Sunday, March 06, 2005


Have to see this film

Seeing a move isn't usually what I would think of as an accomplishment (exception: Shoah). Nor is failing to see a movie. Exception: Pulp Fiction.

I have never seen Pulp Fiction. No, I didn't forget to see Pulp Fiction. No, it's not that I'm some sort of total culture nerd who failed to realize that his life would be so much better if he saw Pulp Fiction. I decided not to see Pulp Fiction.

I chose not to see Pulp Fiction because I thought I wouldn’t like it. I was thereupon subjected to the most intensive peer pressure campaign I have ever experienced. Everyone said "you have to see Pulp Fiction!" "You have to see Pulp Fiction!" "You have to see Pulp Fiction!" Every time I demurred, saying, "I don’t think I’d like it," I’d be treated to lengthy explanations of why it was so great. Here is why, I was told, I just had to see Pulp Fiction:

It has this great twisted, time chronology thing.

It was written and directed by Quentin Tarrantino, who made Reservoir Dogs – which was totally violent, but really great. (Never saw Reservoir Dogs).

The really violent stuff is off screen.

The part where you see the brains splatter is actually very well done.

It’s really funny.

You can’t look at Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘do and not laugh.

This is John Travolta’s comeback movie – his career was dead, and now
he’s back, and it turns out he really can act.

I pondered the cumulative force of these arguments, and reconsidered my position. Nope, I’m not gonna see it.

But people just wouldn’t let it alone. I was cajoled. ("C’mon, if you go, I’ll see it again.") I was offered irresistible quid pro quos – if I would see Pulp Fiction, my cajoler would do something with me that I liked but that was truly unpalatable. ("You, know, I’ll watch... well, what’s some TV show you really like that sucks?") I was threatened with a collective judgment of terminal uncoolness.

I may never know how many people tried to pressure me into seeing Pulp Fiction. I do know it was more peer pressure than I experienced over how I had to smoke cigarettes, get drunk, do drugs, have sex, or buy the new Lynyrd Skynrd album – only one of which, it turns out, was something I really had to do.

Fast forward to the present. Happily, peer pressure to see movies isn’t what it used to be. Maybe it’s because I’m older, or maybe because there is so much competing entertainment that is trendy and technological, or maybe because people nowadays take that peer pressure energy and direct it into their cell phone conversations. So only a handful of people are telling me, "you have to see Million Dollar Baby."

I’ve put two and two together from bits of conversation with people who’ve seen and are now recommending Million Dollar Baby. The basic story is sort of Requiem for a Heavyweight meets Requiem for a Dream (the latter a relentlessly horrific and utterly depressing film about drug addiction in which everybody ends up practically dead). I think I probably wouldn’t like it.

The lead argument is that Hilary Swank is the must see. This is commonly expressed in the form of "I have a lot of respect for Hilary Swank as an actor." It’s funny how several people put it this way, being sure to work in the word "respect." Was something said at the Oscars that put "respect" in everyone’s mind when thinking about Hilary Swank? Has Hilary Swank complained publicly that she "don’t get no respect"?

Anyhow, I’m sure Hilary Swank is terrific. I saw her in Boys Don’t Cry. Well, I saw her for the 15 minutes I watched that movie, before deciding, "I get the idea – I know where this is going to end up, having been told by everyone who said I had to see the film – and I don’t need to see it." It seemed like she was well on her way to turning in a terrific performance. I’m not against movies that feature an A list actress playing ugly in a gritty, realistic drama. I’m sure Charlize Theron was great in that other movie I had to see, but am not gonna, Monster. Nor do I have anything against gritty movies that present unstinting looks at the ugliness of our world. I thought The Pianist was a terrific movie. (What won Best Picture that year? Why, Chicago, of course.)

I’m not dissing the genre, or the actors, though maybe I do mean to dis Clint Eastwood, a man who has successfully played the expectations game without setting out to: I think he’s hugely overrated as a filmmaker and actor because folks who’ve followed his career for a long time had accurately pegged him as a pretty face who couldn’t really act, and they certainly never would have expected him capable of directing a respectable movie.

I’m pretty certain I’m right about Pulp Fiction. I wouldn’t like it. Paradoxically, I can’t know for sure unless I actually see the damn thing. In which case I of course won’t like it, and then I have to settle for the grim satisfaction of going around telling everyone that in fact I didn’t like it and how do they plan to compensate me for two hours of my life I’m never getting back? No, it’s better to have that two hours. In my experience, when I have yielded to the "must see this movie" against my better judgment, I find that I was right about 90% of the time.

Those odds are a pretty good basis to stick to my guns. Million Dollar Baby will go into the box, where I keep Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs and, indeed, Quentin Tarrantino’s entire oevre, along with Raging Bull, Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood’s other "classic"), that whole slew of 1980s-90s mobster movies like Goodfellas, the last 90 minutes of Boys Don’t Cry, Monster, and several others.

If you saw somebody with a complex, compound fracture of a limb, you’d have reason to say, "You know, you really have to get someone to take a look at that." But "Have to" and "see that film" really don’t belong in the same sentence.


[apologies if this comment publishes twice; blame it on blogger.]

I am so in agreement with your thoughts here. I've passed by a number of "you have to sees." However, upon occasion, I've been pushed into seeing a must see and I've eaten my hat afterwards. A suggestion: rent must sees on a dvd and watch the first ten minutes, like you did with Boys Don't Cry. Just in case. Or, do as our friend in common does: buy the damn things, keep 'em on your shelf and every time someone says "you have to see this" you just answer -- I know, I already bought it -- it stops people dead and you walk away with a smug smile, like a man of good taste.
English Nerd Perspective:

I first saw Pulp Fiction about 10 years ago because a roommate told me that it was a "you have to see this" film. I hated it. I can't stand Travolta, who seems to have one film persona whether he is acting as a too-smug villain or an endearing but smug protagonist. He sneers.

Then I took a class on Modern Critical Theory, and we watched the movie just after reading "The Wasteland." Pulp Fiction actually has kind of a cool reverse-Grail narrative thing going on that makes it at least intellectually interesting. To damn the film with faint praise: it is an interesting interpretive exercise.
I haven't seen Pulp Fiction either. And it didn't make the references to it in the Simpsons less comprehensible.

In the immortal words of "Anthology of Interest II" (Futurama, a show you really must see, by the way): "You've watched it! You can't un-watch it!"
You say you'd rather have the two hours than watch the movie. I'll bet that you spent more than 2 hours crafting your essay on why you won't see Pulp Fiction. What about those 2 hours? It's a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]