Pulp Fiction Continued...
The Gold Watch Chapter is the central vignette of the movie and it packs a punch. It opens with a monologue from Captain Koons in a style singular to Christopher Walken as he presents a gold watch to a young Butch Coolidge. It turns out he knew Butch’s father as they were both held in same Hanoi pit of hell together, before he died. He explains, in sombre tones, that the watch was bought by Butch’s Great Grandfather in Knoxville and he wore the watch all though his action in WWI, before handing it down to his own son, Butch’s grandfather, on the day he left to fight and die in World War II as a marine. It was also on the wrist of Butch’s father Major Coolidge when he was shot down over Vietnam, captured and held in a Vietnamese prison camp. In the POW he was adamant the Gooks weren’t gonna put their greasy yella hands on his boy's birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something. At this point in Koons story we’ve been sucked in and as we lean forward to listen to the rest of the story we learn exactly where he hid it; “His ass” Koons say “Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass”. Quentin Tarantino lays down the legend of the extreme lengths Butch’s family of proud soldiers have gone to, to ensure the Gold Watch stays in the family and prepares us for the extreme measures Butch will equally have to go through.
We return to the present(ish) to find Butch has not thrown the fight Marsellus paid to fix and not only that, although not intentional, he actually kills the other boxer, and he doesn’t feel the least bit bad about it. Once it was widely known the fix was in, odds went through the roof and Butch laid several large bets on himself. However he needs to get out of town before Marsellus finds him. “I'm prepared to scour the Earth for that motherfucker. If Butch goes to Indochina, I want a nigger hiding in a bowl of rice ready to pop a cap in his ass.”
He makes his escape in a cab driven by the death-fixated Esmarelda Villa Lobos, shot with a black and white rear projector This is an odd choice in a modern movie, but it does number of things, first it looks cool, but secondly it’s a direct connection to film noir reminding us that the boxer fleeing the gangsters for not throwing a fixed fight is a classic story told countless times in the genre, so for the time being, we’re in familiar predicable territory. Butch makes it back to his secret motel where he intends to stay overnight with his girlfriend Fabienne before they both hightail it to Knoxville in the morning. After some tender scenes which highlight the bond between the couple, including Fabienne’s desire to be pregnant, Butch falls asleep. In the morning he wakes and they prepare to leave, but Butch is halted by the fact that his Gold Watch is missing. Are you sure you packed it he asks Fabienne “Yes, it was on the little kangaroo” she says convincing no-one. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Motherfucker! Do you know how fucking stupid you fucking are?” Butch’s attitude to her is in total contrast to the tenderness with which he spoke to her the night before. The Gold Watch means everything to him “All this other shit you could've set on fire, but I specifically reminded you not to forget the fucking watch”. In Butch sees no other choice than to go back to his apartment to retrieve his watch, even though it’s likely the gangsters will be looking for him there.
Butch takes Fabienne’s Honda Civic and drives over to his old apartment. To be on the safe side, he parks a few blocks away and another great tracking shot follows him as he sneaks over fences and through back yards towards his apartment complex. We even hear on a faintly playing radio that the dance trophy from Jack Rabbit Slims has been stolen… In stealth mode, he creeps in through the front door, sees and hears no one else there and picks up his watch from the little kangaroo. Confident he’s safe he relaxes and goes in to his kitchen to find something to eat – he’s not had breakfast yet. Making himself a pop tart he notices a MAC-10 with 9x19mm silencer sitting on the worktop, just as he picks it up to take a closer look he hears his toilet flush and out of the bathroom comes an unsuspecting Vincent Vega. No words are spoken between the two men, but both will be silently recalling their meeting in Marcellus’s Titty Bar in which they took an instant dislike to each other. Butch without much hesitation or emotion pumps several 9mm slugs into Vincent’s mid-rift knocking him backwards into the bathtub dropping his copy of Modesty Blaise that he was reading on the can. It’s a shock to see our leading man gunned down so unceremoniously, but one that we need to get over pretty quickly because the movie does not pause to mourn his passing. Fortunately later in the movie we see Vincent again from an earlier timeline. Vincent was on this stake out in Butch’s apartment without his partner Jules as he’s since retired from the gangster life after feeling the touch of God in Brett’s apartment. Jules believed in the miracle and is now walking the Earth on a mission from God (getting into adventures) and Vincent was a non-believer and now he’s dead – make of that what you will…
Butch calmly leaves the apartment, wiping his prints off the MAC-10 and gets back into Fabienne’s Honda. Cranking up the radio and singing along to The Statler Brothers’ Flowers on the Wall he’s pretty proud of himself “That's how you're gonna beat 'em, Butch, they keep underestimatin' ya”. But in the words of Winston Wolf let's not start suckin' each other's dicks quite yet. Pulling up at a red light, but who should walk in front of the car, stop dead and look right at him, but Marsellus Wallace. This is the first time in the movie we see anything of Wallace other than the back of his head – removing the myth of the crime boss and introducing us to the man. As it turns out Wallace was with Vincent Vega on the stake out at Butch’s apartment (Jules having retired) and was just returning with coffee and doughnuts – it was his MAC-10 left in the kitchen.
