On the Circuit
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies
Episode 10: Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino

Episode 10: Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino

Cannes Film Festival (Part II)

Welcome back to A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies - This is Episode 10: Pulp Fiction - by Quentin Tarantino, and the Cannes Film Festival (Part II), which just finished up this past weekend.  We did cover part of the Cannes history with Wim Wenders, but thought we would share more today, as Pulp Fiction had such an impact at that Festival, 30 years ago in 1994. 

A big winner at the Cannes Film Festival in, Pulp Fiction has had a major influence on the industry, filmmakers and film festivals.

And the Cannes Film Festival is one of the "Big Three" major European film festivals, alongside the Venice Film Festival in Italy and the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, as well as one of the "Big Five" major international film festivals, which consists of the three major European film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, United States.

Tarantino Early Life 

Quentin Tarantino was born on March 27, 1963, in Knoxville, Tennessee, the only child of Connie McHugh and aspiring actor Tony Tarantino, who left the family before his son's birth.

Tarantino identifies as having Cherokee descent through his mother, who is of Irish descent on her other side. His father is of Italian descent. He was named in part after Quint Asper, Burt Reynolds's character in the TV series Gunsmoke. Tarantino's mother met his father during a trip to Los Angeles. After a brief marriage and divorce, Connie left Los Angeles and moved to Knoxville, where her parents lived. In 1966, Tarantino and his mother returned to Los Angeles.

Tarantino's mother married musician Curtis Zastoupil soon after arriving in Los Angeles, and the family moved to Torrance, a city in Los Angeles County's South Bay area. Zastoupil accompanied Tarantino to numerous film screenings while his mother allowed him to see more mature movies, such as Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Deliverance (1972). 

At 14 years old, Tarantino wrote one of his earliest works, a screenplay called Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit, based on the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit.  As a 15-year-old, Tarantino was grounded by his mother for shoplifting Elmore Leonard's novel The Switch from Kmart. He was allowed to leave only to attend the Torrance Community Theater, where he participated in such plays as Two Plus Two Makes Sex and Romeo and Juliet. The same year, he dropped out of Narbonne High School in Harbor City, Los Angeles. 

The Cannes Film Festival has its origins in 1938. Its creation can be largely attributed to the French desire to compete with the Venice Film Festival, 

In May of 1939, the city of Cannes was finally selected as the location for the festival, and they actually organized a slate of movies, that included The Wizard of Oz.

On August 31st, the opening night gala took place with the private screening of the American film The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara and directed by William Dieterle. The next day, on September 1st, German troops invaded Poland. As a result, the Festival was postponed for 10 days and eventually canceled. The Festival was not officially inaugurated until after the conclusion of the war. 

In 1946, the festival was relaunched and from 20 September to 5 October 1946, twenty-one countries presented their films at the First Cannes International Film Festival, which took place at the former Casino of Cannes.  In 1947, amid serious problems of efficiency, the Festival was held as the "Festival du film de Cannes", where films from sixteen countries were presented. 

This was also the year, this festival that would become known for it’s glitz and glamor, would introduce its notorious dress code.  Essentially, any evening screenings at the Palais are black tie.  And many have been turned away by security for trying to beat the system.

According to event’s website, the dress code is as follows:

“To attend the Gala screenings, a dinner jacket (tuxedo) with a bow tie or evening dress is required. In the absence of this, you may wear a cocktail dress, a dark trouser suit, a dressy top with black trousers, a black dress, a black or midnight blue suit with a bow tie… Elegant shoes, with or without heels, are required. Trainers are forbidden. We ask our attendees to avoid bringing backpacks, tote-bags or large bags. For other screenings, proper attire is sufficient.”

Tarantino’s Film School - Video Archives

Through the 1980s, Tarantino’s film education would broaden. After lying about his age, he worked as an usher at an adult movie theater in Torrance, the Pussycat Theater. And for five years he famously worked at Video Archives, a video store in Manhattan Beach, California. In 1986, Tarantino landed his first Hollywood job, working with Video Archives colleague Roger Avary, as production assistants on Dolph Lundgren's exercise video, Maximum Potential.

