Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Tarantino Mix-Tape (Track 1): "Boxers Don't Have An Old Timer's Day"

Considering that Pulp Fiction is filled with some of the most memorable dialogue and scenes in film history, it comes as a surprise even to me that my favorite scene in the movie is relatively easy to pick. While it may lack the total audaciousness and punch of the film's most acclaimed scenes, my favorite moment in the work belongs to the relatively still exchange between Ving Rhames’ Marcellus Wallace and Bruce Willis’ Butch Coolidge. Set to Al Green’s devastating “Let’s Stay Together” the static shot of Willis listening to Rhames monologue is one of Tarantino’s most intelligent and emotional moments as a filmmaker. Virtually capturing the moment a man is (apparently) selling his soul to the devil (and foreshadowing many of the themes of people past their prime that Jackie Brown would so successfully render) the scene between Willis and Rhames gives me chills every time I see it.

A big part of the scenes success is Willis himself. I’ve loved Bruce as an actor since Moonlighting premiered in my early teens, and his role as the spiritually damaged boxer Butch who has one major trick left up his sleeve is one of his greatest performances. Barely uttering a word, Willis projects everything about this guy that you need to know. Sadly, Willis has never really gotten his due for the performance, due to the amount of justified acclaim heaped on Travolta, Jackson and Thurman.

The scene is a remarkable moment for Tarantino has both writer and director. While he is often someone just associated with sharp dialogue, he’s one of the few modern American filmmakers who hasn’t forgotten the power of a face, and each one of his films features a moment like this where he allows his actors to say it all with just a look.

The scene’s monologue is one of my favorites in Tarantino’s canon and, again, it does feel very much like a dry-run for Jackie Brown. Pitch perfect, poetically bruised and altogether memorable, the speech Marcellus gives to Butch is wonderfully written and memorably performed (does anyone know if the additions not found in the script were a case of improvising or were they created on set, and also what was Roger Avery's role in this bit?).

The scene, of course, has a wonderful postscript involving a brief confrontation between Butch and Vincent Vega. I've always felt that if Butch was deciding that he wasn't going to throw the fight during the first part of the scene, then the shocked look on his face after Vega insults him signals the moment when he decides that he is going to do as much damage possible to his opponent fight-night. Of course, this little moment between Butch and Vincent foreshadows another moment later in the film that will end in a literally much more explosive way.

Through it all is Green's wonderful "Let's Stay Together", a song soaked in emotion that still marks one of Tarantino's best uses of a song in one of his films...which is saying a lot as, along with Paul Thomas Anderson, no modern American director knows how to incorporate music into their films like Tarantino.

While not one of Pulp Fiction's most celebrated bits, the scenes above constitute not only one of my favorite Quentin Tarantino moments but one of my favorite few minutes in any film ever.


Keith said...

Great post. I love this scene. I really dig Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. I thought he gave an outstanding performance.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
I love Bruce and think that this, along with the first DIE HARD, is his best performance.

J.D. said...

The bit that gets me every time is when Willis interacts with Travolta and after insulting him, says to Willis, "You heard me just fine, punchy." And the look on Willis' face, foreshadows the payback he gets to do later on in the film.