Butch puts his foot down and runs down Marsellus, but crashes into crossing traffic at the intersection. Marsellus, badly beating, gets up and aims a shot across the street as a bloodied Butch gets out of the crashed Honda. Avoiding the random shots Butch runs around a few corners and takes shelter inside of the Mason-Dixie Pawnshop owned by Maynard a hill-billy redneck fresh out of Deliverance. When Marsellus enters the store Butch grabs him and starts punching him, mocking him using the same words Marcellus used when selling the boxing fix to Butch “feel that sting, huh, big boy? That's pride fuckin' with you” and just as he is about to blow his head off, Maynard steps in and knocks out Butch just before Marsellus passes out. This is the point at which the classic story of the gangster chasing the boxer who refused to throw the fight leaves the predicable, forgets all about the unpredictable and jumps right into the surreal.
When they both come to, they’re bound, gagged and tied to chairs in the creepy basement of the pawnshop. Maynard’s other hillbilly Deliverance-esque brother Zed is now there, arriving direct from work – a security guard of some nature – as soon as he gets his brother’s message “the spider just caught a couple flies”. This chilling but non-too cryptic message sounds disturbingly like it’s used frequently. Zed encourages his brother to “bring out the gimp.” The Gimp being a man dressed head-to-toe in black leather bondage gear who they keep permanently locked in a hole in the basement and use for their S&M gratification. The look of horror and confusion in the eyes of Butch and Marsellus is all too clear to see. Zed indulges in a game of eenie-meenie-minie-moe to decide “who’s first”. Marsellus loses the eenie-meenie game and is dragged into the back room awaiting God-knows-what with Maynard and Zed, as in slow motion the door slams ominously shut.
Most Notable Gangster Moment:
"What does Marsellus Wallace look like? ... Does he look like a bitch?" Jules masterfully ratcheted up the tension, in his confrontation with Brett, which built to the crescendo of the macabre quasi bible passage Ezekiel 25:17 followed by a hail of bullets.
Body Count: 7 (+2)
1. Jules Winnfield shot Roger (with the Flock of Seagulls haircut) in the apartment who was lying on the sofa
2. Both Jules and Vincent executed Brett following Jules' recitation of Ezekiel 25:17
3. Butch shot Vincent with the MAC-10 that he found on the kitchen worktop
4. When Butch broke free from the pawnshop dungeon he punched the Gimp knocking him out, but the manner in which the Gimp was chained up he hanged himself.
5. Butch sliced Maynard open with a Samurai sword before running him through
6. The guy with the “Goddamn hand-cannon” was shot several times by both Jules and Vincent
7. Vincent accidently shot Marvin in the head
+ Unseen - Butch killed Floyd Wilson in the boxing ring during the fight he was supposed to throw
+ Implied - Marsellus and the Pipe Hittin’ N1ggas – planned on killing Zed - Mr ‘soon-to-be-living-his-short-ass-life-in-agonizing-pain’ R@pist very slowly and painfully.
++ The Gold Watch story that Captain Koons told to young Butch includes the death of Butch's father and grandfather.
Jules – had a 9mm Star Model B which he was heard referring to as “Mr .9mm”. He used it to kill Roger (Flock of Seagulls) Brett and Man#4 (the guy with the God-damn hand-cannon).
