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Roger Avary: The forgotten co-writer of 'Pulp Fiction'

Probably the most iconic film from the 1990s, it was Pulp Fiction that solidified Quentin Tarantino’s status as one of the most promising filmmakers of his generation. Two years prior to that, his debut feature Reservoir Dogs had already initiated Tarantino’s cinematic discourse on violence and life. However, Pulp Fiction remains the glorious apotheosis of the director’s philosophical explorations. Though what few people realise is that Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece is not in fact the vision of an auteur, it was actually co-written by one Roger Avary. 

The Canadian filmmaker Roger Avary worked closely with the influential Quentin Tarantino early in their careers, with both directors planning on making an anthology movie consisting of three short films, one by Avary, one by Tarantino, and the third rumoured to be made by Adam Rifkin. When this idea never materialised, the two directors went their separate ways and turned their respective stories into full-length screenplays.

Quentin Tarantino’s short film concept went on to become the basis of Reservoir Dogs, the filmmaker’s debut feature film that would splatter his name onto the circuit of art cinema. Avary’s story, however, named Pandemonium Reigns ended up forming the foundations of the ‘Gold Watch’ chapter of Pulp Fiction, with further scenes written for True Romance also reworked for use in the opening of the chapter, ‘The Bonnie Situation’. 

Collaborating once more shortly after the release of Reservoir Dogs, the two writers combined each other’s scenes together to create the first draft of Pulp Fiction, before Avary left to film Killing Zoe. Later reporting to The State Hornet in 2002, Avary stated, “Quentin [Tarantino] and I, we were buddies and we would write together. We wrote Pulp Fiction not really thinking that it would turn into what it turned into. It surprised us as much as anybody else. All of a sudden it’s the cultural barometer it became and to be perfectly frank with you my writing range went through the roof”. 

“Through the roof” the success of Pulp Fiction did go, with the film earning the celebrated Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival among other illustrious prizes. One of these many awards was ‘Best Screenplay’ at the 52nd Golden Globes, which Quentin Tarantino was the sole recipient of, failing to even mention Roger Avary in his acceptance speech.

Certainly taking the limelight for the responsibility of the screenplay, Quentin Tarantino told Playboy magazine in 2003, “He’d [Avary] written a whole script for a movie. I didn’t want to do the whole thing, only one section that fit into Pulp Fiction”. Continuing, the director explained, “I bought that script the way you’d buy a book to make into a movie, just to adapt the part that I liked. That was the scene when the boxer throws the fight and gets chased down by the other guy and they end up in a pawnshop with two guys who are serial killers”.

Whilst it appears that Quentin Tarantino had the majority share in penning the script for the 1994 classic, Roger Avary certainly deserves more credit for his work on the film, particularly as, to this day, Pulp Fiction remains one of the director’s best-written projects. Often creating finer pieces of cinema when he is creatively restricted, such as when he adapted Elmore Leonard’s novel for Jackie Brown, perhaps it was the influence of Avary that helped make Pulp Fiction such a classic?

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