Friday, August 4, 2017

Cat's Away: Closing Night

This is the final night of the personal "film festival" I orchestrated while my wife was in America. And boy, are my eyes tired.

And here we are. Closing night.


I can't even begin to tell you how long overdue a viewing of Pulp Fiction has been. This is my fourth ranked movie of all time on Flickchart, and it's a film I saw four times in the theater -- a record that has yet to be broken. And yet it has been at least 15 years since I've seen it. (Delayed fatigue from all the theater viewings, perhaps?) I can only say for sure back to 2006, which is when I started keeping track of rewatches. But I don't recall a viewing since the turn of the century. In fact, I don't recall the context for my last viewing of Pulp Fiction at all.

To put that in a little bit of a context, I've seen every other film in my top ten since 2011, some of them more than once, with the exception of #10 Do the Right Thing, whose most recent viewing was even longer ago than Pulp Fiction. Which is why I also considered that 1989 Spike Lee film for the closing night of Cat's Away, ultimately rejecting it because I wanted something that was a little bit more fun.

It hasn't been for want of trying. As you may recall from this post -- though if you did recall it, I'd probably tell you to get a life -- I had Fiction lined up as a birthday rewatch three years ago. But the DVD we brought from the U.S. did not play in our region-free DVD player, one of only two we've tried that have not worked. I think I actually suggested it again for one of the two birthdays since then, by which point it had become available on one of our streaming services, but at that point it was rejected by my viewing companion as too long. And I can't fault her for not wanting to try to take down a 155-minute movie on what was probably a Thursday night or something.

But one of the defining goals of this festival was to take advantage of her being out of town to watch things she wasn't willing or able to watch, and I told myself that a viewing of Pulp Fiction with her -- despite a professed interest in such a viewing on her part -- was not likely to be forthcoming anytime soon.

So, with one last dramatic gasp, I undertook the longest film of the festival -- and also one of my favorite of all time.

It did not disappoint. There was likely a small part of me that wondered if I would now be "too mature" for Pulp Fiction, if the movie was something that spoke particularly to impressionable twentysomethings who had underdeveloped ideas of what's considered "cool" and nascent ambitions toward cinephilia. Is this a movie I only loved because I was a young male -- just 20 years old -- when I first saw it?

Nope. This is, as you surely know, a relentlessly entertaining reimagining of the possibilities of cinema, and it still feels fresh. Even with all the imitators. Even with all the ways the movies have changed in 23 years. It's still an effort head and shoulders above the others.

It occurs to me that it reminds me, in a strange way, of another groundbreaking piece of art from 1994. Namely, my favorite album of all time, Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. Every time I listen to that album it feels newly fresh, and I often think to myself that it would still seem groundbreaking if Trent Reznor released it today.

Pulp Fiction is the same. And I noticed on this viewing just how not-cool this consummately cool movie sometimes is. For all that John Travolta's Vincent Vega has become an iconic cinematic figure, in some ways a new definition of cool that Quentin Tarantino introduced to us, he's also an incredible dweeb. Twice he is found to be obliviously sitting on the toilet when an incredibly important event involving guns is unfolding just yards away from him. And as much time as he spends in that black suit with that pencil thin black tie, he spends almost as much time wearing shorts and a tee-shirt that make him look like he's going to a volleyball game, as one character observes. As another character (Tarantino himself) observes, he and Jules look like "dorks." Tarantino was both establishing what it means to be cool and completely undercutting it, all in one character.

A few other stray observations:

1) I've talked in the past, in this post about Run Lola Run, about how a movie can be so good that you feel like you want to cry, even in moments that are not overtly emotional. The one time I did that in Pulp Fiction? "Any of you fucking pricks MOVE and I'll execute every last motherfucking one of you!" Yeah, maybe that's because I knew "Misirlou" was about to kick in. But more than anything, Amanda Plummer's batshit crazy change of character was that moment that announces the movie's greatness. A greatness it never dials back down for the rest of the running time.

2) Kathy Griffin is the bystander who tells Marcellus Wallace about the guy who hit him with his car. I can't believe Kathy Griffin gets to say she was in Pulp Fiction!

3) I love that The Wolf is at some kind of black tie house party at 8:30 in the morning. Just as Brett and friends are awake eating hamburgers at 8. What kind of lives do these people live?

4) Do you think Butch saves Marcellus from Zed, Maynard and the Gimp because he just can't stand to see a man treated that way, even his sworn enemy, or because he calculates that by saving Marcellus he can remove the price from his head? Or just that he now has a taste for killing and sees another low-risk opportunity to explore that? I always assumed it was either the first or the third, or both, but for the first time this viewing I wondered about the middle option. For the record, I think I reject that idea, but it did occur to me.

5) Tarantino orchestrates chaotic conversation scenes beautifully. I marveled over the conversation between Vincent and Lance as Lance is trying to find the little black medical book. The timing in that scene is great. So much fun.

6) I appreciated on this viewing how the movie explores unspoken intimacies between men and women, after first laying out the thesis directly in the dialogue. I'd always thought that conversation about the foot massage and Tony Rocky Horror was just an exercise in linguistic flourish by QT -- a very welcome one, make no mistake, but essentially frivolous and disconnected in nature. But this time I really noticed how the movie profoundly, soulfully, explores non-sexual intimacy between men and women, first with Mia and Vincent on their date (most notably when they dance, but even when they shake hands goodbye), and then with Butch and Esmeralda Villa Lobos, who share something ephemeral but incredibly deep during their taxi ride. I even liked the paternal intimacy, another form of non-sexual intimacy, between Harvey Keitel and Julia Sweeney in that brief scene at Monster Joe's. And then in the final scene, the film explores pure and unabashed love, both between Pumpkin and Honeybunny, and between Jules and his God. At its core, Pulp Fiction is romantic, explore all varieties of love and intimacy that almost never express themselves sexually. Even the one consensual sex act in the movie, between Butch and Fabienne, is sweetly tender.

I'm sure there's plenty more to say but that's probably a good place to stop.

With this post. With this festival.

But wait! I have to do this quickly. A complete recap of the films I watched, in order:

The Tribe
Train to Busan
Kong: Skull Island
Hall Pass
Pan's Labyrinth
Citizen Kane
A Hologram for the King
Harry and the Hendersons
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
The Shining 
Room 237
Pulp Fiction

That includes:

- Ten movies that were new to me
- Eight rewatches
- Fourteen movies in English
- One movie in Spanish
- One movie in French
- One movie in Korean
- One movie in Ukrainian sign language
- Eight movies from the 2010s
- Two movies from the 2000s
- Four movies from the 1990s
- Three movies from the 1980s
- One movie from the 1940s
- Nine library rentals
- Six movies from streaming
- Two movies from my own collection
- One iTunes rental
- And a variety of different genres and styles


Can't get enough Cat's Away? Then you really have to get a life. But you're also in luck!

My wife goes away for about the same period of time in the middle of September. So watch this space for Cat's Away 2 ... coming next month. Where I figure out everything I did wrong in this one and get it right next time.

Now, I think I will take a break from this blog for the weekend.


Don Handsome said...

Funny. I've NEVER considered reason #3 for Butch saving Marcellus. I've always thought it was #1 or #2 and I lean towards 2. I think Butch is looking for a clean get away. He would have had that if he let Marcellus die. But part of the cleansing for Butch is guilt. So #2 is most definitely in play. Butch as burgeoning psychotic is not a path I want to go down.

Cats Away 2 is when you realize that Do The right Thing IS fun.

Derek Armstrong said...

That's the triple truth, Ruth.