Sunday, September 12, 2010

Underrated Movie #91: Pulp

Title: Pulp
Year: 1972
Writer, Director: Mike Hodges
Stars: Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Lizabeth Scott, Al Lettieri

The Story: A blasé pulp novelist is hired to ghost-write the memoir of a mobbed-up Hollywood star in exile, who claims that people want to kill him. Nobody believes him, but then bodies start to pile up.

How it Came to be Underrated: After the success of ultra-gritty neo-noir Get Carter, the writer/director, the star and the producer reunited to make this nutty follow-up, which bitterly disappointed their fans. It still hasn’t found its audience.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Both this and Get Carter have the general outline of crime stories, but that’s all they have in common. The grim seriousness of the previous movie was replaced with absurdist humor this time around. It’s an utterly bizarre movie, and you either go with it or you don’t, but I love it.
  2. Caine totally skewers the grim and gritty image he earned in that movie, choosing this time to play a self-deprecating coward that only pretends to be a tough guy when it suits him. It was Caine’s way of letting the world know that, however much they wanted him to be a leading man, he would always be a character actor at heart.
  3. This was one of the few great roles that Rooney got late in his career. After finding huge stardom as a teen matinee star, Rooney became, all of a sudden, rather unattractive, but he never seemed to let it get him down. Whenever they let him back on screen, he happily used his newly-goofy looks to his advantage, specializing in raging buffoons and little Napoleons.
  4. It’s an ongoing debate—can a film have an unreliable narrator? Or is the camera inherently trustworthy? The Usual Suspects often comes up, but that movie is explicitly in the form of a story, with objective book-ends. This movie is entirely suspect—we begin as some stenos transcribe Caine’s lurid pulp novel, then he introduces himself and describes himself in the same exaggerated tone. Throughout, disinterested girls will suddenly hit on Caine, using the same purple prose that Caine prefers, as if he started re-writing their dialogue. We really don’t believe anything we see on screen 100%-- it’s obvious that Caine’s character has re-written the whole story he’s telling to favor himself.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Hodges was not able to re-create the success of Get Carter for thirty years, when he finally scored with another tough little noir called Croupier, which helped make a star of Clive Owen. You can’t blame this movie for the whole drought, however, he really wrecked his career with the truly terrible Flash Gordon.

How Available Is It?: It has a bare-bones DVD

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Baffling, Breathless Crime Novelette!

6 comments:

James Kennedy said...

"Can a film have an unreliable narrator?" Does Mulholland Drive count?

Matt Bird said...

Well, presumably after she "wakes up" than it's reliable. I'm always looking for examples in which everything we see on screen is dubious.

Steve Bird said...

Haven't we discussed "Election" as a movie with an unreliable narrator?

Matt Bird said...

Oh dear, don't hold me accountable for anything I might have said in the past. The past is gone, man. Election is a tricky case because it has multiple narrators. I'd have to think about that one.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for coming so late to the discussion! I just saw Pulp and i don't agree that everything we see is told by an unreliable narrator. There's numerous examples where it is obvious that only the voice over narration is supposed to be unreliable as a comedic counterpoint to the "reality" of the scenes we see (him collapsing on the beach while the VO describes how he doesn't give a shit about his little wound for example, or when he describes his outfit when he goes to dinner). I think your search for a movie told alltogether by an unreliable narrator continues ; )

LeisureGuy said...

The best example of an unreliable narrator in a film that I have seen is Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill. The movie at first seems to be a happy account of an ideal childhood, but the more one thinks about it, the more one realizes that the true story is very different: the "buddy" is imaginary, the truth (they were always hungry, never getting food) seeps through, and you start to see the skeleton under the decorations. Highly recommended.