In 1994, Quentin Tarantino released Pulp Fiction, a film so well received and so highly praised that it enabled the director to achieve the task of exceeding his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, an achievement many believed was near impossible.
The iconic crime film, which was both written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, tells several stories of criminal activity taking place in Los Angeles and saw the filmmaker recruit an all-star cast for the film which included the likes of John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman and Tim Roth having previously worked alongside Roger Avary when developing the film’s award-winning screenplay.
The film’s impact on the development of independent cinema remains its lasting legacy. The sophistication of the plot, the score and the self-reflexivity, unconventional structure put Tarantino on the map in just his second feature film. “I got the idea of doing something that novelists get a chance to do but filmmakers don’t: telling three separate stories, having characters float in and out with different weights depending on the story,” Tarantino once said about his writing style for Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino explained that the idea “was basically to take like the oldest chestnuts that you’ve ever seen when it comes to crime stories – the oldest stories in the book. You know, you’ve seen the story a zillion times.”
“I’m using old forms of storytelling and then purposely having them run awry,” he added. “Part of the trick is to take these movie characters, these genre characters and these genre situations and actually apply them to some of real life’s rules and see how they unravel.”
However original the idea was for Tarantino, the director has never been shy about letting his influences appear in plain sight for all movie fans to paw over. In fact, as part of a 1994 interview with Empire magazine, Tarantino once said: “I steal from every single movie ever made. I love it—if my work has anything it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together….I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”
Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is, to this day, still regarded as one of the most effortlessly cool pieces of cinema ever created. It features a simply sumptuous cast, doing that enviable thing of all hitting their peak at once. Two names in the hat as the finest performances are John Travolta as ‘Vince Vega’ and Uma Thurman as ‘Mia Wallace’. The duo’s performance is widely regarded as some of their best, bar the odd yellow-suited swordsmanship. However, what grabbed the audience’s attention was their chemistry, smouldering and underwritten by danger as it was and their most notable moment came during their now-iconic dance scene. It sees Wallace and Vega take to the stage at a 1950s diner and perform a slick and stylish dance to win the ‘Jack Rabbit Slims twist contest’—albeit with some classic Tarantino ‘stealing’ to ramp up the excellence.
The scene, in which Uma Thurman and John Travolta let loose to the jiving beats of Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’, is fondly remembered as one of the most iconic moments in modern cinematic history. “I was more afraid of the dancing than almost anything because it was exactly to my total insecurity,” Thurman once said of the scene. “Being big and awkward and still quite young then. But once I started dancing I didn’t wanna stop, so it was a dream come true.”
Many Tarantino fans have been quick to point out potential inspirations for John Travolta’s dance moves, many claiming it was directly inspired by a scene from the 1966 adaptation of Batman. On the flip side, Uma Thurman’s moves were thought to be a direct reference to the cat in the 1970 animated film The Aristocat. While the aforementioned pictures may well have had an impact on Tarantino’s decision making, it is the great Federico Fellini and his classic 1963 film 8½ which appears to be the source of inspiration with two scenes matching up almost movement by movement.
Replacing Travolta and Thurman for Gloria Morin and Mario Mezzabotta and you have a mirror image twist. See the comparison, below.