1994 was the year of Britpop, beer and some of the most important movies of the modern age. It was the time of kings, it was the year of discipline, it was the time Andie McDowell forgot how to act, as the rain poured from the heavens onto her unsuspecting head. We can excuse Andie McDowell in this instance – Four Weddings and A Funeral is, by any defition of the word, a trite piece of entertainment – but there is a case to be made that 1994 is the most revolutionary year for the field of entertainment. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the epoch changing year that saw Uma Thurman showing off to an unsuspecting John Travolta.
Pulp Fiction was released in October 1994, concurrent to the releases of Clerks and The Shawshank Redemption, making it a deeply interesting time for cinema, as each of them has inspired a slew of copycat movies that have never matched the intention or the integrity of the movie in question. Pulp Fiction is arguably the most noteworthy, since it defined a new form of screenwriting, establishing Quentin Tarantino as one of the snappiest and most inventive writers of his generation, but Kevin Smith profited from Clerks, as it showed what talent lay behind the sloppy beard and baseball cap.
And then there was Morgan Freeman, who leapt from the studio booth on The Shawshank Redemption to become one of the most sought after actors of his generation. He certainly left an impression on audiences, as he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, despite playing a supporting role in the movie.
All three films are classics in their respective fields, which likely explains why the films are regularly played on television, all these years later. That the game-changing movies all came out at the same time is an interesting reflection on the change that was plainly seen in the air, but the 1990s was widely considered a time of great change for artists who were keen to cast off the shackles of the 1970s and 1980s for something a bit more different and more personal to the decade that was embracing the artists.
Filmmakers were doing what novelists, musicians and painters were trying to achieve, creating something more sophisticated for their world, and not pandering to the tried and tested ideas of past efforts. Out of the three movies listed, Clerks was the only one that wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but it didn’t suit Smith to pander to conventionality, so he listed himself as an artist of high repute and unconventional clout.
Since then, he’s become something of a ubiquitous celebrity, never underestimating the power of public appearance in an effort to showcase his voice whether it’s about Batman or the trials and errors of filmmaking. Tarantino, similarly, has become something of a fixture in the public eye, and challenged Krishnan Guru-Murthy when the Channel News broadcaster asked him for his opinion on violence in the world of entertainment. “I’m not your slave and you’re not my master,” Tarantino replied. “You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not your monkey.”
Freeman has become something of an American celebrity and even went on to play God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty during the new millennium. “I always have a great time working,” Freeman boasted. “I so enjoy doing it. People say, ’you’re going to work.’ And I think, ’No, the work is in looking for work.’ After you get it, you’re just going to play. So, these are situations where I’m just having a great time, and hoping that everybody around me is having just as wonderful a time.”
Which begs the question: Was October 1994 the most important month in film history? If it isn’t, then it was certainly one of the more impressive, and certainly one of the more fruitful for those who were old enough to watch these pictures in the cinema. What a thrill it must have been for viewers to soak themselves in the razor-sharp dialogue of Tarantino’s second film, and imagine the cheer of the viewers who were engaging with Kevin Smith for what was one of the most impressive indie features of the decade. And then there’s The Shawshank Redemption which stands beside The Godfather and Citizen Kane as one of the most important entries in the canon of American cinema.
Even in 1994, the film stood out as something that was dense, direct and deeply original, and stands as one of the very few films that are better than the source material it was based on.
Whether or not October 1994 was the most important month in the realm of cinema, it was certainly a very good one, both for those who lived through it, and those who have benefitted from it since.
Three crucial films released in October 1994:
- Pulp Fiction
- The Shawshank Redemption