Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ Shaped Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ Shaped Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’

Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ left its stamp on everything following it. Menus. Radio stations. T-shirts. A legion of films. And so why not a television show as well, namely ‘Breaking Bad’? Jorge Luengo Ruiz‘s newest video shows us, fairly inarguably, the parallels between the film and Vince Gilligan’s auteur-ish show—shots, blocking, general affect, the story of a chemistry teacher’s deranged redemption—so that one might begin to wonder, faintly, when will Tarantino’s influence stop? Will it stop? Hopefully not.

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Shots from Above Put Him in the Center of the Frame

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Shots from Above Put Him in the Center of the Frame

Generally, shots from above serve to belittle the action taking place on screen; they remind us that, regardless of how involved we may be in the events unfolding there, we are all merely ants skittering across the surface of Earth, and the plot of the film is, really, just that. But in Quentin Tarantino’s case, the impact is slightly different. Emphasis is indeed taken off the action on-screen, but it is placed back on… the director. When we see an overhead shot in a Tarantino film, we are reminded that the film we are watching is personally crafted and bears the weight of significant personal investment–it’s somewhat of an auteur’s calling card. In Pablo Fernández Eyre’s latest piece, he takes us through shots in films ranging from Pulp Fiction to Jackie Brown to Kill Bill Vol. 2, to show us the director’s removed control at work.  

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Best Visual Film References… in Three Minutes!

Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Best Visual Film References… in Three Minutes!

It is a well known fact that Quentin Tarantino is a self-proclaimed
cinephile.  But the writer/director’s love for cinema is most obviously
expressed through his own films.  In addition to showing his characters
spending a great deal of time discussing cinema, Tarantino’s films are
jam-packed with homages and visual references to the movies that have
intrigued him throughout his life. 

filmmakers pay homage, but Tarantino takes things a step further by
replicating exact moments from a variety of genres and smashing them
together to create his own distinct vision.  Just like ‘Kill Bill: Vol 2
(2004) draws on ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly‘ (1966) and ‘Samurai
‘ (1998), Tarantino’s work often reflects Spaghetti Westerns and
Japanese cinema–both new and old.  His unique way of referencing other
films allows him to bend genre boundaries and shatter the mold of what
we expect to experience.  While his methods are often criticized and he
is accused of "ripping off" other filmmakers, it seems that Tarantino is
simply writing love letters to the art he is ever so passionate about. 
From German silent-cinema to American B
movies, the following video uses split-screen to demonstrate a few of
the hundreds of visual film references over the course of Tarantino’s
Tarantino Films:
‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)
‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)
‘Jackie Brown’ (1997)
‘Kill Bill: Vol. 1’ (2003)
‘Kill Bill: Vol. 2’ (2004)
‘Death Proof’ (2007)
‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)
‘Django Unchained’ (2012)
Referenced Films (in order of appearance):
‘City on Fire’ (1987)
‘Django’ (1966)
‘Band of Outsiders’ (1964)
‘8 1/2’ (1963)
‘The Warriors’ (1979)
‘Psycho’ (1960)
‘Kiss Me Deadly’ (1955)
‘The Flintstones’ (1960-66)
‘Superchick’ (1973)
‘The Graduate’ (1967)
‘Citizen Kane’ (1941)
‘Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell’ (1968)
‘Lady Snowblood’ (1973)
‘City of the Living Dead’ (1980)
‘Black Sunday‘ (1977)
‘Game of Death’ (1978)
‘Miller’s Crossing’ (1990)
‘Death Rides a Horse’ (1966)
‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ (1974)
‘Samurai Fiction’ (1998)
‘Blade Runner’ (1982)
‘The Searchers’ (1956)
‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ (1968)
‘Five Fingers of Death’ (1972)
‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966)
‘Convoy’ (1978)
‘The Bird With the Crystal Plumage’ (1970)
‘Unforgiven’ (1992)
‘The Searchers’ (1956)
‘Metropolis’ (1927)
‘Django’ (1966)
‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939)
‘The Great Silence’ (1968)
‘A Professional Gun’ (1968)

Jacob T. Swinney is an industrious film editor and filmmaker, as well as a recent graduate of Salisbury University.

