For my discussion post in my humanities class I talked about the post modernist qualities of the film “Pulp Fiction.”

The Prompt:

In your initial post, select a work of art in any form (visual art, literature, music, film, performance) from the Postmodern era. What ideas, beliefs, or perceptions does that work ask us to question? What “old” ways of thinking is your work trying to push aside? How? Do you think the Postmodern work chose is successful in challenging the ideas of the past? Why or why not?

My response:

Our post didn’t contain alot about postmodernist film. But when looking at the question, film is something I instantly fixated upon. Naturally I went looking for examples of postmodernist film and how could I ever pass up talking about Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic, “Pulp Fiction”? Here is why Wikipedia called the work Post-Modernist:

“The film tells the interweaving stories of gangsters, a boxer, and robbers. The film breaks down chronological time and demonstrates a particular fascination with intertextuality: bringing in texts from both traditionally “high” and “low” realms of art.[1][2] This foregrounding of media places the self as “a loose, transitory combination of media consumption choices.”[1][3] Pulp Fiction fractures time (by the use of asynchronous time lines) and by using styles of prior decades and combining them together in the movie.[1] By focusing on intertextuality and the subjectivity of time, Pulp Fiction demonstrates the postmodern obsession with signs and subjective perspective as the exclusive location of anything resembling meaning.”

Like the Wikipedia entry alludes to, One of the things that is really present inside of the film is the clear lack of traditional narrative structure. The film is shown in a series of pseud-vignettes and they are pieced together to make the final product. Another proponent to the film are its characters. There is no clear, definable protagonist or antagonist throughout the entirety of the film – which raises the questions, “who do we root for?”, “are we supposed to be rooting for someone?” and “With all of this lack of structure or traditional narrative direction, what is the message, if any, we, the viewer, are supposed to take away from this film?”.

I want to talk about the various High and Low art forms that are used within the film mainly though texts. An example for easy picking is Samuel L. Jackson’s speech, quoting Ezekiel 25:17:

 “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you!”

Consider what this film is and the text that the character within this piece is reciting. Jackson and Travolta are essentially hired guns and here we have a character from a seemingly lowly situation giving himself the power of the heavens. A facet of Post Modernism as it relates to all mediums is how the experience relates to the individual rather than how the individual relates or adds to the greater experience. This is a shining example of that. Jackson’s character uses the Bible verse as a sense of direction of his life and it is modified from the start of the film to the end.

And that one speech isn’t the end to the uses of art Tarantino weaves into his film. Take, for instance, the dance scene between Uma Thurman and John Travolta. While i don’t want to call the works of Chuck Berry “low art,” the example is an infusion of creativity from the secular realm. Take a look.\

In addition to the music in the scene, look at how much emphasis is featured on the dancing. Thurman and Travolta do a bevy of popular dances from the 50’s and 60’s and the infusion of their character’s personas and situations mixed with the culture of the time period of the restaurant makes the entire scenes incredibly interesting. Tarantino is putting characters who live in the 1994 world filled with crime, corruption and cocaine into a world of musicians like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holley, actors like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe and then let’s the viewer watch.

There is sexual tension, a bevy of popular culture references and class/gender issues all being discussed (or hinted at) in various portions of this scene. The way Tarantino shoots this scene and the various things the film says are nothing short of postmodernist questions to all of the aforementioned topics.
While i focused on the Vincent and Jules portion of the film more than any other, the same types of questions are raised through the other portions of the film (Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, Wallace and Butch). Also, I focused mainly on narrative structure and didn’t really go into the different shots Tarantino uses. But, in an effort to move on, I want to look at how this film has effected those to come after it.
In terms of story-telling style, many other authors have gone on to use the intersecting vignette style of story telling since pulp fiction. Off the top of my head, one film (series) I can think about is “Paris Je T’aime”. The film was made by an assortment of directors telling short stories about different people throughout the landscape of Paris. None of the stories really intersect, although they are shot (assumable) through the same time period. Take a look:

And there are a bunch of films that have a similar structure to that in modern culture. While I wouldn’t say the style has changed the ideas of the past, it has added to the landscape of how to tell stories. it gives filmmakers other options. Which i believe to be very cool.

Welcome to the empty recesses of my mind! I'm a recent college graduate realizing a Creative Writing degree was a bad idea. Give me a pity like. Or you could check out the about sections (on the front page and about this author page) on my blog to learn a little more about me. Whatever.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you love it? Or am i a complete tool? Any response is welcome!

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