Vincent had a .45 Auto-Ordnance M1911A1 which was chromed out and had very stylish pearl grips. He shot Brett and Man#4 with it and accidently shot Marvin.
Butch used a suppressed MAC-10 in 9x19mm Parabellum that he found in his kitchen to shoot Vincent – it belonged to Marsellus Wallace
Marsellus Wallace had a Smith & Wesson 4506 (with adjustable sights and sight guard) with which he fired shots at Butch. Butch later took it from him in the Mason Dixie Pawn Shop and was ready to blow his brain out with it.
Meynard pulled out a Remington 870 shotgun and used it stop Butch killing Marsellus. He used it to buttstroke Butch, knocking him out. Marsellus later used this shotgun to shoot Zed in the knackers.
Man in the bathroom (Man#4) wildly fired a Taurus Model 689 .357 Magnum at Jules and Vincent from close range without hitting them. They referred to it as a “God-damn hand-cannon”
Honey Bunny brandished a hammerless Smith & Wesson Model 40 Centennial revolver during the attempted theft in the diner
In the same diner scenes Pumpkin waved around a Smith & Wesson Model 30
After much deliberation Butch chose a Samurai Sword with which to save Marsellus and he used it to kill Maynard.
Butch's fists have to be considered lethal weapons, first he killed a fellow boxer in the ring and then he knocked out the Gimp in a single punch which lead to its hanging.
F-bomb special mention:
Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson) dropped 27 glorious examples of "Mother Fucker"
Best use of the F-bomb:
Got to be the Bad Mother Fucker wallet
Winston Wolfe drove a 1992 Acura NSX
Butch left the boxing fight in a 1977 Checker Taxicab [A11] driven by Esmerela Villa Lobos
Vincent Vega drove a 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu- he used it on his date with Mia and it was keyed five days out of storage
Vincent and Mia sat in a booth at Jack Rabbit Slims made from a 1956 Chrysler New Yorker convertible
Zed drove a 1986 Harley-Davidson FXR Super Glide (modified) named 'Grace' before Butch stole it
Fabianne had a 1980 Honda Civic [SL] which Butch drove and crashed
The Gimp, chained to a beam with his masked zipped shut can only watch as Butch breaks free of his shackles. With the full force of the experienced boxer that he is, Butch punches the Gimp which knocks him out and leaves him hanging limp and chained in such a way as to hang him. The sounds of Marsellus being tortured pricks his conscience stopping him in his tracks as Butch is about to leave and he resolves to save the crime boss’s ass. Wandering around the shop looking for a weapon Butch goes from a hammer, to a baseball bat, to a chainsaw, before his eye catches the honourable weapon of the samurai, a katana sword. He goes back downstairs. Meynard is watching Zed abusing Marsellus and is taken by surprise when Butch slices him open with the sword. Zed in fear backs away from Marsellus into a corner. Marsellus recovers all the dignity one can after you’ve just been bummed by a redneck and picks up a shot gun and shoots Zed between the legs leaving his genitals a bloody mess. Zed is going to feel the Big Man’s wrath like no one else. “I'm gonna call a couple pipe-hittin' niggers, who'll go to work on homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch” Marsellus is going to get Medieval on hillbilly boy’s ass!
Respecting Butch’s benevolence, Marsellus tells him if he leaves LA then they’re even, so long as he tells no one about the incident and “when you gone, you stay gone, - or you be gone” - after all he doesn’t want others to know he gave Butch a pass or the reasons why. Butch leaves the shop leaving Marsellus and Mr. "Soon-To-Be-Livin'The-Rest-Of-His-Short-Ass-Life-ln-Agonizing-Pain" R@pist behind. Zed’s big chrome chopper emblazned with the name Grace, is conveniently parked outside and seeing as how he crashed Fabienne’s Honda, Butch fires it up and heads back for her. On his reunion with Fabienne she asks about the motorcycle that has taken the place of her Honda to which Butch replies “It's not a motorcycle, baby. It's a chopper”. “Who’s chopper is this?” she asks instead “Zed’s” Butch replies. “Who’s Zed?” – “Zed’s dead baby. Zed’s dead”. And with that they pull away and this scene chronologically is the last of the movie.
