(This is an extended preview of the PopRox column running in Sunday’s Pocono Record. Why now write about this now, you ask? Because Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction will be playing in one-night revival shows at Cinemark Stroud Mall next week.)
In 1993 I was 18 and barely had any serious experience with movies.
I knew more than most people, but that’s only because I watched TV, especially HBO, all the time. All. The. Time. But I rarely watched classic movies and didn’t pay much attention to who wrote or directed anything.
That’s when I went to college and started hanging around other people who watched just as much TV as I did, and watched just as many movies. More, actually. One night, probably around 2 in the morning or something like that, my buddies Big Daddy and Ron asked me a question that changed my life.
“Have you ever seen ‘Reservoir Dogs’?”
Not even close. Never heard of it. I was told it came out in the fall of 1992 — 20 years ago this season, and it was written and directed by some nerd I had never heard of before, Quentin Tarantino.
“It only played in New York City,” they said. “But it’s on video. You gotta watch it. Now.”
I didn’t watch it that night, but I did watch it the next night. Then I immediately watched it again because I couldn’t really process what I just saw. Was it real? Did I just watch the movie I’d always hoped I could watch, but never thought I would? Did someone just take all the best parts of Good Fellas, mix them together with the kind of dialogue I always wanted to write if (back then it was “when”) I wrote a movie and actually dissect Like a Virgin in an educated manner? Like how my buddies and I sat around for about 45 minutes the night before talking about Boner’s impact as a whole on Growing Pains?
Yeah, I did.
The next night, I rented True Romance and couldn’t believe what I was hearing these people say. The words coming out of their mouths were like profanity-laced poetry beamed to my ears only. Even as an 18-year-old, I could tell it wasn’t as tight and focused as Reservoir Dogs, but you knew for sure the same guy wrote both movies.
Same guy. Quentin Tarantino.
And so began my love affair with everything Tarantino was doing. I read the scripts. I tried to write the script myself for Reservoir Dogs while watching the movie, just to get in the habit of writing a perfect script. I’d check Golden Girls repeats every day to see if it was the one where he had a before-he-was-famous extra role as an Elvis impersonator.
And then came Oct. 14, 1994, the day I saw Pulp Fiction. Yeah, I still remember the date, even though it’s misprinted on the poster I still have hanging on the wall of my bedroom.
That’s when I moved from Tarantino follower to Tarantino superfan. Like George Wendt talking about Mike Ditka. “Tarantino versus a hurricane? Tarantino.” It remains the greatest movie theater experience I’ve ever had, that day with seven of my friends at the Wonderland 4 in Lancaster, when we skipped whatever late afternoon classes we had so that we could make sure we saw the first showing. That meant a few of us slyly getting out of tests and paper presentations. We walked out of the theater dazed, but beaming with smiles.
I’ll go to my grave saying this — there has never been a film as influential on the entire movie industry as Pulp Fiction. Forget about the fact that it inspired a string of copycat impersonators that mostly were done horribly (2 Days in the Valley) though sometimes done brilliantly (Magnolia).
Focus instead on the fact that it was the first truly independent movie to make any kind of major box office splash. Because of Pulp Fiction, studios started looking at independent movies as possibly money-makers made on the cheap, reigning in the movie budgets that were getting out of control.
Because of that, we didn’t have to travel to New York or Philly to see something like Leaving Las Vegas, Fargo or Chasing Amy. All of a sudden, these movies were playing at our local cinemas right next to the flavor-of-the-week studio movie you’ve secretly seen 25 times before, just under a different name.
It officially ended the original soundtrack era of movies, much to the dismay of Kenny Loggins, by using older, mostly forgotten tunes in perfect situations. Go ahead. Name a good, original, popular, soundtrack since Pulp Fiction. I dare you. Be warned, if you say Titanic, you may no longer read anything I ever write again, ever. The best I could come up with is Garden State, Once and Empire Records. Not exactly a murderer’s row. there was only one original song — and it was a remake.
But mostly, it gave a new generation of filmmakers — the ones who grew up like me, watching TV and movies and listening to music all day — a voice and a chance to play with the studio film boys. They can all thank Tarantino. If George Lucas or Martin Scorsese or even Orson Welles is the grandfather of independent cinema, then Tarantino is the dad who took in about 50 foster children and tried to guide them down the right path.
The torch may have been loaned, but it was never passed. Even though he doesn’t get the same attention he got in the mid-90s, he still holds the title of America’s Greatest Filmmaker while ceding Scorsese the title of America’s Greatest Film Ambassador.
His greatest gift, though, was and still is making people like me care about movies and demand better from Hollywood for the outrageous amounts of money we spend on them.
Thank you, Quentin. You honestly changed the course of my life.