No Pulp

Dan Friedman

Quentin Tarantino is a craftsman who knows exactly what he wants and Kill Bill suffers from this certainty from first blow to last. By labelling it ostentatiously and deliberately "Quentin Tarantino's 4th Film," Tarantino taunts us with his brief oeuvre, even as he quotes a vast cinematic history. Over the course of those four films, America has come to understand that it is the quoting, rather than what is quoted, that is most important. When Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs were released, the usual conservative critics decried the violence and the relentless grind of sensationalism that permeated them. Gradually though, critics and audiences recognized the expert formal expression of Tarantino's love of film as well -- the stylized violence, dialogue, sets, the discussions of the daily dross effortlessly joined with biblical exegesis, LA film buff allusions and existential angst.

Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown were excellent films, but what made Pulp Fiction a great film was its ability to be both "pulp fiction" itself and also comment in a profound way about the genre and the profound drives that surround our desire for the greater and lesser thrills of everyday life. It is a dimestore novel and also a sophisticated cultural critique of it, all in compelling cinematic form. For example, when Samuel L. Jackson's character talks about Cain walking the earth he is alluding to the Kung Fu movies, to the biblical story, to his own friendship with John Travolta's character, to the rootlessness of the perception of movie stars, to the need to atone for his actions as a hit man, and, probably, much more. The levels multiply, the questions mount.

Clearly Tarantino still has Pulp Fiction on his mind. As well as re-casting Uma Thurman (who co-wrote Kill Bill with Tarantino, based on notes first developed during the Pulp Fiction screening), he even has her allude to the earlier film - for example, to the magical square of white post-production dots that she traces in the air as she says "Don't be a ..." in the earlier film while she and Travolta are outside Jack Rabbit Slims restaurant. (This time however there is no dotted white line to magically appear as she draws it.) Kill Bill also echoes Pulp Fiction in its use of literary models, here the explicitly literary convention of chapter headings for its intertitles. Rather than moving fluidly through the various circular chronologies of the component stories like Pulp Fiction, however, the intertitles merely punctuate the inexorable and single-minded drive for revenge that is the sole motivation in Kill Bill. The multi-levels of Pulp Fiction are here reduced in number and sophistication; where the earlier film began with the American Collegiate Dictionary definition of "pulp fiction" and proceeded to challenge, critique, and reinvent it, Kill Bill states, in its title, its only reason for being.

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Image: Andrew Cooper, Miramax Films

November 2003

Niles Goldstein

France and Antisemitism
Michael Shurkin

Jay Michaelson

No Pulp
Dan Friedman

Raphael Cohen

Koby Israelite
Matthue Roth

Josh's Jewish Reminders
Josh Ring

Our 390 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
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From previous issues:

Why We Still Need Beethoven
Michael Shurkin

Holocaust Video Testimonies
Dan Friedman

What is Charlie Kaufman Doing?
Dan Friedman