Pulp Fiction: A Hallmark Of Independent Cinema

Kellie Day, Kenneth Herbert, & Taylor Greenwalt bring to you a video essay that highlights the various strategies in which Pulp Fiction redefined conventional modes of storytelling both aesthetically and structurally. The film has become a true hallmark of independent film and continues to stylistically resurface through modern day productions both hollywood & indie. 

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Netflix and Producer Creativity

      The rise of new platforms such as Hulu and Netflix have given us an alternate model for distributing and exhibiting content. Shows on major networks have content that is usually controlled to a certain extent. Netflix and Hulu have started to produce their own original series, which has given mainstream television a new rival. Because platforms such as Netflix  are so independent of major networks and cable outlets, the producers have more creativity in terms of aesthetic value and content. 

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      In the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black, there is rarely an episode that you can just drift in and out of. As I watched each episode there was always a reoccurring instance that made me jaw drop in one way or another. The style of content represented in this series was so unlike the smooth narrative one would find in conventional network programming. Certain aesthetic choices made my experience with this content far more participatory compared to my viewing habits with network television. For example, scenes of nudity and explicit material are blatantly present only a few minutes in the first episode. This meant that my attention was increasingly hard to wonder off course, simply because of the edgy material that made it impossible to ignore. In my opinion, the freedom that Kohan has with the unconventional aesthetics of this particular series gives her the ability to more effectively reveal the backstories and development of these various characters. The lack of network restraints on aesthetic creative choices help us better understand and identify with Piper’s life through her raw, intimate, and realistic experiences. This new platform has indirectly influenced television by providing unconventional aesthetic packaging of content. 

Legitimate Texts & Esotericism

     Independent work has always provided a proper balance in Hollywood. The viewers experience of one may be significantly different then the other. In this sense, one of the far side extremes on the spectrum of independent & hollywood may be relatively identified as higher quality or more legitimate. For indie production, legitimacy is often associated to the concept simply because of the lack of accessibility. Our culture then acts as a major indirect influence on our art forms and what we deem to be historically legitimate. Constantly shifting perspectives have led us to evaluate and define our high brow and low brow texts as being more or less legitimate in this sense. 

     Independent models of television have been perceived as more legitimate because of aesthetic value, structural narratives, and attention grabbing social content.  Together these package and exhibit the overall controversial topic or theme that an individual show is often built around. From this standpoint we can see how a show that stimulates a demographic to objectively think over social issues may generate associated value and legitimacy. The representation of these issues in a non-radical fashion without a doubt adds to the legitimacy of a specific text because of the lack of bias. To purely provide information and freedom to interpret will almost always be seen as high art. It should be noted then that independent films may not be exactly seen as unaccessible. However, only the recent online platforms have truly provided an easier way to access these productions. That being said, to only have a few independent films available for a subscription company such as Netflix or Hulu would still prove to leave Independent film as rather unaccessible. Old documentaries in my mind contain great value and legitimacy, but are seemingly only possible for me to find on Netflix. The themes these documentaries encapsulated have washed away along with our previous cultural perspectives. 

 

Space for Alternative Perspectives

Geoff King argues that American independent cinema creates opportunities for the exhibition of social, political, and ideological perspectives. Independent cinema serves as a tool for the expression of alternative and unconventionally packaged topics or subjects of modern interest. Take for example Buffalo 66. At some point in the film I seemed to find myself actually having this twisted mindset of subconsciously rooting for the protagonist, despite his questionable decisions and life choices. Independent films have a strange way of making a film almost participatory by bending the viewers gaze and thus becoming more attached to the movie, or in this case more specifically the characters. These “formal departures from mainstream” cinema have introduced an alternative way of interpreting our understanding of content and in turn have “created space” for various perspectives to surface among different demographics.

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    So does this mean that independent cinema aims to offend people by bringing to light biased perspectives on social and political issues? I would argue that indie cinema doesn’t approach these concepts in such a biased way, rather it is actually somewhat open to interpretation by lacking in political and social stance. King would argue that in this way independent films are not entirely radical despite their unconventional implications. In my opinion, the fact that independent cinema is neither horse-blinded by mainstream conventions or radically biased infers that it is quite possibly one of the best ways in which media can properly address and analyze alternative social and political issues within our society. Rather than expressing slanted viewpoints towards a particular demographic, Independent film gives insight and alternative approaches for the viewer in order to express ideological, social, and political perspectives.

Elephant: Unwritten

   Since its birth independent film has adopted the image and feel different from that of hollywood. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant(2003) is a prime example of how structurally, the film is very different from hollywood productions. This particular artifact however is unique in its range of creativity and unconventional dramatic structure due to the fact that Elephant lacked a finished clean cut script.  In my opinion, Van Sant chose to leave the script without a concrete structure to create more room for  agency toward the natural objective realism of the film. Van Sant essentially allowed his professional actors to more or less improvise in the direction of the scenes. This meant that the stereotypical patterns in the plot could be more malleable in a sense. The feel of the film can therefore throw us into suspense right away, turn or twist at anytime, or even end abruptly. 

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          In The Temporal Complexity of Elephant, Murphy describes to us how structurally this film goes against the normal layouts that exist in hollywood films. The film shows events prior to the shooting through the different perspectives of certain characters in order to simulate real time. Though this can seemingly cause confusion for the average movie goer, this brings to light the different experiences and emotions that the lens tries to capture. This sort of objective realism rarely exists in popular blockbusters and can be largely credited towards the film’s “unfinished” script. The first major turning point as Murphy describes it lies within the introduction of the film. As we start to see the young teenagers dressed in military gear we are thrown into the drivers seat of the film fairly early. In my opinion, Van Sant utilizes the uncompleted script much towards the advantage of the independent film. His use of improvisation within limitations and unconventional dramatic story patterns make for a truly realistic call to emotional action and awareness. 

Indie Film and VOD Distribution

    Renting movies as a child was one of the most memorable moments in my life. However, when I took Good Burger up to the front desk I never realized what processes it had already been through. Good Burger had previously been released in theaters by paramount pictures. I knew of this movie at the time simply because it made it to the big screen. To be frank, if they had Video on Demand at that time I never would have stepped foot in a Blockbuster. In Wyatt’s reading he expresses the function of after market sales on theatrical releases. Wyatt presents this concept as the “sell through” approach, which he explains is designed primarily in one way. Movies that are “star based” and “family oriented” have a far greater chance of repeatability when it comes to video at home. Or at least these movies had a far greater chance before the rise of easy accessible distribution platforms.  

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    Today, VOD has proven to be somewhat of a game changer with at home entertainment. Or so some may think. Video On Demand in a way has leveled the playing field for Independent films. Not only has it provided a platform for movies to skip the theater more efficiently, it has also encouraged more production for many Indie film makers from amateur to professional. However, with this flood of Independent productions there may yet be a disadvantage for Independent  film. “People are dumping movies into VOD..” said Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions. It has become apparent to many people that sites like VOD are becoming vastly over-saturated with the same type of content. I too have grown to rather dislike the process of scrolling through what seems like endless movies to finally come in contact with a major title. More and more it appears that VOD has replaced home video with a whole new set of questions. The path for indie film looks neither darker nor brighter in today’s world. 

    In my opinion I think VOD is a great win for the survival and success for Independent film and its faithful followers. However, it is important to note that we may find the over-production of Indie films may be a step in the wrong direction for the Indie industry, much like that of Wyatt’s description in the 1990’s. Overall the successes on VOD are those shows with a specific audience or a niche demographic. While being shown in theaters seems to hold less and less weight, big stars seem to be a universal advantage to a successful film.