Opening Titles and Song: Pulp Fiction (1994)
Once again during this time of isolation stemming from the spread of COVID-19, have listened to music to keep sane. Distracting myself with YouTube videos discussing artistic forms and expressions of emotion. How I came upon a reference to the opening of a certain movie that’s reached near-mythic proportions. The sophomore effort that gained its auteur the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And one that I initially hated — the film being Pulp Fiction.
Reference Reservoir Dog’s opening titles sequence here
Director Quentin Tarantino’s mid-’90s American crime film, way before he started counting them off1, and the follow up to his Reservoir Dogs feature film debut. And like that movie’s opening, Pulp Fiction‘s set in motion with an out-of-nowhere opening scene. Likewise known for its character dialogue before boldly scaling up with a memorable exclamation. Done by the female of the pair set to rob the diner, which trumpets its famed credit splash:
“Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherfuckin’ last one of you!”
This look at the film’s titles sequence, a movie famous for its non-linear story structure, will go out of sequence, as well. Two aspects dominate the opening credits: its use of typography and the unexpected application of a Greek folk song. A fitting ditty for its southland setting by someone known for reusing timeworn music, movies, and actors anew. How the song found its way on to QT’s soundtrack best sifted through by a Consequence of Sound article:
“The song dates back to 1927 as a Greek rebetiko number with Middle Eastern influences, and Dale decided to surf-rock it up in the early ‘60s. That right there exemplifies Tarantino’s entire way of doing things. He’s always been good at re-purposing. He’s basically a gifted digger who can find a golden nugget under loads of dust and resuscitate it to new levels of mass appeal. Remember, this is the same guy who had Samuel L. Jackson turning scripture into an amazing harangue seconds before an execution.”
Writer Blake Goble nails the song’s use succinctly, “…”Misirlou” lends to the film’s West Coast vibe and Tarantino’s affinity for nostalgia.” The song’s audacious entry, no doubt Tarantino intended to jolt the viewer, and what his music supervisor, Karyn Rachtman, pulled off. And like what all good opening title sequences do, it heralds what’s to come. Not so much Pulp Fiction‘s character redemptions, but the flagrant ways2 they get there.
Yet, arriving via song only half the journey. The rest laid bare by the titles, themselves. And here QT’s penchant for ’70s wistfulness is more subtle but still discernable with his recycling tendencies. Here regenerating others’ credit scenes. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three from 20 years earlier comes to mind with its similarly clear-cut titles splashed across an inky backdrop and clamoring theme:
“It’s this attitude that comes across most succinctly in the unadorned opening titles sequence for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The ambiance care of Academy Award-winning film composer David Shire‘s booming big band theme and the unsung graphics crew who crafted the austere white on black credits that appear onscreen.”
You need only to look at the film’s main title and logo to account for it. Set in “Aachen (1969)” type, scaled to fill the frame, and emblazoned in yellow and red to pop against the black background. Even while it grows “…smaller and smaller at the slowest possible pace, it is covered by names of actors, producers etc. set in ITC Benguiat (1977) with enlarged and lowered initial caps.”, as Mike Blystone writes3. The design of such carrying its meaning.
If you look back at the opening titles for 1975’s Three Days of the Condor, and the use of typeface to denote the period and story, it becomes obvious that it’s another of QT’s callbacks. And likely why the filmmaker’s 1994 effort made use of another era’s fonts and concept in its credits sequence. What better way to reinforce that than with the titles. Hell, even bolstering what the opening text set had already predefined:
The characteristic criminal behavior and violence soon to be on display, referencing films from Tarantino’s (and my) favorite movie eon. All insinuated by typeface. Moreover, when teamed with an old song adapted to give the clip an abrupt but zippy urgency, Pulp Fiction‘s title sequence set to give the audience a entirely new meaning to absolution. And as it seems more than apt, I’ll reuse the end line of my previous titles post here:
Come to think of it, you could say this opening title sequence a metaphor for what’s happening to us, now.
- I personally dispute his numbering scheme since Kill Bill was originally intended and filmed as one movie (before being split up into two separate releases), Death Proof (for his portion of the combined double-feature motion picture, Grindhouse), and My Best Friend’s Wedding (his long short film debut), which makes ten. ↩
- One such quiet scene would be where Vincent Vega has to overcome the accidental heroin overdose of his boss’s wife, the same woman he was desperately trying not to schtup, via intracardiac injection of epinephrine while on the floor at his drug dealer’s living room. ↩
- Pulp Fiction (1994) titles ~ Fonts in Use ↩
3 Responses to “Opening Titles and Song: Pulp Fiction (1994)”
Fascinating. I saw “Pulp Fiction” at the Cannes film festival in May 1994, about 5 months before it opened in the US.. I interviewed Tarantino, Travolta, Thurman, Willis and Jackson…one of the most enjoyable work days ever!
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That is awesome, John. Must have been quite the trip, whether for business or pleasure. And what a set of director and actors to interview! Ever write it up? Please post the link, if it’s online. Would love to read their comments about the film back then. Thanks so much, my friend. 🙂
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I haven’t posted that story yet…it was business, I produced the E! Cannes Film Festival coverage…went to the festival 12 times, great experiences…thanks for commenting!
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