Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction Study Guide

After the critical and commercial success of Reservoir Dogs, and garnering considerable studio interest in scripts like Natural Born Killers and True Romance, Quentin Tarantino was one of the most sought-after directors in early-to-mid 1990s Hollywood. Although offered the chance to direct big-budget action films like Speed and Men in Black, Tarantino instead retreated to Amsterdam, where he finished working on the script that became Pulp Fiction. A collection of three stories loosely inspired by the freewheeling structure of modern novels and Mario Bava's three-part horror anthology film Black Sabbath (1963), the final screenplay for Pulp Fiction was the product of Tarantino's collaboration with screenwriter Roger Avary, and has been hailed as one of the lodestones of postmodern cinema.

With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino aspired to revitalize and combine the hoariest cliches and archetypes of cinema, pulling them not only from A-level studio genres like the film noir and the action heist, but also from a diverse range of exploitative, sensationalistic genres that began to emerge after 1970, such as Blaxploitation, the gangster film, and the ultra-violent rape-and-revenge flick. Tarantino's decision to synthesize lowbrow and highbrow elements, often in subversive and anarchic ways, is one of many factors that have led critics to deem Pulp Fiction an example of "pastiche" and a towering exemplar of postmodern film. Its hip soundtrack, hardboiled dialogue, and deft casting helped make the film, like Reservoir Dogs, a hit with both critics and audiences alike.

To make the film, Tarantino and his producer, Lawrence Bender, formed a production company named "A Band Apart," named after Jean-Luc Godard's Bande a Part, the 1964 French New Wave film that inspired Vincent and Mia's famous "twist contest" scene. After being in pre-production at TriStar, the company chose not to option the script, finding its plot confusing and its level of violence off-putting. Harvey Weinstein, who had then just become the co-chariman of Miramax, decided to produce the film, notably making Pulp Fiction the studio's first film to be distributed after having been acquired by its parent company Disney.

Bruce Willis was the biggest star at the time of the film's production, and the release of the film single-handedly helped revive the career of 1970s idol John Travolta. The image of Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace dominated its promotional materials. Tarantino imported the crew he worked with on Reservoir Dogs to help realize Pulp Fiction, which was filmed in 1993 on a budget of $8.5 million dollars. The scene at Jackrabbit Slim's, where Vincent and Mia go on their pseudo-date, was the most expensive to produce. Instead of employing a composer to write a film score, Tarantino assembled an eclectic mix of popular songs—from surf rock, to '70s funk, to British pop—that became a cult hit in its own right.

Pulp Fiction premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to an ecstatic reception in May of 1994, winning the Palme d'Or, and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay the following year. Critics especially praised the way that the complex plot and non-linear structure of the film commanded the audience's intellect and attention, at the same time that its stylishness and unpredictability left viewers thoroughly entertained. Gene Siskel compared the film to previous foundation-shaking works of cinema, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, writing, "Like all great movies, it criticizes other movies."