WATCH: Why DOES Quentin Tarantino Do Close-Ups in ‘Pulp Fiction’? A Video Study

WATCH: Why DOES Quentin Tarantino Do Close-Ups in ‘Pulp Fiction’? A Video Study

To say that Quentin Tarantino revels in exploitation is not an insult. One can exploit for one’s own gain as well as for the sake of a work. In ‘Pulp Fiction,’ Tarantino exploits everything there is to exploit. He exploits a wallet. He exploits a briefcase. He exploits running shorts. He even exploits John Travolta! He takes these images and figures–which aren’t real by the film’s end, having become refigured by his crazed imagination–and milks them for whatever he thinks their particular power might be. And afterwards, the images, people, actions acquire a rare charge, possibly symbolic, possibly merely electric–the kind of electricity generated when a director reaches out and touches the surface of the viewer’s imagination. And for this purpose he uses… the
close-up shot. Mark Fraser’s video montage shows us these close-ups in detail and, seen this way, their purpose becomes abundantly clear and immanent.

VIDEO ESSAY: Cocaine du Cinema

VIDEO ESSAY: Cocaine du Cinema

For roughly the last one hundred and thirty years cocaine has been the drug of choice for the working class—in fact, for even longer than that, common workers often used it as an energizer. South American indigenous populations in the Andean Region survived centuries of arduous living conditions (rough terrain, high elevations) by chewing on the cocaine leaf; in North America, during the 1890s, African American workers were actually given cocaine by their employers in an effort to help them pummel through the harsh working conditions of railroad construction and mining. The modern world, however, has seen the cocaine drug go down two polar, simultaneous routes: the “crack” cocaine circuit in poverty-stricken inner-cities, and the elite, expensive distribution rings among the rich and powerful urban elite. And in today’s pop culture, cocaine has retained its rebellious status of being an exciting and attractive goad, especially on the silver screen. It’s no surprise that Scarface’s Tony Montana remains a better-known figure than say, To Kill A Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch.

But cocaine’s presence in movies is a tricky object to dissect. It’s never really a MacGuffin. Audiences are very familiar with cocaine’s societal significance. It is, after all, a destructive catalyst in the never-ending, off-camera narrative called The War on Drugs. Still, even with an awful, bloody contemporary history under its belt, cocaine seems to be the “cool” drug for modern cinematic heroes and heroines. Unlike marijuana, which often inspires bum-lazy comedies (Half Baked, Up In Smoke) or heroin, which provokes stark warning-label movies (Requiem For A Dream, Trainspotting), cocaine is usually presented as the “Fonzie” of narcotics: in style and very much the life of the party. Sure, there are the occasional movies offering instructive principles on the perils of cocaine addiction (Less Than Zero comes to mind) but for the most part, movies treat cocaine with zeal and elation. Johnny Depp defined his crime kingpin character with a badass stroll through the airport—with suitcases of cocaine in hand—to the tune of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” in Blow. Uma Thurman snorted some lines of coke in the Jack Rabbit Slims women’s restroom before partaking in a show-stopping dance with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Even when it’s the punch line of comedies (Walk Hard, Corky Romano), cocaine miraculously dodges any serious negative connotation. Cocaine is the naughty drug that no one in the movie auditorium will dare admit to being drawn to—a narcotic pastiche that’s continually expanding its cinematic iconography.

Ultimately, in the movies—as in life—the cocaine-laden screen heroes get their comeuppance. Who could forget Uma’s near-fatal mistaking of a bag of heroin for cocaine in Pulp Fiction? Or Mark Wahlberg almost getting his head shot off during a botched coke deal at the end of Boogie Nights? Strangely, such climactic, nightmarish instances aren’t what moviegoers tend to recall or replay in their heads.  Moviegoers like to remember Tony Montana as a king perched behind his cocaine-piled desk, and not as a dead body floating in a mansion lobby fountain. As on the wretched morning after a wild party, it’s always easier to cling on to the previous night’s happier moment. And for audiences, this may be the safest of vicarious pleasures; a gateway drug to cinematic escapism, without having to face the reality of cocaine addiction and violence.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW which boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System."