Before working at Video Archives, Tarantino co-wrote Love Birds In Bondage with Scott Magill. Tarantino would go on to produce and direct the short film. Magill committed suicide in 1987, after which all film shot was destroyed.

In 1987, Tarantino co-wrote and directed My Best Friend's Birthday (1987). It was left uncompleted, but some of its dialogue was included in True Romance, which we’ll hear about later.

The following year, he played an Elvis impersonator in "Sophia's Wedding: Part 1", an episode in the fourth season of The Golden Girls, which was broadcast in 1988 (see clip below with Tarantino middle of back row). Tarantino recalled that the pay he received for the part helped support him during the pre-production of Reservoir Dogs . He was initially paid $650 but went on to receive about $3,000 in residuals, because the episode was frequently rerun due to it being on a "best of..." lineup.

Cannes Is Number 1

Meanwhile, Cannes had established itself as the biggest and most prestigious film festival in the world.  Winning the Palme d’Or is arguably the greatest honor on the film festival circuit. 

Winner highlights through the years:

Rome Open City (1946) - Roberto Rossellini

The Third Man (1949) - Carol Reed

Wages of Fear (1954) - Henri-Georges Clouzot

La Dolce Vita (1960)  - Federico Fellini

The Leopard (1963 ) - Visconti

Blow Up (1966) - Michelangelo Antonioni

The Conversation (1974) - Francis Ford Coppola

Taxi Driver (1976) - Martin Scorsese - which would land on Tarantino’s top 11 favorites list!

Reservoir Dogs

After meeting Lawrence Bender at a friend's barbecue, Tarantino shared ideas about an unwritten dialogue-driven heist film. Bender encouraged Tarantino to write the screenplay, which he wrote in three and a half weeks and presented to Bender. 

Tarantino originally planned to shoot the film with his friends on a budget of $30,000 in a 16 mm black-and-white format. Bender gave the script to his acting teacher, whose wife gave the script to Harvey Keitel, who liked it enough to sign as a co-producer.  They raised $1.5 million, and Keitel helped them set up a casting session in NY.  Viggo Mortensen and George Clooney even read for roles.

Harvey Keitel as Larry Dimmick / Mr. White

Tim Roth as Freddy Newendyke / Mr. Orange

Michael Madsen as "Toothpick" Vic Vega / Mr. Blonde

Chris Penn as "Nice Guy" Eddie Cabot

Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink

Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot

Randy Brooks as Holdaway

Kirk Baltz as Marvin Nash

Edward Bunker as Mr. Blue

Quentin Tarantino as Mr. Brown

In January 1992, Tarantino's crime thriller Reservoir Dogs—which he wrote, directed, and acted in as Mr. Brown would screen at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was an immediate hit, receiving a positive response from critics.  The film would famously be shut out from the Awards in Park City, but in 2024, Reservoir Dogs was ranked second on indieWire’s list of the Sundance Film Festival's Top 10 films of All Time based on a survey conducted with 500 filmmakers and critics in honor of the festival's 40th anniversary.

Though the film would leave Sundance without a distributor, Cannes would change all that.

The 45th Cannes Film Festival was held from 7 to 18 May 1992. The Palme d'Or went to the Best Intentions by Bille August. Written by Ingmar Bergman.  Best Director to Robert Altman for The Player

The festival opened with Basic Instinct, directed by Paul Verhoeven and closed with Far and Away, directed by Ron Howard

A few titles from the Competition section:

Howards End by James Ivory

Of Mice and Men by Gary Sinise

The Player by Robert Altman (who would win the Director’s prize)

Simple Men by Hal Hartley

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me by David Lynch

Other highlights from Un Certain Regard included:

American Me by Edward James Olmos

Bad Lieutenant by Abel Ferrara

Strictly Ballroom by Baz Luhrmann

Out of competition screenings included:

Beauty and the Beast by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Opening Night by John Cassavetes

Othello by Orson Welles and

Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino's next screenplay True Romance was optioned and the film was eventually released in 1993. The second script that Tarantino sold was for the film Natural Born Killers, which was revised by Dave Veloz, Richard Rutowski and director Oliver Stone. Tarantino was given story credit and stated in an interview that he wished the film well, but later disowned the final film.

