I was up late last night — chest cold-induced insomnia — and I happened to stumble across Pulp Fiction on some deep-on-the-dial cable channel. I’ve seen that movie at least 20 times, but since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I kept it on. When we got to the Jack Rabbit Slim’s dance contest, I propped myself up a bit — I’d forgotten just how magical a scene that is.
Part of it is how well-written it is, of course, but what really blows the doors off that scene is John Travolta. Dancing. Remember, when Pulp Fiction came out, he hadn’t had his comeback yet. He hadn’t worn out the “welcome back” we were happy to give him. He hadn’t gone on to make The Punisher, Wild Hogs, or, that perennial punchline, Battlefield Earth. He hadn’t done those awful things with his hair. He was just a faded icon, reaching for the life preserver that Quentin Tarantino threw him. But when he started to dance, when the old hip-swinger took off his shoes and found his groove, the screen just hummed with some kind of cinematic alchemy: a simple scene was transformed through nostalgia, through collective audience memory, into a mystical, magical movie moment.
This one in Pulp Fiction may be my favorite, but I’ve still got a lot of love for Jaws (where Chief Brody and his son are at the dinner table, and the kid mimics everything his worn-down dad does) and Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts’ laugh when the jewelry box snaps at her fingers). What are yours?