“Critical Film Studies”: The Hazards of Reference

“Critical Film Studies”: The Hazards of Reference


“Critical Film Studies,” the 19th episode of the 2nd season of Community, was probably pretty confusing to most fans of the series when it aired in the Spring of 2011. Heavily promoted by NBC as the show’s full-scale Pulp Fiction parody, the episode turned out instead to be a lengthy and rather muted (by the show’s standards) homage to Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre, with only a few Tarantino sight gags tucked neatly away in the periphery. People were understandably disappointed: Community appeared to have traded a spoof of one of the most enduringly popular and widely acclaimed films of the last several decades in a for a more affectionate and high-minded take on a film few in the show’s key demo knew anything at all about. It was, in a sense, an intellectual bait and switch: they promised something familiar but delivered a reference that would prove more substantive, both intellectually and emotionally. 

Though My Dinner With Andre was the toast of the upper-crust New York literati when it was released in 1981, it is now widely regarded by people who haven’t seen it as a movie they’d rather not, ever, lest they become the sort of snobbish intellectuals who regard a film about two guys talking as “interesting” rather than “unendurable”, which they assume it must be. Its reputation has trickled down through pop culture for almost three decades now, and its high-concept setup, of course, has been prime parody real estate for years. One of the advantages of the format is that your audience doesn’t need to be familiar with the film as a whole for the reference click: the novelty lies in recognizing the basic structure–two men meet for dinner and, over the course of an extended discussion or argument, learn more about each other and about themselves–and an un-clever title riff along the lines of “My x With y”. Everything else is context-specific and just sort of writes itself.

A My Dinner With Andre parody is not in and of itself particularly special. Part of the problem is that the format has become a bit of a cliché, but a bigger issue is that lifting the premise of My Dinner With Andre wholesale somehow devalues its content and execution, or at least contributes to the pervading misconception that the film is boring and stuffy and worth remembering only for its setup. My Dinner With Andre is by no means a perfect film, but I’m still immensely fond of it, and it means a lot to me personally for reasons that “Critical Film Studies,” in its own modest way, articulates surprisingly well. It might sound trite (or too typical of a former film student), but I honestly believe that watching My Dinner With Andre for the first time several years ago was something of a life-changing experience, and that it made me, to some extent, a better person.

Before Andre, I felt depleted and vaguely adrift, remote from my friends and from myself. I was living in a run-down student bungalow with four disparate twentysomethings, struggling to care enough about the fifth year of my undergraduate degree to prevent the need for a sixth, and I was one Bukowski book away from drinking myself into utterly cliched oblivion. It was all admittedly pretty juvenile. One night, one of my roommates lent me a copy of My Dinner With Andre, a movie he thought I might enjoy, and, in a bid to avoid schoolwork for a few hours more, I decided to give it a shot. It was a revelation. I mean that: it was though a new world of emotional and intellectual depth had been revealed to me, a world of real conversations and connections and living. My life seemed childish and empty by comparison. Why wasn’t I dining with old friends, sharing a worldview and learning to see things from another person’s perspective? Why was I so reliant on simplistic humor, and on the pop culture that had saturated my life? I suddenly didn’t want to drink too much and quote “Pulp Fiction” and act like a jerk–that wasn’t living, it was acting, and it wasn’t the life of the person I wanted to be.

The next night I brought My Dinner With Andre over to the apartment of some close friends to watch it a second time with them, and then I watched it a third time a week later with another friend. I felt I had to share this feeling with other people. Naturally, I gave into the impulse to call friends from whom I believed I’d drifted apart, and I began dining and talking constantly. It was a strange experience: I was rejecting pop culture in favor of what I perceived to be unmediated experience, but it was a work from pop culture that had inspired me to do it. I didn’t want to rely on movie tropes and references, and yet by imitating Andre I was living an elaborate reference out. I knew this personal sea change had been good for me, but I couldn’t help but worry that my route to being what I felt was a better person was just as steeped in pop culture and cliche as the life I was trying to leave behind.

