Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino from a story he co-created alongside Roger Avery, this is one of the most famous motion pictures to ever hit the silver screen. Movie fans around the world are familiar with it Pulp Fiction (1994) to some extent, whether they’ve watched it a million times and can echo its iconic, fast-paced dialogue from start to finish, or know it’s there and avoid at all costs scenes of aesthetic violence. Either way, the value of his name cannot be denied.
Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis, it tells the story of four interwoven, non-linear narratives. Therefore, Tarantino not only forces his viewers to balance several storylines, but also disparate timelines. The result is one of the most sophisticated, entertaining and unique cinema experiences in modern Hollywood.
And within their perfect packaging come individually wrapped gifts, specific scenes that have almost transcended the medium thanks to their popularity. Take the apartment scene where Jules (played by Jackson) recites the fictional Bible verse, for example, or the sequence with Harvey Keitel’s character The Wolf and Quentin Tarantino’s character Jimmy. Then there’s the Jack Rabbit Slims dance competition.
Setting the scene in Jack Rabbit Slims
Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield, Travolta and Jackson respectively, are hitmen working for a gangster named Marcellus Wallace. Upon receiving an order from Marcellus to take his wife Mia on a date, to show her a good time around town, Vincent brings her to a restaurant called Jack Rabbit Slims, themed to American culture from the fifties.
Servers at the restaurant dress like icons from the 1950s like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. But the bartender who served Vincent and Mia dressed to look like Buddy Holly, and of course, that character was played by Steve Buscemi. It’s a famous cameo, and it would have been the most iconic moment from the set of Jack Rabbit Slims had it not been for the dance routine at hand.
Same dance routine
Upon hearing the announcement that a dance competition will be held momentarily at the same restaurant they are sitting at, Mia takes an immediate interest. Although reluctant at first, Vincent eventually agrees, and the two submit their names to participate in the competition. Their favorite song for their routine: “Nobody Can Tell” by Chuck Berry.
What unfolds is simply iconic, as Travolta and Thurman share tremendous on-screen chemistry during the captivating steps of the long choreography. The behind-the-scenes stories of this scene are almost as famous as Pulp Fiction himself, with director Tarantino dancing alongside the actors on the other side of the camera to keep them in rhythm, reminding them of the moves. He brought the scene very close to his cinematic heart, as some of Tarantino’s all-time favorite films were more or less influential on the famous scene at hand.
inspiration for the scene
With a specific vision in mind for the spectacle, Tarantino saw it all paid off perfectly, perhaps better than he could have ever expected given the notoriety of the sequence at hand. But despite his well-established script and direction of action, John Travolta was allowed to improvise some of his dance moves. This famous actor did have a background in choreographed dance routines, after all, given his history in films like Saturday night fever (1977) and fat (1978).
But for the most part, Tarantino has modeled the routine after one of his favorite Disney animated features. Of course, this will be the Aristocats (1970), which features a dance scene that the director wanted Thurman’s character Mia to replicate. And most agree that she did a great job. But there is another movie that is noteworthy regarding the inspiration for the sequence in question: Band a part (1964), also known as a gang of strangers in America.
Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, it is an essential release for the French New Wave film, and it goes down as one of Tarantino’s all-time favorite films. The scene in which his three protagonists break into a sequence known as “Madison’s Dance” remains almost the same as the movie on hand from thirty years down the line. But let’s just say, whether they legitimately stole it or not, Vincent and Mia finally deserve their trophy for this dance routine.