After the critical success of 1992’s Reservoir Dogs—a film so violent that it borders on the pornographic, but filled with knowing references to classic films and film genres that mark it as the work of a knowledgeable and witty cinephile—audiences and critics alike wondered how writer/director Quentin Tarantino could possibly top himself without falling into self–parody. The answer came two years later with Pulp Fiction, a film that skillfully shifted attention away from its own considerable violence with unexpected humor, both verbal and visual, and that kept viewers off–kilter with its fragmented narrative structure without in any way thwarting their desire for coherence and resolution. A self–taught student of film history, Tarantino has the uncanny ability to absorb and invoke the work of past filmmakers without plagiarizing them. Pulp Fiction, as its very title suggests, portrays a seedy world, but as its title also suggests, it does so with a knowing wink and refusal to take itself too seriously—a ploy that allows Tarantino to load his film with all manner of baroque narrative twists and turns without boring his audience or making them turn away in revulsion. On the contrary, Pulp Fiction is the kind of film that audiences find impossible to turn away from, so curious are they to see what could possibly come next. The film spawned many imitators, eager to cash in on what was perceived to be a simple formula, but Tarantino’s film is that rare phenomenon: one that tests the boundaries of what is permissible in a mainstream film while actually broadening the audience for formal experimentation.
Publication excerpt from In Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of The Museum of Modern Art by Steven Higgins, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2006, p. 328.