"Critical Film Studies," it turns out, is about exactly this sort of double-bind, about the implications of attempting to reject the influence of pop culture and about the effect of My Dinner With Andre specifically. The episode begins precisely as it needs to: Abed, in the Andre Gregory role, has invited Jeff, his better-looking Wallace Shawn, to meet him for dinner at an uncharacteristically lavish restaurant, which Jeff describes as in an Andre-style voiceover as something he’s not been looking forward to. Abed arrives in a chunky grey sweater, channeling Gregory’s jovial grin, but because Community imitates the forms and conventions of pop culture touchstones as often as its characters explicitly refer to them, it isn’t quite clear if the show is sending up My Dinner With Andre or if Abed is setting it up to look that way deliberately. This ambiguity serves a narrative purpose as well as a thematic one: when a waiter inadvertently brings up My Dinner With Andre and Abed quickly silences him, Jeff begins to realize that he’s been acting out a movie reference without even being aware of it, and a lack of familiarity with the plot and dialogue of My Dinner With Andre is what allows Jeff, as well as the audience, to be fooled by the gag. The writers know the reference will be as much a surprise to most of the show’s viewers as it is to Jeff, and they’re more than okay with that fact–if the episode is in part about a desire to return a state of pop culture innocence, ignorant of references and ready for real conversation, it makes sense that most people watching wouldn’t catch the principal one.

The audience’s assumed lack of awareness is important because it corresponds directly with what Abed’s claims to be afflicted by, which is that his obsession with pop culture has been preventing him from truly living his life and connecting with other people. The point of the dinner, he tells Jeff, is for the two of them to have a meaningful conversation without resorting to shallow pop culture references, which is, of course, what watching My Dinner With Andre has inspired so many of us to go out and do. The problem with following through yourself is that attempting to bond with a friend without pop culture references under the influence of Andre is itself a reference to pop culture, even if it’s a piece of pop culture that’s considered stuffy and obscure. Can a movie inspire you to reject the pervasive influence of other movies? Can a fictional connection drive you to seek out a real one?

Over the course of the dinner, Abed explains a revelation he had while appearing as an extra on the set of ABC’s Cougar Town. As the director calls “action,” Abed realizes that it would be impossible for any character in the fictional world of Cougar Town, even an extra with no lines, to be familiar with Cougar Town the series, because obviously the fiction doesn’t exist in the world of that fiction itself. In order to satisfy his need for authenticity, Abed imagines a fictional persona for himself to pretend to be during his walk-on appearance, but he becomes severely distressed when it occurs to him that this character might have been living a richer and deeper life than his own. It’s the central conceit of almost all fiction: the characters live, actively and with purpose, rather than watching, passively and with disinterest. Like the character in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King who has an awakening when he hears “you are watching As The World Turns” on TV, Abed is made suddenly and intensely aware of his own relationship to the pop culture he’s been consuming, and being on the passive side is too much to handle. It’s a problem we can all relate to, with one key difference: Abed himself is a character on TV, and we’re watching him discuss his Cougar Town crisis on a show called Community. Fans should be used to the meta impulse on Community, but “Critical Film Studies” takes it a step further–here it’s self-critical.

I sometimes worry about consuming too much pop culture, as I imagine many of us do. Nobody wants to feel shallow, and there’s a constant feeling of obligation to read or watch things that are more serious, or that have more depth. We worry about being the passive spectator, and about coming to be defined by that passivity. For me, “Critical Film Studies” deals with exactly that kind of anxiety, and with how the need to live and connect sometimes seems impossible to take on. There’s no such thing as a totally unmediated dinner, and there can never be a culture-free conversation; even talking openly and honestly with a close friend over dinner becomes a reference to something. Abed tries to reject his dependence on tropes and quotes, hoping instead to have depth, but doing so ultimately proves shallow. Jeff gets indignant when he finds out that’s his been tricked into opening up, but he ultimately learns something. The point isn’t that connection is impossible or that pop culture is toxic, but that we can still have the former while totally subsumed by the latter: sometimes connections cut through all the movie references and surprise us. What “Critical Film Studies” made me realize is that it’s okay to feel weighed down by pop culture, and that’s it natural to struggle fruitlessly against it. It made me realize that the change afforded me by watching My Dinner With Andre could be both shallow and deep, that being inspired by it could be both an elaborate reference and the route to true connections. “It has something to do with living,” Andre says to Wally–and that’s a reference I don’t mind knowingly making.

Calum Marsh is a frequent contributor to Slant Magazine.