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In 1992, a then-unknown writer/director (and former video-store clerk) by the name of Quentin Tarantino premiered his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, at the Sundance Film Festival, to generally wide acclaim. It starred Harvey Keitel (who had helped get it made after reading the script), Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney and Tarantino himself, and was a tour-de-force, heavily stylized crime thriller where the fast-paced dialogue was laced with pop-cultural references. It felt fresh and very new (and very violent). Miramax – on its way to becoming the dominant independent film distributor of the 1990s – scooped up the rights, and though the film underperformed at the U.S. box office (but still made back more than twice its $1,200,000 budget), it did quite well overseas. That, plus the unmistakable cinematic skills of the not-yet-thirty Tarantino, guaranteed that there would be a follow-up.
In 1994, that second film, Pulp Fiction, premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where it won the coveted Palme d’Or (the equivalent of “best film”). As in his debut opus, Tarantino peopled the movie with low-life criminals with very high opinions of themselves (often expressed through pop culture arcana), and used music in innovative ways to highlight the different moods of the story. Even more innovatively, he shuffled the chronology of the three separate narratives that made up the script, shifting back and forth through time and weaving in and out of different characters’ lives. If Reservoir Dogs had announced the arrival of an energetic new talent, Pulp Fiction showcased the full breadth of that talent, and with its sizable box office – over $200,000,000 globally on an $8,000,000 budget – proved to be one of the most influential films of the decade. It changed the direction of independent filmmaking, both by offering up a brand new vision of what film could be (while celebrating cinema’s past), and by proving that independent films could make real money (Harvey Weinstein, founder of Miramax, famously called his studio “the house that Quentin built“). Not the least of its additional qualities is its amazing cast, featuring John Travolta (whose career was artistically rejuvenated by the film), Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken and many more.
Join us on Friday, June 13, at 1pm, on WYPR (88.1FM), on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show, when Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film/Video, Stevenson University – will discuss, along with our host, Dan Rodricks, our thoughts on Pulp Fiction and Tarantino, 20 years after the film’s release. What has been the film’s legacy, so far? How has the career of its star director fared since then? What did you think of the film then, and what do you think of it now? Add your voices to the conversation via email (email@example.com) or phone (410-662-8780 locally, or toll-free at 1-866-661-9309). If you can’t listen live, then check out the podcast later by visiting the show’s site. You can also leave your thoughts in the comment section of this blog.