Late to the Party

to this second installment of Late to the
! A couple weeks ago, in the first column, I
recounted my recent experience with the Japanese cult favorite Battle
. Being the kind of guy who might foolishly bring a children’s
book and LeVar Burton to a rainbow party, I found I hadn’t fully explained the
purpose of this little shindig. I received quite a bit of feedback from readers
who felt I had spent too much time writing about my experience of the film, and
not enough on actually reviewing it. There’s a good reason for the unbalanced
split: This column isn’t for criticism.

The films
that appear in these columns have been reviewed to hell and back, and don’t
really need the addition of my wordy thoughts, which, as several Chewers have already
guessed, are compensation for something. For Late to the Party, I’m just telling stories about the formative
times in my moviegoing life, as well as those marks of shame on my watch list,
all meant to entertain. Actually, I’m doing this column because it helps me
pretend I’m as cool as my fellow CHUD writers.

over! Shoot me a message at
if you dig this stuff. I’m keeping track, because the opinions of others have
absolute rule over my own, a fact which once got me into trouble with:

Pulp Fiction

“I love
it when they put Bruce Willis in the bondage gear.” I had gotten used to
hearing that sort of thing from my Catholic girlfriend’s younger sister, but it
was a bit strange coming out of her younger brother’s mouth. I wrote it off as
gleeful rebellion. The kids were away from their mother for the whole weekend,
which happened about as often as I had seen bread wafers turn into the body of

girlfriend’s half-brother had invited his older siblings on a weekend camping
trip. That meant three of them, plus me, the fourth wheel. I’m going to get in
trouble if any of them find this, but just to make an effort I’m going to
change my girlfriend’s name to June, her little sister’s name to Dodgeball, and
her little brother’s to Flem. I do this because it helps me to gain some
distance, some perspective, and also helps me to forget that, at the time, I
thought that Dodgeball and Flem were the coolest people I knew.

June and
I were seniors in high school, with Dodgeball a sophomore and Flem a freshman. I
was the kind of senior who equated emulation of his parents with victory in
life. So was June. Dodgeball and Flem were the kind of kids who could have big,
shit-eating grins on their faces even while they were apologizing for having
been up so far past curfew that their mother had to cook them breakfast before
grounding them.

So, when
we got the chance to go on the camping trip, I was excited. Not only would it
mean some time with June beyond the pleasant and judgmental eyes of her mother,
but I’d also get to hang out with Dodgeball and Flem, both of whom I figured
had me pegged as a hopeless nerd. I wore sweatpants to school until I was
fifteen. They weren’t far off.

We got to
the half-brother’s apartment late in the day. We were all packed and ready to
head up into the Cascades in the morning, so that left the whole evening for
relaxing. I would get to soak in the cool that came off of June’s siblings.
When Dodgeball suggested we watch Pulp Fiction, Flem expressed his
love of S&M Willis, and I said: “Me, too.” We all had a good laugh while I
prayed nobody would ask me who else played in the movie, what my favorite line
was, or when the film was made. I could answer how many times the word “fuck”
was used; I had read that in a Newsweek article.

were looking up! I was away from home for a weekend of debauchery; not only did
it appear as if I were going to get to watch the one movie that everyone in my
grade was talking about, but since we were sharing a tent, maybe June would let
me touch her bottom through her jeans. Fucking set, man. There are moments in
life when you can recognize yourself changing, and this was one of them. I was
on the cusp of entering the in-crowd, the cool kids as personified by Dodgeball
and Flem. Like a little-wiggly playing bump-and-go against a human egg, I was
almost there.

I made it
through the opening dialogue. As soon as the foot-rub came up between Jackson
and Travolta, June poked me and mentioned she was tired, and that a foot-rub
sounded pretty nice. She had an ulterior motive, but it sure as hell isn’t the
one you’d expect. See, June hated R-rated movies. More to the point, June’s
mother hated R-rated movies. Once her children turned seventeen, there were
allowed to do whatever they wanted. June was the only one who had managed to survive
with her mother’s morality intact. That meant no Pulp Fiction, no
touchy-touchy, and certainly no arguments about either.

retreated to a guest bedroom and lay chastely on the floor. June fell asleep. I
listened to Tarantino’s dialogue through the walls, imagining that the
pinnacles of cool were my girlfriend’s younger siblings. As you can imagine,
the rest of the weekend was just awesome, as was the remainder of my
relationship with June.

A year
later, I was in college, freshly single and looking to expand my cinematic
horizons. I held three things up as Holy Grails of my developing independence: losing
virginity (shut up), becoming a successful writer (I got this far, anyway), and
watching all the movies that I had bowed out of because of either June’s
inherited morality or my own. Pulp Fiction was at the top of that

isn’t a lesson that will ring as particularly original for anyone, but the
expectations of my youth inhibited their
own realizations, reducing their impact. For my generation, Pulp
held a sort of mythical spot. It was the first introduction to
non-linear plot for many of us. Rather than being a curiosity and exhibit on
filmmaking of the nineties, it was
filmmaking of the nineties. Because it held so much raw cool, it became a fond
memory, like a child’s happiest Christmas. For me, it was the bicycle behind
the glass, the one dad always said we couldn’t afford.

So, when
I finally did get to see Pulp Fiction — late at night, in my
single room, after tinkering with my computer for a few hours trying to get my
brand-new DVD-ROM to work, and after borrowing the disc from some sophomore who
called me “sport” — I was let down. The
bike did not fly, nor did it shoot
lasers from the handlebars. (Incidentally, sex is still pretty neat.) I don’t
recall being crushed solely because my expectations were let down; more, I was
guilt-ridden, thinking there was perhaps something wrong with me because I
didn’t connect with the movie. I had geek performance anxiety.

in-crowd welcomed me after that; unfortunately, the in-crowd consisted of a
couple of guys with halitosis who barely paused long enough in their praise of Boondock
to ask me how I liked Tarantino’s little gem, as “outdated” as
it was. Film had failed as a vehicle for penetrating the social circles that
had so far been closed off from me, just as my moped had, back in the day.

wouldn’t be an awful place to end this essay. I was late to the Pulp
party. It’s my origin story of tardiness. The moving target of
“cool” had passed me by, which just goes to show how early I was in my
filmgoing life. I was even later to the party in which serious critics analyzed
those elements of Pulp Fiction which made it successful as a film, more so than
as an icon.

structure allows for the drama to continue on a upward slope of intensity,”
says someone thoughtful and less stuffy than he might sound.

too!” says I.

I’m so
glad I outgrew the need to be cool.

of which: won’t you be impressed in two weeks when I unveil my depth of insight
with my column on Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, or “Why I Wish I
Were An Old Fart.”