The camera focuses on his face. It’s to the far left of the screen; the shot looks longer than it is. Then it focuses on the woman sitting in front of him. They are right across from each other, but they might as well be an ocean apart. It’s a restaurant in a 1950’s style, yet jacked up on caffeine and bright colors. They’re both wearing black and white, a stark contrast to the setting and yet it makes perfect sense. They talk, they stare and each one seems uncomfortable at first. They are supposed to be just mere acquaintances. The woman’s eyes seem to have much depth to them, her beautiful black hair frozen in time. She plays with a cherry near her mouth. The man’s disposition seems to betray what he really feels. He is enchanted by her and he didn’t even need to say it, all the while his face refuses to show the truth. And yet, he cannot have her. Conversation, then comfort, and the woman wants to dance. She demands it. So all of the sudden….they are dancing. The moves are unusual to most who see it. In that moment, however, they are together in their own way. One command, and as they look at each other in their movements, they suddenly realize that’s where they wanted to be all along. But the scene ends, fades to black and life goes on. For one fleeting moment, they were together…and all of the sudden, it was as if it had no meaning.
All of that for a mere ten minutes or so of Pulp Fiction, only a fragment of the movie, my favorite scene from my favorite movie.
The first time I saw this scene, I too was enchanted. A relative bought the movie on VHS at a church thrift sale (something I always thought was ironic). I was about eleven or twelve at the time. My mother didn’t really care what I watched mainly because I wasn’t easily influenced by what I saw in a movie. I’d seen plenty of movies before. I loved Jurassic Park. But when I saw Pulp Fiction, something happened to me. It was like a perfect storm. The the way it was shot, the dialogue, or the music, and the time in my life where I attempted to figure out who I was. It came together all at once and caused to immediately love the movie…a movie that never gets old.
Thus, it began a rather long and unusual relationship between me and the movies. The movie is a visual story with all the elements of a story: the beginning, the struggle, the climax, the resolution, denouement and conclusion. And every film is just one of a billion permutations of ideas to fit into these categories. Some are simple, some are complex. The basic outline is best compared to a roller coaster…and believe me, movies have taken on me on quite the ride.
Years later, I was in a drama class in high school. Along with two of my buddies, I was in the class with several upperclass girls; a mixed bag of intellects, cheerleaders, and other acting hopefuls. Very female heavy class, but I didn’t care because I wanted an easy A. It was one fateful day, my teacher subjected me and the class to Titanic as part of something he wanted to us to know about acting. I was so bored by the film I fell asleep. I woke up just in time to see the most obvious spoiler ever…surprise! The ship sinks! Then I laughed when that guy fell off the boat, hit the railing and spun into the water. The girls were in tears at the end of the film. One was mad at me for laughing at a tragic scene like that. Face, meet palm.
When class was over we walked outside to the next building. Out of earshot, my friend said, “That movie wasn’t too bad.”
My only response, “**** that…that movie sucked.”
That’s really what I said. She chuckled. It was a catharsis of sorts. I never wanted to see Titanic again. I even cringe just thinking of the memories.
Then Catwoman comes out years later. My friends and I had a lot of disposable income that year and we decided to see it. I mean, it was Halle Berry for God’s sake. She was in Swordfish! After we saw Catwoman…well…let me put it this way: we would have sat through Titanic ten times before watching a minute of Catwoman. I mean, Titanic was at least competently made. For all the drivel and cliché, it was actually not a bad movie from the answer to the question, do you understand how to make a film or not? Catwoman made me wish arson was legal so I could burn down the sets they used…instead of me and my friends lighting our money on fire for seeing that atrocity.
I read and enjoyed the entire Twilight book series. So I see the films…and I wasn’t looking forward to them. They were mediocre…but it was inevitable. The experience was ruined by my constant questioning of why certain scenes were there and why some were not, even though they were in the book. I made the same mistake with the Swedish vampire novel, Let the Right One In. I bought the foreign film adaptation at that mall and after watching it, I thought it was a disjointed mess of a movie…even though I loved the book and the way the film was shot.
Then you had the 3-D abortions that were Clash of the Titans (which wasn’t a bad film with or without the horrible, tacked on 3-D) and the Last Airbender (which was an abortion of a film in general…and I didn’t even watch the animated show!). Then one day, this film called Inception rolls around. It’s got some heavy hitter actors and Ellen “Typecast as Juno” Page. I had no idea what this movie was about until I saw it. I walked out of the theater amazed, even if some of the plot was iffy. It left me wanting more.
After all this time, I’ve come to understand this odd relationship between films and myself. The irony of my dislike of Titanic (and most romance movies in general), is that this give and take between me and the movies is a love story a most abstract form. There is much about a film to love…and much to dislike. Every relationship has its rough patches. The bad is the price you pay for taking the good for granted. For every Inception, Silent Hill, Pulp Fiction, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…there’s a Catwoman, House of the Dead, Troll 2 or Disaster Movie.
You love Star Wars. You love the clichés, the hero on a journey, the beautiful damsel, the wayward angel. Then you watch George Lucas, somehow and inexplicably destroy the movie franchise you loved so much with horrible acting, bad storytelling and way too CGI. That’s the breaks.
But it’s not always about the art of the film. For me, it’s the ebb and flow of movies in general. I can’t get jaded from movies because I always know that there’s another one out there…whether its good or bad, that’s the way it works for me. And the movies are fine with that. The beautiful thing about film…it’s always there. If I can’t find a good movie, I’ll just go back and watch Jules talk about the path of the righteous man…or Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega dance again. It will always be there.