Following the success of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino was approached by major film studios and offered projects that included Speed (1994) and Men in Black (1997), but he instead retreated to Amsterdam to work on his script for Pulp Fiction.

Pulp Fiction

Tarantino went to work on the script for Pulp Fiction in Amsterdam in March 1992. He was joined there by Avary, who participated in its rewriting as well as the development of the new storylines that would connect. Two scenes originally written by Avary for the True Romance screenplay, exclusively credited to Tarantino, were incorporated into the opening of "The Bonnie Situation".  The notion of the crimeworld "cleaner" that became the heart of the episode was inspired by a short, Curdled, that Tarantino saw at a film festival. He cast the lead actress, Angela Jones, in Pulp Fiction and later backed the filmmakers' production of a feature-length version of Curdled.

Tarantino and his producer, Lawrence Bender, brought the script to Jersey Films. Before even seeing Reservoir Dogs, Jersey had attempted to sign Tarantino for his next project. Ultimately a development deal worth around $1 million had been done. The deal gave A Band Apart, Bender and Tarantino's newly formed production company, initial financing and office facilities; Jersey got a share of the project and the right to shop the script to a studio. Jersey had a distribution and "first look" deal with Columbia TriStar, which paid Tarantino for the right to consider exercising its option.

In February, Pulp Fiction appeared on a Variety list of films in pre-production at TriStar. In June, however, the studio put the script into turnaround. According to a studio executive, TriStar chief Mike Medavoy found it "too demented". There were suggestions that TriStar was resistant to back a film featuring a heroin user; there were also indications that the studio simply saw the project as too low-budget for its desired star-driven image. 

Bender brought the script to Miramax, the formerly independent studio that had recently been acquired by Disney, and the company picked it up. Pulp Fiction, the first Miramax project to get a green light after the Disney acquisition, was budgeted at $8.5 million.It became the first movie that Miramax completely financed.  Helping hold costs down was the plan Bender executed to pay all the main actors the same amount per week, regardless of their industry status. 

The biggest star to sign on to the project was Bruce Willis. Though he had recently appeared in several big-budget flops, he was still a major overseas draw. On the strength of his name, Miramax garnered $11 million for the film's worldwide rights, virtually ensuring its profitability.

Pulp Fiction premiered in May 1994 at the Cannes Film Festival, with Miramax bringing the picture's entire cast over to France. The film was unveiled at a midnight hour screening and caused a sensation. It won the Palme d'Or, generating a further wave of publicity.  Click to see a clip of Tarantino receiving the prize.

The first U.S. review of the film was published on May 23rd in industry trade magazine Variety. Todd McCarthy called Pulp Fiction a…

"spectacularly entertaining piece of pop culture ... a startling, massive success.”

From Cannes forward, Tarantino was on the road continuously, promoting the film. Over the next few months it played in smaller festivals around Europe, building buzz: Nottingham, Munich, Taormina, Locarno, Norway, and San Sebastián.

On October 14, 1994, Pulp Fiction went into general release in the United States. As Peter Biskind describes,

"It was not platformed, that is, it did not open in a handful of theaters and roll out slowly as word of mouth built, the traditional way of releasing an indie film; it went wide immediately, into 1,100 theaters."

In the eyes of some cultural critics, Reservoir Dogs had given Tarantino a reputation for glamorizing violence. Miramax played with the issue in its marketing campaign: "You won't know the facts till you've seen the fiction", went one slogan. 

Pulp Fiction was the top-grossing film at the US box office its first weekend with a gross of $9,311,882, edging out a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, The Specialist, which was in its second week and playing at more than twice as many theaters. 

Against its budget of $8.5 million and about $10 million in marketing costs, Pulp Fiction grossed $107.93 million at the U.S. box office, making it the first Miramax film to surpass $100 million in the United States and Canada. 

Tarantino received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, which he shared with Roger Avary, who contributed to the story. He also received a nomination in the Best Director category. The film received another five nominations, including for Best Picture. 

