Editor James Moules evaluates the impact Tarantino has had on cinema in recent years.
It’s more than adequate to describe Quentin Tarantino’s entry to the world of cinema as an explosion of cosmic proportions. Few directors in the history of motion pictures have managed to achieve such notoriety, influence so many filmmakers or generate such controversy as Mr Tarantino did back in the early 90s. When he had only a mere two films under his belt, he was already being hailed as one of the greats, as well as attracting an ardent fan following who honour his work like a sacred text. The question of the day is this—what exactly has all this meant for cinema as an art form?
At the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, Tarantino’s then new movie Pulp Fiction debuted. The wildly unconventional and delightfully postmodern picture won rave reviews and took home the festival’s top prize—the Palme d’Or. The presentation of this accolade left many wondering what was to become of cinema in the wake of this film. Many were quick to dismiss the film as nihilistic fluff, others claimed it lacked a moral compass, some that it was too violent and too profane to be considered artful, and others found the film just plain obnoxious.
Although it’s easy to shrug off these criticisms with the power of hindsight, it is still worth noting how much of a blaring wake-up call Pulp Fiction was to film. Crises of originality were rife in Hollywood in the years leading up to the rise of Tarantino—there were generic plots and cardboard cut-out characters at the forefront of almost every major release, resulting in a dire state of affairs where lovers of great cinema were only finding satisfaction in the obscure realms of the independent film world. What Tarantino succeeded in doing, first with Reservoir Dogs, then with Pulp Fiction, was to bring mainstream attention to indie productions. As soon as people realised there were entertaining and original movies out there that weren’t necessarily studio funded, cinema suddenly became a much more interesting place. Thank you, Quentin!
Pulp Fiction’s eccentricities also allowed ambitious directors to toy with what movies were actually capable of doing. The famous non-linear narrative structure, for one, served to prove that audiences were far more perceptive than many Hollywood directors were assuming. When we see Vincent Vega killed in one scene and then alive again in the next, we might wonder what the hell it was we were watching on a first viewing—when the film is revisited, Tarantino’s utter genius becomes all too apparent. Would films like Christopher Nolan’s Memento have been possible without Tarantino? It’s a tough one, I know.
Many film fans today wonder if Tarantino is still the man he was twenty years ago. He still produces quality cinema, no doubt—just take a look at Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained if you want proof of that—but has he lost his touch as an innovator? This does remain to be seen. He certainly hasn’t shaken the boat to the extent he did when Pulp Fiction hit screens in 1994 in all its violent glory, but I’m personally not inclined to dismiss Tarantino as a historical figure still walking—few directors ever achieve what he did with Pulp Fiction. I have doubts as to whether he will ever better his Palme d’Or winning masterpiece, but this really isn’t the point—Tarantino is still going strong, and he still fights for what he stood for when he debuted. He’s an unflinchingly original voice that has opened the eyes of many a cinephile as to what cinema as an art form actually is.
Twenty years later, Pulp Fiction is still every bit as exciting and vibrant as it was at the time of its release. Many cinemas and film organisations (including the University of Manchester’s own Motion Picture Society) have been commemorating its release this year. And who can blame them for wanting to do so? Pulp Fiction is one of the all time great movies, and it thoroughly deserves its illustrious reputation. It’s a once in a lifetime masterpiece that would be an abominable crime to want to avoid. If you haven’t yet seen it do so—it might just change how you see movies.