Inevitably, approaching the very heights of a list like this, as we now are, something changes. There’s a move from films you love for one or two reasons, that you’ve seen two or three times to two-hour chunks of pure cinema you’ve seen enough times, talked about and fawned over enough that, over time, they’ve become woven directly into your personality. The relationship is just different: from now on, this list becomes pretty much The Films That Made Me. I’ll try not to get too indulgent, try and keep the pesky author out of it as much as possible, but you’re just going to have to allow me this one.
Watching Pulp Fiction now feels like nothing more snuggling into an old favourite pair of pyjamas. Baggy in places, sure, maybe with holes you’ve picked over the years, but familiar, and comfortable. There was much laughing at jokes the moment before they happened and – in the case of Urge Overkill’s Girl You’ll Be A Woman soon – singing along. For all the violence, drugs and naughty naughty swears, it was an experience best described as ‘nice’.
So while it played: I reminisced about the first time I watched it – in the living room on a Friday night, while the parents were out – and doodling sharp-suited assassins in GCSE art. I spot moves I stole for awkward school discos before I could dance. Occasionally, I rolled over and watched the colours twinkle on the laminated poster of Jules & Vincent I bought on a school trip to France. I mentally placed tracks on the soundtrack (which I bought on the same trip, and which pretends to follow the film’s chronology but doesn’t, really) and finally worked out why Strawberry Letter 23 is on there, except for the fact that it’s one of the best songs ever…
It was an intensely personal experience, is what I’m saying. I’m indulging myself a little, but that’s what it felt like: the pyjamas I was wearing as I watched it, or the hot chocolate I’m sipping as I write this. Warm, fuzzy nostalgia of the kind I don’t often have for my actual real-life memories of school.
Not that I had a bad childhood or anything, don’t worry your pretty little self, but rather that I’m one of those people for whom memories don’t come too easily. Retrieving them most often means a sharp wince of embarassment, or else fuzzy, like someone smeared Vaseline on the lens. As you’re reading this, it’s quite likely that you too define yourself by the culture you consume, at least occasionally. It’s not an attempt to look more intelligent or interesting or, God forbid, cool (I certainly wouldn’t be writing these if that was my aim). I’m not even sure it was something I chose. I just know that, on holiday in the small Spanish town I went to every summer for nearly a decade, when my mom points out a place and says ‘remember when…?’ I struggle, but that if I stand in one place for long enough I can give a rough idea of what page of which Discworld book I was on.
Which, if Pulp Fiction doesn’t play the same role in your life, doesn’t tell you much about the film – the casual non-linearity, the structure of interlocking short stories, the interplay of dialogue and soundtrack, actor after big name actor turning in some of their finest work and Quentin Tarantino doing a particularly poor imitation of Quentin Tarantino, etc. I’m sorry about that, but it’s all widely available online or by talking to anyone who has ever heard of Pulp Fiction. All you really need to know is that for all my nostalgia, I was actually surprised by how vital it still felt.
The thing is, though, I’m pretty sure something does play that role in your life. Or a few things, most likely. It’s a response I’m fascinated by, the way we can build identity out of pop-cultural detritus, that has fed directly back into the type of culture I enjoy. Like Pulp Fiction, for example. Like most of Tarantino’s work, it’s a just-about-digested mix of all the films that fascinate him. It’s telling that one of the main criticisms levelled at his work is that it’s self-indulgent. Which is a criticism I’d lay firmly at the feet of this entry, too. But to that I say: so what? And hope someone’s still reading.