Pulp Fiction was named Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, National Board of Review, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, Society of Texas Film Critics, Southeastern Film Critics Association, and Kansas City Film Critics Circle Tarantino was named Best Director by all seven of those organizations as well as by the New York Film Critics Circle and Chicago Film Critics Association.

Pulp Fiction quickly came to be regarded as one of the most significant films of its era.

Not since Citizen Kane has one man appeared from relative obscurity to redefine the art of moviemaking.

And the Screenplay for Pulp Fiction continues to be a best seller in the category.  Many book have been written on Tarantino, including:

Cinema of Cool - by Jeff Dawson

The book description reads:

By mid-1995, Quentinmania was in high gear, and he was being hailed as the hip new Oscar-toting messiah of film making. In this irreverent personal biography and in-depth study, Jeff Dawson interrogates Tarantino about his early influences, his use of violence, and accusations of plagiarism. 

Winning the Palme d’Or was certainly a highlight for the film and for Cannes. A selection of winners since:

Secrets & Lies - Mike Leigh

The Pianist - Roman Polanki

Elephant - Gus Van Sant

Fahrenheit 9/11 - Michael Moore

The Tree of Life - Terrance Mallick

See more here.

And with Parasite (2019) Bong Joon-ho in 2019, which of course went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture, distribution superstar Neon began a crazy run of having Distribution rights to 5 straight Palme d’Or winners.

Titane by Julia Ducournau followed, then

Triangle of Sadness by  Ruben Östlund

Anatomy of a Fall by Justine Triet

And just this weekend Sean Baker’s Anora won the Palme.

Tarantino would follow Pulp Fiction with a number of quality works, some more successful than others, including:

  • Jackie Brown

  • Kill Bill (I & II)

  • Inglourious Basterds

  • Django Unchained

  • The Hateful Eight

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

In July 2017, it was reported that Tarantino's next project would be a film about the Manson Family murders. In February 2018, it was announced that the film's title would be Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in tribute to one of Tarantino’s favorite directors, Sergio Leone, who gave u us Once Upon A Time In The West and Once Upon A Time In America - and that Leonardo DiCaprio would play Rick Dalton, a fictional star of television Westerns, with Brad Pitt as Dalton's longtime stunt double Cliff Booth; Margot Robbie would be playing real life actress Sharon Tate, portrayed as Dalton's next-door neighbor. Filming took place in the summer of 2018. 

In wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, Tarantino severed ties to The Weinstein Company and Miramax and sought a new distributor after working with Weinstein for his entire career. 

The film officially premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, where it was in competition for the Palme d'Or. Sony Pictures eventually distributed the film, which was theatrically released in July 2019. It received critical acclaim  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone declared,

"Tarantino's all-star fantasia links Hollywood and Manson-era violence into the best and most explosive cinema we've seen all year." 

The film earned 10 Oscar nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards including three for Tarantino for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

In 2009, Tarantino said that he planned to retire from filmmaking when he is 60 to focus on writing novels and film literature. He is skeptical of the film industry going digital, saying,

"If it actually gets to the place where you can't show 35 mm film in theaters anymore and everything is digital projection, I won't even make it to 60…If I get to the 10th, do a good job and don't screw it up, well that sounds like a good way to end the old career."

We certainly remain hopeful that a 10th film is still in the works.

Hollywood trade publications reported the influential director had scrapped the idea for his forthcoming 10th movie and gone back to the drawing board.

The Movie Critic had been set to follow a writer who reviewed films for an adult magazine, but the whole premise will now change.

I’m sure he’ll solve the riddle.  Writing is his greatest strength.

And that’s a wrap for this edition of A History in Film Festivals in 100 Movies - Episode 10 Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino, and the Cannes Film Festival.



How Pulp Fiction Revolutionized Cinema (dw.com)


Sundance Film Festival's Top 10 films of All Time (IndieWire)

Dick Dale (Miserlou)

Don Draper (Betty White)

On the Circuit
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies
A History of Film Festivals in 100 Movies will share the backgrounds, the stories and the filmmakers that have influenced the fest circuit and the business of movies. Covering the films and players that helped shape the landscape, the podcast will include the backstories, quotes, box office totals and career trajectories for the filmmakers that helped define this industry.