The Big Picture
- Film and dance have a strong connection, as seen in the iconic Pulp Fiction dance scene.
- The dance sequence in Pulp Fiction was inspired by a twist dance performed by a cartoon cat in The Aristocats.
- The Pulp Fiction dance is a blend of different dance styles and has a lasting impact on popular culture.
Film and dance have long shared an enchanting relationship. However, no dance scene embodies this connection quite like the iconic moment in Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Uma Thurman take to the floor. Many may not realize that this memorable dance sequence found its roots in an unlikely source: a cartoon cat. In 1970, Disney released The Aristocats. Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, The Aristocats follows a cat character named Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens as their butler tries to get rid of them to disinherit them. This is after the butler overhears a conversation between their owner, a retired French opera diva, and her lawyer about her will. Upon her death, the aged woman bestows her entire fortune on the cats while the butler would only take over after all of them pass away. It is the Duchess’s twist dance performance in the film that sparked Tarantino’s imagination, leading to the birth of the unforgettable Pulp Fiction scene.
Since the advent of synchronized sound in films, dance has taken a special place in cinemas. In 1952, movie star Don Lockwood‘s romantic dreamy dance performance in Singin’ in the Rain tested the limits of the influence of sound on dance in films. Directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, Singin’ in the Rain’s dance is a marvel, not just for its iconic rain sequence visuals, but also for how the dance blends in with the sound mixing. The perfect harmony between Lockwood’s rhythmic movement, the music, the soft sound of rain, and the sound of his feet tapping in the rainwater on the cemented floor is one to behold. Since then, there have been other impressive dances in cinema. In 1977, John Travolta, who would later star in the Pulp Fiction dance, hit the headlines in the entertainment world with his stunning dance performance in Saturday Night Fever. Unlike the Pulp Fiction dance, Travolta’s portrayal in Saturday Night Fever is full of high energy and speaks of a character that is fearless and liberated. Ten years later, Emile Ardolino‘s Dirty Dancing was released in theaters. As the name suggests, it was one of the dirtiest films, if not the dirtiest, in its movie rating category at the time. While its “dirtiness” would pale in comparison to today’s standards, it had to undergo three edits before it received a PG-13 rating, narrowly avoiding an R rating. But the icing on the cake is the Pulp Fiction dance. What makes the Pulp Fiction dance a pearl in the sea of cinematic dances is its unexpectedness, delightful choreography, kitschy ’50s diner setting, and the way it adds depth to the characters performing it.
The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
- Release Date
- September 10, 1994
- Quentin Tarantino
- John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, Bruce Willis
- Main Genre
- Miramax Films
- Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary
- From the creators of True Romance & Reservoir Dogs
What Was Quentin Tarantino’s Inspiration for the ‘Pulp Fiction’ Dance?
Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who draws inspiration from a myriad of sources. He has derived inspiration from his own experiences, dreams, and, most notably, from watching other films. Tarantino has cited his Western epic, The Hateful Eight, as a concept that stemmed from observing that guest cast members in television shows often embody characters with ambiguous moral viewpoints that only reveal themselves fully by the episode’s end. This led him to conceive the film, which is centered around such characters, breaking away from the traditional focal character-driven narrative. Among the various sources from which he has drawn inspiration, the cartoon cat inspiration is the most surprising. In The Aristocats, Duchess performs a twist dance to the song “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” by Floyd Huddleston & Al Rinker, alongside alley cats. It is her fluid twist and catty gesture in the dance that caught Tarantino’s attention. Tarantino told BBC One TV that he wanted Mia and Travolta’s dance performance to reveal two different characters. “When Vince (Vincent) twists, I wanted him to be rigid. But when Mia twists, I had in mind the Zsa Zsa Gabor cat (Duchess) from The Aristocats,” he said.
The fascinating aspect lies in how a dance performance by a cartoon cat can serve as inspiration for such an iconic moment in film history. The Pulp Fiction dance is a scene in which Vincent Vega entertains Mia following an order from his boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), who is also Mia’s husband. Both Duchess’s and Mia’s dances exhibit a similar fluidity and catty wildness. Moreover, the connection between the two characters is even more intriguing. Mia seeks something deeper in Vincent, mirroring Duchess’s attraction to one of the alley cats, Thomas O’Malley.
Despite being constrained by their respective circumstances — Mia tied to her husband, and Duchess to her retired opera singer owner — both characters fearlessly express their emotions. For both Mia and Duchess, their love interest comes to their rescue at crucial moments of their lives. For Duchess, it’s first when she and her kittens are stranded in the wilderness during the butler’s first attempt to discard them, and secondly, when they get back home and the butler locks them up to send them to Timbuktu — a faraway land. For Mia, it’s when she needs someone to entertain her, and secondly, when she loses consciousness in a drug overdose. They are both alive to the possibility and impossibility of their wishes. That is the beauty of the inspiration behind the Pulp Fiction dance.
What Else Inspired the ‘Pulp Fiction’ Dance?
However, Tarantino’s inspiration for the Pulp Fiction dance extends beyond Duchess. He also drew from Jean-Luc Godard‘s 1964 crime film Bande à part. Tarantino has praised Jean Luc Godard’s work, particularly in Bande à part. In the film, Anna Karina‘s portrayal of Odile’s sensual and subversive twist dance captivated audiences as she danced alongside two rigid characters in a Paris club. Bande à part, which shares a name with Tarantino’s production house for Pulp Fiction, showcases Odile’s dance declaring her independence, fearlessness, and unapologetic pursuit of her desires, breaking away from the norms of her time when women’s voices were not as prominent. This subversive quality is precisely what Tarantino sought for Mia’s dance in Pulp Fiction. During an interview, John Travolta, whose performance in Pulp Fiction revitalized his career, mentioned that while the Pulp Fiction dance is primarily a twist, it incorporates elements from various dance styles, including the Swim and the Batman. However, this dance has also faced criticism, with some critics accusing Tarantino of allegedly copying Federico Fellini‘s dance scene from his 1963 film, 8½.
The Pulp Fiction dance’s enduring influence in popular culture, nearly three decades after the film’s release, is a testament to its iconic status. The dance has left an indelible mark on the entertainment world, from music videos to television shows, viral dance challenges to ad campaigns. However, this cultural phenomenon’s unlikely origin makes it even more intriguing. Quentin Tarantino’s ability to take inspiration from an innocuous cartoon character’s dance and elevate it into a defining moment in film history is a stroke of genius. It demonstrates how the fusion of unexpected elements can lead to unforgettable art. The Pulp Fiction dance has not only become a symbol of cinematic history but also a shining example of the power of creativity and imagination to inspire generations to come. Yet, it all began when Tarantino saw a cartoon cat dance.
Pulp Fiction is available to stream on Max in the U.S.
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