Tag Archives: pulp fiction

Flashback: Quentin Tarantino’s short-lived stint as a sitcom star

As some intriguing new stills from his upcoming slave revenge drama Django Unchained become available, check out this relic from 1994 in which Tarantino – fresh from Pulp Fiction’s runaway success – demonstrates to the world exactly why he belongs behind the camera. In an episode of the short lived sitcom ‘All-American Girl‘ entitled Pulp Sitcom, he essays the character of Desmond, a nerdy, pop culture-savvy nerd/bootleg video salesman (somehow he makes it a stretch), who woos the show’s star Margaret Cho. The pair were also dating in real life.

All credit for this must go to Paul O’ Callaghan, without whom I’d have never been exposed to such wonder.

Killing me softly without his words: The problem with dubbing

"Si Señor...!" - Nicolas Cage gets the dubbing treatment in Bangkok Dangerous

Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year community website for backpackers and gap year travellers. Currently living in Spain, you can find out more about his language learning pursuits at myspanishadventure.com.

If you’d asked me a few months ago what I found to be the single most offensive thing about film, I really wouldn’t have been able to tell you. My interest was only ever a passive one. However, now that I find myself in Spain in a wild attempt to learn the language, get under the skin of the culture and finally reveal just what it is exactly that can be found lying beneath that aging mask of Zorro, my apathetic opinion of the past is being challenged by a particular vagary of foreign viewing. That’s right: dubbing. In the absence of one single, universal language, I have had to learn to cope with this aural game of smoke and mirrors.

It all began one evening when I settled down in front of my Spanish apartment’s fuzzy Sony mini-TV and switched on Bangkok Dangerous in the hope of drowning out the tunes pumping out of the gay bar from the street below. The jet-black mullet of the balding Nicolas Cage hoved into view, his bovine eyes narrowed, and his lips opened. And then… what the hell was that?!  Cage’s mannered, trademark bark had been replaced by the disarming tones of an effete, lisping Spaniard.

If it’s bad in the case of a two-bob action film, it’s worse with the classics. Two nights ago I tried to watch Rocky, a film so popular here that the iconic image of the first film can be spotted on the T-shirt of at least one passing Spaniard per day. Given my experience of watching it here, and the dubbing massacre that ensued, I doubt if any of the film’s fans would be able to recognise the actual voice of star Sylvester Stallone. Not that they would care (ignorance is bliss after all) yet, for someone like me, a long time fan of the movie, watching it without hearing the infamous drawl of the down-and-out Philly southpaw was a rather painful experience. If the television programming body or the Spanish Film Commission did away with the process of dubbing, at least I’d have the option of hearing how ridiculous Stallone’s voice really is, instead of the finely clipped Spanish-voice actor kicking back with a far-too-casual “Adddrrrriiiiiaaaaannnnn” before launching full pelt into a 100mph delivery of inaudible dialogue.

The same thing happened with Pulp Fiction, which I was only able to watch for half an hour before the impact of the film became so lessened by the act of dubbing. It’s strange to think how suddenly a good film can become, despite being cinematically arresting, unwatchable, when the voices of characters fail to match the actions on screen. Unlike subtitles, dubbing has a distancing effect which often fatally disrupts the internal logic a film tries so hard to achieve to get you to believe in what you’re watching.

The problem with dubbing and its impact on the portrayal of character extends to dialogue in film too, in particular cursing which, for me, can lift any stale drama or action feature and is especially warranted out here in Extremadura where I haven’t heard a public “shit”, “fuck” or “cunt” in a month. The Spanish way of cursing, when applied to the dubbing of foreign films, leaves me unsatisfied. How can the Spanish “agillipollao”, for example, represent “asshole”, “cocksucker” and “motherfucker” all at once? This lack of diversity, or rather lack of creativity in translation, is robbing me of one of my greatest joys in film, namely the ability to seek solace in nasty language.

Language, for me, is what it’s all about. I never used to mind dubbing before I became a language student. I used to find the whole process of replacing another actor’s voice with a foreign equivalent largely comical. It was something mainly reserved for holiday hotel rooms, where’d you get in from a day of battling Germans for sunbeds to switching on the TV and watching, for a few minutes at least, The Last Action Hero, before eventually finding something better to do. Or, as I’d like to more accurately point out, school trips to Western Europe where you and your mates would joyously stumbe upon the local porn channel to find a big-titted American blonde overdubbed with the grinding (if you’ll excuse the pun) accent of a French native. Back then, in circumstances of youth and folly,  dubbing was inherently innocent and forgivably foreign. It would never deprive you and your monolingual mates of taking it in turns to stand about in the lavatory while the other gets prime viewing in front of the foreign cable box, tissue-paper clasped firmly in hand.

