of it’s release “Pulp Fiction” would be one of the first movies to use the internet for marketing. In doing so it helped “Pulp Fiction” become the third biggest R-rated earner of 1994. The film lost out on the title to “True Lies”, which earned $146.2 million dollars and “Speed”, earning $121.2 million dollars. The film’s earnings were strong enough to place it in the overall top ten for the year, although 1994 was dominated by Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump”, which brought in $329.6 million that year.
“Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” opened on the same date of October 14, 1994. Both were nominated for seven Academy Awards, with “Pulp Fiction” winning for Best Original Screenplay. Both movies gained cult status in the following years, and are listed in the top ten in IMDb’s top 250 movies, as of March 2019.
When the film was released in the UK as a video rental release, some video stores gave away a pack of limited edition “Pulp Fiction” matches. On the back of the packet was a quote from the film “you play with matches, you get burned”.
“Pulp Fiction” not only won an Oscar but also received the prestigious Palme D’ Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It has become one of the most influential films of the 90’s, as it garnered major critical and commercial success. Its development, marketing, distribution, and profitability had a sweeping effect on Independent cinema.
In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named it the best film since 1983 and it has appeared on many critics’ lists of the greatest films ever made. In 2013, “Pulp Fiction”was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by The Library Of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE IMPACT
“THAT’S A BOLD STATEMENT”
“Pulp Fiction”is widely regarded as Tarantino’s masterpiece, as it very well should be. It is often considered a cultural watershed, influencing movies and other media that adopted elements of its style.
Tarantino mixes everything into one perfect package like a royale with cheese!. “Pulp Fiction” is constructed in such a nonlinear way that you could see it a dozen times and not be able to remember what comes next. It tells several interlocking stories about characters who inhabit a world of crime and intrigue, triple-crosses and desperation. Tarantino is too gifted a filmmaker to make a boring movie and this is far from mediocre.
Tarantino’s film boasts a recurring trademark as he has in all of his films. Tarantino boasts groundbreaking direction, cinematography, screenwriting, soundtrack, and performances.
Tarantino has a powerfully suggestive gift for language. He offers actors the kind of dialogue and monologues that are usually found only in live theatre. Tarantino’s scripts has the ability that most screenwriters don’t have, to have all the characters sound different, no character sounds alike. Just do yourself a favor and don’t just watch “Pulp Fiction”, but also listen.
Tarantino’s dialogue is so sharp and witty it’s still being quoted 25 years later. You can feel the confidence within Tarantino throughout the film. Tarantino has become one of the most influential and culturally respected filmmakers. Quentin Tarantino’s sprawling crime film remains a pinnacle of 90’s pop culture, but unlike Mia’s milk shake…it’s better than pretty f’ing good.