49 minutes ago
BENNETT INVENTORY : That Moment
Pulp Fiction -- This watch
Warp Zone questionnaire a while back, I asserted that my favorite Christopher Walken role was from 1994's Pulp Fiction. This choice was made with no amount of casual abandon, but I sure did quadruple-check my mental Rolodex, and this - this approximately 5-minute scene - was the summit of 100+ screen performances.
First of all, the scene itself is a special kinda magic that's tough to put into words; up until this point, the movie had been more-or-less pretty linear (or at least seemed that way), but then this scene lurks in with a sense of "when & where the hell are we?" It's blissfully disorienting, because the biggest culture shock comes from the abrasive change in pace; leading up to this moment, there'd been enough story, suspense, laughs, twists, and crazy characters to fill five whole films. And now here we were: sitting quietly on the parlor floor, listening to storytime. That is the virtue of this movie: every 5 minutes you can point to the screen and say, "There! There's why this movie's so goddamn good!" We all know the story and the function and the weight of the scene and what it means in regards to all that follows -- and content-wise, it's not truly original; it's an expository device the likes of which you'll find in most storytelling. But seriously - never this good. Nobody wants a movie to explain itself to them, but with this amount of finesse and restraint, it could've been a whole movie unto itself - and a lotta that credit goes to Chris Walken.
The scene's punchline is so bizarre and original (and funny) that, for most people, it overshadows the beauty and richness of the journey leading up to it. It's an exhilarating showcase of collaboration between actor, cinematographer, and writer/director. If you've read the shooting script, you know that Chris never deviates from exactly what's written - which is amazing that all those particular beats and inflections and other Walken-isms are right there on the page.
But then there's that moment - the moment within this moment - that I love. Following the detailed accounts of Butch's great grandfather, then grandfather, Captain Koons arrives at the moment in the story when Butch's father inherits the watch. "This watch..." And we cut to a closeup of Walken, holding up the watch with more emphasis this time. And everything - the story, the movie - just stops. There's no Jules or Vincent or Mrs. Mia Wallace or briefcases or Twist contests - this pregnant pause punctuates the starting gun that sets us on an entirely new path, thus establishing what will eventually become the larger structure of the whole movie. The disorientation melts away as we realize that this story is consistently going to stay ahead of us every step of the way, and it's done with such prowess that even the most impatient audience members are glad to go along for the ride.