Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino: A Unique Example of An Auteur Film
An auteur film is a production, that is considered to express the imagination and creativity of an individual, this usually the director. “A Certain Tendency of French Cinema”, was published in 1954 and promoted Truffaut’s belief that a small number of directors were elite compared to the others. He put forward the idea that the auteur leaves their own identity on the work rather than simply moving what is on the script to the screen. “Unlike the mese-en-scène the auteur is considered the main creative force behind the film”, (Buckland, 2003, page 85). Some famous auteurs are, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and Tim Burton. This essay will analyse Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film, Pulp Fiction and consider it as an auteur film.
Pulp Fiction can be considered as an auteur film, this is because director Quentin Tarantino has a unique style which is difficult to replicate. Some of his trademarks are the use of strong dialogue, unconventional storytelling, the use of black and white and extreme violence. Additional common components of his films are cameras shots such like Mexican standoffs, long dance scenes and violent awakenings.
A reoccurring theme in Tarantino productions is presentation of pure emotion often leading to violence in contrast to addressing the situation from a more rational and ethical point of view. ‘Here’s a director who’s been let loose inside the toy store and wants to play all night’ (Ebert). A true auteur often features the same cast and Pulp Fiction is overflowing with traditional Tarantino quirks, one being he used some of the same actors as before. Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Samuel L. Jackson are all examples of this, Harvey Keitel is Mr.
White in Reservoir Dogs and Winston “The Wolf” in Pulp Fiction. Sam. L. Jackson is a part of Pulp fiction, Kill Bill vol. 2, The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained. Uma Thurman is another favourite of Tarantino appearing in the Kill Bill double and Pulp Fiction. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Tarantino himself has some on screen time in most of his films. This is seen in Pulp Fiction where he plays the character named Jimmy. The use of aliases in his films like “Honey Bunny” and “Pumpkin” in Pulp Fiction and “The Bride” in Kill Bill and “Mr Black”. “Mr Pink” and “Mr Orange” in Reservoir Dogs is another unique aspect of his productions. The use of a Mexican standoff creates huge tension and as mentioned is a common sequence Tarantion uses, it can be seen at the end of Pulp Fiction when they are in the diner.
It is also used in his other film Reservoir Dogs before a bloody shootout between the gang members beings. A “Big Kahuna Burger” is prop used in Pulp Fiction when Jules takes a bite of the man’s food and then shoots him. It also features From Dusk Till Dawn and Quentin Tarantino fans will recognise this reappearing item in his productions.
A key factor put forward that suggests Pulp Fiction is an auteur film is the narrative structure. Tarantino has an unconventional way of storytelling it consists of a non-linear plot where the narrative is out of sequences and is not in a chronological order and there are multiple interconnecting separate storylines. Throughout the film certain characters from different narrative strands appear in another person’s story. ‘The end scene in the diner is one moment where plot elements come together to give the spectator some glimpse of a narrative logic and thereby make them think they’re in control of things.’ (Dana Polan, Pulp Fiction). Quentin Tarantino, ‘What I really wanted to do was make a novel on the screen, with characters who enter and exit, who have their own story but who can appear anywhere.’.
Retrospective storytelling is used during Reservoir Dogs, the use of flashbacks offers the spectator vital information and help the narrative to progress. With regards to Kill Bill the plot is told in five different chapters in both of the films and in Jackie Brown the story is from serval people’s points of view. The majority of his films begin with an establishing shot of the characters along with some dialogue and then it cuts to the title of the movie along with some of the film credits It is these unique elements of Tarantino’s production’s that anchors the idea that Pulp Fiction is an auteur film and Tarantino is a truly great auteur.
Pulp Fiction consists of the typical use of camera shots and camera movements, such as, close-ups, over the shoulder, medium shots, pans and high and low angles, and it is because of this traditional approach Tarantino is able to keep the narrative flowing. During Pulp Fiction there is an iconic conversation between Vincent and Jules relating to the act of massaging a woman’s feet. This strange topic is something almost all Tarantino film includes. Close up shots of Mia’s bare feet are shown multiple times during Pulp Fiction. An example of this is the barefoot dance scene between John Travolta and Uma Thurman, when they are out for dinner one evening. Once they return to her house following this meal we are later greeted once more with a slow-paced camera shot of her feet as she walks to make a drink.
