Pulp Fiction

Year: 1994
Production Co: A Band Apart
Studio: Miramax Films
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Bruce Willias, Maria de Mederios, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Harvey Keitel, Eric Stolz, Rosanna Arquette, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Whaley, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken

In the last 100 years of film history, there have been very few arrivals of films that have become cultural events of this magnitude. Citizen Kane is one – although nobody knew at the time. Star Wars is another. In fact, that's really it on the scale we're talking about here.

You could argue that Jaws changed the movies (the age of the blockbuster) as much as The Blair Witch Project did (the age of the DIY fan), and as much as Jurassic Park did (the age of digital effects). But not even those three films made the impact upon their release or signalled a sea change of such singularity as this film did, the movie that put the name Tarantino up there with and beyond the purist greats like Kurosawa and Scorsese.

What's easy to forget however is that Tarantino – by admission of everything from the title to his own over-the-top eagerness to anyone who'd listen from press to fans – wasn't doing anything new, but telling a story focused through the prism of cult movies he loved, films that would have a much more direct impact on later works like Kill Bill Vol 1 and Death Proof.

This was, as the title suggests, a dime store mystery story, given startling new life by a nineties sensibility when it came to profanity and violence. It also showcased what would be Tarantino's strongest ability to come – dialogue.

Two henchmen of an alpha male gangster retrieve a suitcase full of stolen loot, drench themselves in blood after accidentally shooting an informer, then go to breakfast in a cheap diner where one of them has a religious epiphany and intends to turn his back on his trade.

That night, the other is given the task of showing his boss' wife a good time on the town, and the next day is sent to the home of a boxer who was supposed to have thrown a fight but reneged on his agreement and killed his opponent in the process.

It sounds so innocuous written in short form, and exactly what Tarantino did to it besides pepper it with some of the most quotable dialogue in movie history is hard to say. It wasn't the first film to play havoc with the structure of the storyline – it actually did the same thing as films like Memento, but in a less showy, gimmicky fashion. The mix-up of the timescale was cool and easy, like the riff of a seventies soul classic.

Maybe the secret is that it's about so much more than the basic storyline described above – maybe so much less, maybe nothing really at all. If you shoot a guy in the back of a car, there's going to be fallout from it, not the least of which is cleaning the upholstery. Who else could make such a turn of events so entertaining with some of the coolest characters ever conceived, like the enigmatic Winston Wolf, a man whose sole calling is to solve problems under pressure?

The Internet Movie Database lists the genres a 'crime/drama'. No other film shows up the shortcomings of tags like 'genre' so clearly. There's romance, a contemporary horror story (complete with torture porn), a crime story, a drama and a comedy all the way through.

None of the characters follow conventions, yet somehow it manages to follow a very classic convention of set-up, conflict, resolution and climax for each character involved. It takes a loosely connected group of people, shakes them up like dice and casts them across a board to see how they all lay when all's said and done.

But the exhilarating structure is only half the story. Every detail is carefully contrived and constructed by Tarantino down to Fincheresque or Wellesian proportions. When films become classics, we realise how not a single word of dialogue or frame of film has been wasted in the crafting of them, an attribute Pulp Fiction shows to an incredible degree.

Every scene and every line both advance the story in a classic sense and unleash another bombardment of what's long been called 'Tarantino-esque' filmmaking – the scattershot, round-table dialogue, the shockingness of violence that hasn't had a typical dramatic build-up and the low-life characters we can't help but love.

He's deservedly become an adjective because the film warrants every superlative you've ever heard about it – in some cases it demands new ones.

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