Pulp Fiction is heralded for its use of the non-linear narrative. Quentin Tarantino did not invent the convention, but he certainly used it more successfully than anyone had done previously and it has since spawned, not so much copies, but a widespread appreciation for the impact it can have on storytelling, if executed well.
Analysis of the dialogue written by Tarantino has been done to death, but if you had to pick just one element to explain the brilliance of Pulp Fiction it is the script. You can close your eyes and just listen to the movie and still enjoy it. There are no bland conversations with the sole aim of explaining what has just happen for the simpleminded viewer or to drive the plot forward. It is also funny – but why? Nothing is done just for the sake of getting a laugh, but there is humour in the choice of words, “How about you, Lash LaRue? Can you keep your spurs from jingling and jangling”, the pronunciation of others “Royale with cheese” (and I know you read that using a Samuel L Jackson voice in your head) and the unexpected “Does he look like a bitch?” It moves effortlessly from lengthy monologues such as those delivered by Marsellus Wallace to Butch Coolidge, while only seeing the back of his head, Captain Koons’ expounding the history of the Gold Watch and the rhythmically enunciated Ezekiel 25:17 to the rapid fire repartee conversations back and forth between Jules and Vincent and all of it is just so highly quotable – even twenty years later.
If you are actually planning on listening to this Gangster flick with your eyes closed, then another factor to power this movie forward is the soundtrack. One of the first things to notice is that 90% of the music is part of the action and tracks are physically stopped and started by characters, sung along to or playing over an audio system in the scene. In a nice touch, Dick Dale’s Misirlou is being played on Jules’ car radio and before the end of the track it is re-tuned to Jungle Boogie. Tarantino dispensed with any kind of musical score in favour of surfer rock music and forgotten hits from the 1970’s. It’s a style that’s all too clichéd now, but only because there’s been so many Pulp Fiction imitators.
As outlined above, the main protagonists are all stock characters we’ve seen before in stories we’ve seen before, but Tarantino, along with excellent performances from the whole cast breathe such life and vitality into them that they’re so fresh and hyper-real. Little was known of Samuel L Jackson until Tarantino wrote the role of Jules Winnfield just for him, providing him with the role of a life time. Credit must go to Jackson who took full advantage of it and delivered one of the most iconic characters in the history of cinema.
Vincent Vega was written with Michael Madsen in mind and I can visualise Mr Blonde in this role, but it’s hard to imagine the chemistry between Jules and Vincent being any better without John Travolta. Judging by Madsen’s dancing skills on display while singing along to Stuck in the Middle with You in Reservoir Dogs it’s fair to say the Twist contest would have suffered without Mr Saturday Night Fever to do the Watusi.
Bruce Willis is in almost every scene in the Gold Watch vignette, most of which are missing the great lines reserved for Jackson and Travolta. Instead he relies on deft acting skills he’s not often associated with. It is worth remembering this movie for Willis came on the back of the biggest slump of his career following several failed movies in the early 90s. He is able to convince us that he is the good guy in this movie, even though he very coldly kills our lovable leading man, John Travolta.
Uma Thurman on the other hand plays the spitfire Mia Wallace who has personality to spare and is clearly someone who is used to being spoiled and over indulged. Uma Thurman manages to convey all this but still keeps her cool and remain in total control – that is until she overdoses. Pulp Fiction, closely followed by Kill Bill has proven to be the major highlight of Uma’s acting career to date and perhaps any future peaks will need to be once again with the Director who once described her as his muse. It seems no other movie-maker has managed encourage the same level of performance from her as QT is able.
Tarantino set out to make an omnibus movie with three separate tales and to make it work together to tell one story; he achieved this, but fundamentally, despite the myriad of homages and hat tipping to multiple movies and genres that shaped his own tastes in film, Pulp Fiction created a new genre of Cinema or at least a new term to describe it– Tarantinoesque.
On a final note, for everyone wondering what exactly is in Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase with the 666 lock code and emits a glorious ephemeral glow when opened - then as, Samuel L Jackson succinctly explains on the Howard Stern show it’s “A light bulb, and three heavy-ass batteries”. If you want to indulge in any other wild speculation (Wallace’s soul, Reservoir Dogs’ Diamonds, Pixie Dust etc.) then you can find that elsewhere on the internet my friends.