An extreme example of Quentin Tarantino recycling this particular material is when Salma Hayek’s toes are in Tarantino’s mouth in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), there is also another scene in From Dusk Till Dawn where Kate Fuller had her feet on the dashboard of a car. An extreme close up camera shot of Melanie’s feet also feature in Jackie Brown, as does one feature in Inglorious Basterds where the man is taking of the women’s shoes. Furthermore, during Kill Bill Volume Two there is a fight scene where Uma Thurman ultimately ends up pulling out one of the characters eyes and the scene ends with a stomach-turning image of her standing on the eyeball and it squeezes through the gaps in her contaminated toes.
Often the immediate thought regarding a Tarantino’s film is the extreme violence it contains, displaying Tarantino’s want to alarm his spectator. For example, the extremely intense scene in Reservoir Dogs where one man cuts off the police officer’s ear and the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent unintentionally shoots Marvin in the head resulting in Jules and him plastered in blood and brains. Also, Mia Wallace’s drug overdose in Pulp Fiction. The violent awakening scene that follows due to her drug overdose is also used in Kill Bill Volume 1 after the main protagonist who is once again played by Uma Thurman is woken in hospital by an insect stinging her. This highlights how Tarantino often repeats particular elements in each of his films and how it is correct to Consider Pulp Fiction (Tarantino 1994) as an auteur film. Pulp Fiction, ‘has a distinctive tone, that mix of menace and humour that is thrilling and frightening at the same time, a tone that came to be known as “Tarantinoesque”’. (Waxman, 2005 page 57).
Pulp Fiction is jammed fully with intertextual references and many will go amiss to the observer. There is the reference to the 1960 American film Psycho. It is here Butch, whilst driving meets Marcellus crossing the road, similarly to Psycho. The scene where Samuel L. Jackson powerfully offloads a passage from the Bible is Tarantino paying homage to the 1973 Japanese martial arts film Karate Kiba as it is almost identical to the passage recited at the begging of that film, (Rindskopf).
In relation to European arthouse cinema there is recognition of the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978), also starring Christopher Walken. ‘Pop culture’ references feature during Tarantino’s productions, Madonna is mentioned in Pulp Fiction when Butch’s girlfriend Fabian, is talking about her belly and says that it is like Madonna‘s ‘when she did Lucky Star’. She is also mentioned in Mr Brown speech in Reservoir Dogs. Charlie Chaplin is spoken of in Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino pays homage to Travolta dancing in Grease (1978) and Saturday Night Fever (1977).
Other significant elements Tarantino recognised from other films and tailored to fit his production while directing Pulp Fiction is male rape scene from Deliverance (Boorman, 1972) he mirrors this through Marcellus’s horrific rape scene. Furthermore, the intertextuality of Uma Thurman and Louise Brooks “Quentin is extraordinary at homage. He pays homage to other people’s words and vision. He can re tool other words, put it to his own pentameter, bring his own voice. Quentin can take material on the page, or on the screen, and pump a whole new perspective into it”. (Waxman, 2005, page 22).
During Pulp Fiction there is recognition to comics and cartoons, such as when Marsellus is introduced and the trunk shot of Vince and Jules and uses of vivid colours. ‘Like Reservoir Dogs (Pulp Fiction) is stylistically shot in neo-cartoon style, with massive distorting close-ups offset by attractively angled shots. The effect again is of a hard, closed, rather linear world.’ (Amanda Lipman, Sight & Sound, Nov 1994).
Another frequent characteristic of Tarantino film is the dialogue characters use. Often it contains swear words as this gives off a more real-life effect. The Dialogue in Pulp Fiction is realistic. It is individual to each character also comedic without actually containing jokes whilst it lays the groundwork for future scenes. This comedic aspect is show in Pulp Fiction, when the two “bad” characters debate the difference between American and French burgers and is also shown in Reservoir Dogs, one of the villains gets into an altercation with the main boss about his codename being too feminine as it was “Mr Pink”. ‘Most conversations in movies are deadly boring …The characters in Pulp Fiction are always talking, and are always interesting, funny, scary or audacious. This movie would work as an audio book.’ (Ebert).
Another scene in Pulp Fiction John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson dispute if giving a married woman a foot massage should lead to you being thrown of a building. This dark humor is typical of Tarantino film and another example of it is during Reservoir Dogs when the gang is squabbling over if they should leave tip for the waitress moments before they are planning on committing an armed robbery. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs both include a scene where characters are in a restaurant this location in particular is another auteur element used by Quentin Tarantino.
Overall, to consider Pulp Fiction as an auteur it is vital to address the use of multiple actors who are in Tarantino’s other movies such as Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman and the way these unusual narrative paths are structured and extreme scenes of violence is shown in Pulp Fiction are associated with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino establishes his own ideas on his productions. It is the exclusive way he is able to construct a film with his unique approach that highlights how he is a phenomenal director and producer, and an excellent auteur as well.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below