There are some films which come seemingly out of nowhere to hugely influence the filmmaking of an entire decade. When first-time director Quentin Tarantino stepped up to the plate in 1994 to turn in this retro-cool film noir, he shook the established film industry to its core and made Miramax a production house to be reckoned with throughout the rest of the 1990’s.
Pulp Fiction wove together three separate stories that each dovetailed into each other over the course of a few days in Los Angeles. The film marked John Travolta’s big screen comeback as he played Vincent Vega, a
hitman recently returned from Europe hooking up with his old partner Jules Winfield, played with a fiery intensity by Samuel L. Jackson. Working for mob boss Marsellus Wallace (played by Ving Rhames), the duo would find themselves thrust into several bizarre situations, culminating in a major life change for Jackson’s character after he undergoes what he considers a religious experience. Along the way, the audience is introduced to down on his luck boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), who has to leave town in a hurry after throwing a fixed fight, and the wife of Vega’s boss, Mia (Uma Thurman), who has been entrusted to Vincent’s care while the crime figure is out of town.
Part of what made Pulp Fiction so appealing was the way that the characters seemed to inhabit an almost otherworldly environment, where styles and music from a variety of bygone eras flitted by the screen so rapidly that it becomes difficult to place the exact time period of the film. Combined with incredibly tight dialogue and career performances from Travolta, Jackson and Thurman, Pulp Fiction would go on to win an Oscar for Best Screenplay and force all future crime movies to adopt the same smart, fast-paced narrative that it employed. The final piece of the Pulp Fiction puzzle was violence. Shootings, blood and rape were all used both casually and as sharply defining moments in the film, causing many critics to decry the tone of the movie as one which at times brutalized the audience with graphic images.
Regardless of the politics of American movie violence, Pulp Fiction‘s darkly comedic wit, hugely popular soundtrack and slick gangster cool made it the defining moment in 1990s independent cinema, and sent hundreds of would-be directors on a path that would see them attempt to mimic Tarantino’s story-telling mastery.