This past month our cinematography workshop class had to film three class workshop scripts using a dolly and professional HD cameras. I was a part of the third workshop, and our script idea was to film a “Night at Pulp Fiction.” It’s about a son that goes to a screening of Pulp Fiction with his mom’s new boyfriend. This was a collaborative script idea with Corbin, Anna, Chris, Izzy, Laura, and Professor Britos. I liked working on this production, it was extremely interesting using a real movie camera. The lens of the camera was really cool too, it had filters on the top and bottom, I’ve never seen anything like it before.
I briefly want to talk about Pulp Fiction and its cinematography. This 1994 film follows two hitmen, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield that have a liking for philosophical discussions. As we follow these two, their story-line intertwine with other characters, including, Marsellus Wallace, Mia, Butch Coolidge, Winston Wolfe, “Pumpkin,” and “Honey Bunny.” First, the script of Pulp Fiction is truly original and captivating. For a three-hour film that has parallel plots, it can seem as though you are going to lose your audience. However, that does not happen. You are immensely engaged throughout the duration of this film, never lost as to what is happening.
Andrzej Sekuła, the cinematographer behind this film, truly achieved perfect and engaging visuals that matched this worlds plots. The subtle washed out color tones portrays the depth of each of these characters, yet also portraying the way in which we don’t truly know any of these characters. We only get a glimpse of them during this period in their life. In which, through the soft faded cinematography color tones, we eminently get a feeling of sonder. Which perfectly ties into the script and its reverse chronology. The audience is not invested in these characters the same way we would be with other films. We are hooked on the parallel plots that intertwine with each other. We are given this flat world of characters that has substantial depth, yet we only follow these characters through a span of a few days. In which, through the color pallet choice of this film we get that feeling of depth, mystery, and the idea of not really “knowing” any of these characters.
However, the most prominent part of Sekuła’s cinematography for this film is the framing and composition. Seen as experimental and unconventional, the way each scene is constructed is what substantially captives the audience, and evokes emotions that blend with the story and characters. For instance, looking at the scene with Marsellus and Butch when they are talking in the bar, we get a very shallow depth of field, only focused in on the back of Marsellus’s head, in which has a band-aid on it. This helps to characterize Marsellus. Holding off on seeing his face, the audience gets a feeling of unease and mystery, because generally our story is centered around him, he is characterized in nearly every plot-line, yet we never really see him on screen. Furthermore, through the single band-aid we also get another hint as to the kind of person Marsellus really is. We only see Marsellus briefly, and when we do hear about him, it is all hearsay. For instance, with the conversation between Mia and Vincent getting milk-shakes, Vincent confronts Mia as to why Marsellus threw Tony out the window, thinking that it was because he touched Mia’s feet. Mia was very thrown off by this and states that the “only person who knows why Marsellus threw Tony out the window, is Marsellus and Tony.” Marsellus is a main character in this film, however, he is characterized from the other characters and through the cinematography of him upon his introduction on screen, the audience feels that heat that we have been characterized to think the is.
Furthermore, close-ups and long takes are used several times throughout this films duration. Which is not only aesthetically pleasing, to me personally, but it also adds mystery, depth, engagement, and wonderment upon these characters. For instance, in the beginning scene when Jules and Vincent break into the house to do dirty work for Marsellus, and Jules starts confronting Brett while he is eating his Big Kahuna burger, we see several long takes and close-ups on Jules while he sips Brett’s soda and eats his burger. This is visually engaging, because as we just stare at Jules sipping on some sprite, the audience is lost in thought trying to figure out what Jules is going to do. Is he going to kill Brett or let him go, we don’t know, and we sit there engaged intimately on Jules.
Lastly, I would like to talk about the camera angles throughout this film. There tends to be a lot of low angel shots, in which general portrays this idea of superiority. However, I feel that was not the intentions of the cinematography. I honestly feel that Sekuła may have done this technique just because it is different and looks cool in a lot of the shots, especially the mirror shot when Vincent is trying to talk himself out of sleeping with Mia. I personally don’t feel that idea of real superiority with Vincent and Jules. If anything, I would feel it with a low angel shot of Marsellus, however, we never get that. Possibly this idea of superiority was used ironically, sort of. The idea of them being superior because they have this power with Marsellus being their boss. They carry guns and wear suits, doing all this dirty work, yet they aren’t truly classy or bad-asses. They accidentally shoot a guy in the back of a car while driving. They aren’t slick. Thus I think this idea of superiority was not used as stereotypical superiority, but rather as an idea of power Vincent and Jules have obtained from Marsellus.