How ‘Pulp Fiction’ Changed Movies and the Fate of Its Stars

pulp_fiction title

Twenty years ago, a 30-year-old high school drop-out named Quentin Tarantino walked away from Cannes with the Palme d’Or, the most prestigious film honor in the world, and overnight everything changed.

Tarantino ushered in the VCR Generation of filmmakers — young men and women (though it was mostly men) in their late-20s to early-30s who worked in video rental stores and grew up consuming movies on tapes, absorbing prodigious amounts of film knowledge without film school, without picking up a film textbook. They learned about movies by watching movies, and those scrolling tracking lines on bulbous tube television were like the podium behind witch their professors — Hitchcock, Scorsese, De Palma, Fellini, Godard, Kurosawa, the masters of world cinema.

Quentin Tarantino has, against the odds, become a ubiquitous presence, so it’s a little difficult ascertaining just what, exactly, made Pulp Fiction unlike anything that came before it. (He’s the most studied filmmaker in the UK.) Tracing its influence is at once easy and infuriating, since its influence has slipped and seeped into every crevice of seemingly every American film in the last twenty years. Tarantino brought film theory to the MTV Generation.

The amalgamation of New Wave music, New Wave movies, disco, death, gimps and vulgarities, and the basso profondo of Ving Rhames shouldn’t have worked — it should have been a Frankenstein mess with its unsightly seams glaring in the bright light of the big screen. But Tarantino draws attention to the seams, like a biology professor tracing the scars of a recent dissection in front of his lecture hall; he’s usurping expectations of American audiences by injecting shots of European adrenaline — the good stuff, from Amsterdam.