Now that I’m possession of a foreign language, and I’m that much more grown up, dubbing is a nuisance. The last thing I want to do at the end of the day after listening to my Spanish Rasta housemate harp on about Frisbee and “hierba” for hours, is watch what I know is a half-decent film, spoiled by the shortcomings of more incomprehensible foreign gibberish.

Can’t I just have the original again please? I’m tired of all this.

P.S. It’s not all bad. Check out this video for some improvisatory dubbing gold. If only dubbing was always this creative.

Attempted Murder! Terrible characters that threaten to kill great films #1 – Quentin Tarantino as ‘Jimmy’ in Pulp Fiction

"Do you see a sign in my house that says Self Indulgent Prick?"

Somehow, the banana-faced motormouth got away with it. So sublimely fresh and entertaining was his 1994 sleazefest Pulp Fiction that people are willing to forgive and forget one of the most objectionable characters in recent cinema history.  Ask people what their favourite bit is in Pulp Fiction; “Christopher Walken’s watch-up-ass soliloquy!”, they will cry. “Uma and John at Jack Rabbit Slim’s!”, they will holler. “Bruce Willis blowing away a rapist’s penis with a shotgun!”, they will chirrup. Do you know what they’ll never say? That’s right. The bit with Quentin Tarantino in it.

‘The Bonnie Situation’ is Fiction’s third story. With Vincent Vega (John Travolta) having accidentally Jackson Pollock-ed informant Marvin’s head all over the interior of their car, he and partner-in-crime Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) make a stop off at Jules’ friend Jimmy’s house for assistance with the clean-up operation. But Jimmy’s not going to be happy. And neither are we, when we find out who’s playing him.

Tarantino’s extended cameo acts as a powerful microcosm of all that is repellent about the man. It bears his compulsion toward mindless self-indulgence in the face of a total lack of acting ability. In Reservoir Dogs, he cast himself as Mr. Brown, but restricted the character to a few lines, and was also decent enough to kill himself off.  But not here; this in Tarantino is full-on whining, wheedling irritant mode. Wince at his delivery. Howl as he steps over line after line. And hark at his attempts to be tough on screen, which ring as true as his attempts to be tough in real life. Witness this cinema-verite classic for evidence.

Also apparent, and most distressing, is the manifestation in Jimmy of Tarantino’s “nigger” fetish, which ultimately reached its apotheosis in the ‘nigger’-tastic Jackie Brown (38 ‘niggers’! That’s one more ‘nigger’ than dicks sucked by Dante’s girlfriend in Clerks!). Jimmy sarcastically demands of Jules if he has seen a sign in his house which reads ‘DEAD NIGGER STORAGE’?, and equates not, because ‘STORING DEAD NIGGERS AIN’T MY BUSINESS’.  In reality (I know it’s called Pulp FICTION, but let me make my point Goddammit) not only would these two never be friends, but a hardened yet proud criminal such as Jules Winfield would have sent Jimmy the same way as Marvin after the second, if not first, N-Bomb, rather than being strangely, calmly OK with it, as if speyed and neutered like a good dog in his presence.

"What did you call me, motherfucker?"

Furthermore, as if to bulletproof the director from any potential accusations of racism, Tarantino’s Jimmy is married to a black woman – the ‘Bonnie’ of the segment’s title. In Tarantino’s head, it appears that black people will happily stand there and lap up this nerd’s offensive doggerel because “he’s down”, and black people, in turn, are “down” with his films. Of Tarantino, Spike Lee once said

Quentin is infatuated with that word ‘nigger’. What does he want to be made — an honorary black man?

Lee is opinionated about a lot of things, and often alienatingly strident and inflexible,  but on that occasion, he was right. Samuel L. Jackson immediately leapt to Tarantino’s defence in this war of words, but we must remember that Jackson, God bless him, will appear in anything (anything. Literally anything) and is more concerned with his cheque than the maintenance of artistic integrity.

I’m not saying Tarantino is a racist, rather he’s just a bit of a clown, and moreover, an appalling actor. None of this is intended to take away from the vibrancy of the film or the director’s obvious talents, but Quentin, please, “DON’T JIMMY ME!” ever again.