Timeline of Pulp Fiction: Actual Version and Chronological Edit

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Figure 1: four shots from around a third into the film. Left is original edit, Right is chronological edit

During the Fall of 2013, I analyzed Pulp Fiction with my students in my Video Art Class for the School of Visual Arts at Penn State. One of their assignments was to produce  a video and then re-edit it to tell the same story but in different order, and therefore explore how aesthetics play a role in experiencing a narrative.   We went over a few examples that would give them ideas, some of the links I provided as resources included Pulp Fiction and Memento. I share them below:

Infographic of Pulp Fiction in Chronological order:
http://visual.ly/pulp-fiction-chronological-order

What Watching ‘Memento’ in Chronological Order Can Teach About Story Structure:
http://nofilmschool.com/2013/06/watch-memento-in-chronological-order-story-structure/

Timeline for Memento:
http://www.thehighdefinite.com/2012/02/the-timeline-for-memento/

Memento Chronological Order (make sure to watch the original film before viewing this):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ishi0TyiBrs

We also viewed a chronological version of Pulp Fiction which was available on line but, unfortunately, was taken down. And I also presented in class a two column set of still frames of the two versions of the film (figure 2) of the way it was edited by Tarantino (left), and the chronological order version (right). We discussed how the film has a particular open-endedness  due to the fact that its beginning and ending  appear to be the middle of the story. This is fairly well known but it  becomes more than evident in the two column visualization I provide below that the editing of the film is not as simple:

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Figure 2: Pulp Fiction, original on left, chronological on right.

To generalize that the ending is the middle is a misconception, once we take a careful look at the visualization above, because we can notice that  both versions of the film are actually almost in the same order for the first 10 minutes more or less. Notice that the early crime scene in the apartment happens almost at the same time in both versions. It is when Wallace’s wife is introduced that real changes can be noticed. But this is a bit difficult to grasp  because the two opening scenes for the original and chronological versions provide diverging intertextual framings to engage with the characters as they are introduced throughout the film: to view a scene at a coffee shop and a scene of a boy and a Captain offer contrasting contexts for the next scene of Jules and Vincent.

One can argue that these scenes are different because in the chronological version the scene with Captain Koons is taken out of the original order in which the film was edited. This is important to note because aside from this scene, all that Tarantino appears to have done when he edited the film to have the middle  as its beginning and ending is to develop a conventional story that is told chronologically. It is Captain Koons’s scene, then, that appears to stand out in the chronological order, because it functions as a flashback of Butch’s early childhood–notice that  in the original version of the film the very next scene is Butch waking up from a dream before his boxing match (hence linking him to the flashback).

To stay true to a chronological timeline the scene with Koons  has  to be moved to the beginning of the film because this moment happened much earlier than all the other events.  And this makes Koon’s scene the only exception to an otherwise minimal shift in the middle becoming both the beginning and ending of the film. But the flashback could be considered part of the chronological order because it is really Butch who is reliving something in his dream, and this reliving can also be considered part of his present. This then complicates the basic premise of the middle of the film being the ending and beginning of an otherwise chronological edit. What follows shows how the film would appear if we took the now conventional notion that the middle is the beginning and end:

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Figure 3: Pulp Fiction, original on left, chronological on right. Sequences visualized to trace the chronological ending of the story.

When we look at this visualization we notice that the chronological ending of the film does not fall in the middle of the original film as is commonly argued. This means that the story is further edited. When breaking it down in more detail with color-codes, we can notice the following differences:
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Figure 4: Pulp Fiction, original on left, chronological on right. Actual editing of chronological sequences  for both original and chronological versions.

We can see that the original film does not fully follow a chronological order that was simply edited to make the middle of the chronology the beginning and ending. The chronological ending of the film takes place about two thirds of the way into the film, while the ending of the original does fall more or less around the middle of the chronological version. But even when this happens we can notice that parts of the chronology are moved around to enhance the experience of the story. For instance, the opening of the original takes place just before we reach the middle of the film, meaning that this part of the story is part of the ending, of course.  We can look at each of the other segments and notice have they are shifted to tell the story in a way that will be more interesting than it being simply chronological.

If we number the order of the original edit and juxtapose it with the chronological version, we get this:

1 | 4
2 | 2
3 | 6
4 | 1 & 6
5 | 3
6 | 5

I numbered 1- 6 the chronological sequences of the original version (left column), and repositioned them into the chronological version of the film (right column). We can notice that the two opening scenes are different (diner and Captain Koons), but the very next scene is the same (Jules and Vincent in the car on their way to do a job). The second sequence in the original version is then split in order to turn it into the final chronological sequence (6,  Jules and Vincent finishing the job to end up back in the diner), this is why 3 and 6 match about a third of the way into both film versions. Notice that six  then comes together with sequence 1 to end at the very middle of the chronological version and match sequence 4 (Vincent and Mrs Wallace) in the original edit. It is sequence 5 (Butch fighting, escaping, running into Vincent, and Mr. Wallace,  confronting the gimp, and the eventual get away) that is the actual chronological ending of the story, but we see that in the original edit this one is followed by section 6, which is the scene of Jules and Vincent at the diner, this is also sequence 1, as we know.

So, to say that Tarantino merely took the chronological development of the story and split it for the middle to be the beginning and ending is really not correct–this is what appears to be commonly assumed by some people when they think of the middle of the story being the ending and beginning of the actual film. There is  much editing at play which makes this film more complex formally speaking.

But the editing is not so radical because going back and forth between closely related timelines is quite common in films. What is peculiar of Pulp Fiction and some other films by Tarantino is that they are edited as though things are happening now, there is no clear hint for the audience to acknowledge that we are going back and forth in time.  Viewers must acknowledge this as they try to make sense of the story. This approach by Tarantino challenges the cinematic aspect, because the audience must remind themselves that they are viewing a film and they must make sense of its sequences. The audience must try to make them fit so that the story comes together; but this must take place in the viewers’ minds. Pulp Fiction, arguably, is a reflective exploration of how we come to engage with films, how the process of editing can become a form of communication that also questions how we try to make meaning of the content being experienced.

Another challenge of the film is the cultural stereotypes it presents, and how viewers must question them as well. This aspect of the film is more open ended, and Tarantino has been accused of promoting certain stereotypes, particularly of African Americans. Those questions are very important to discuss, and must be.  And I take the time to discuss them in actual class. For this post, however, I focused on the formal aspects of Pulp Fiction.

The Beginnings of Remix Data: Poemita, an Experimental Online Writing Project

Figure 1: The five most repeated words from 2010-2013.

Poemita began in 2010. It means little poem in Spanish. The basic premise was to experiment with tweets as new forms of writing. I eventually decided to use it as a resource (think of it as data mulch) for various projects. Some of the tweets  are being repurposed as short narratives, which I have not released. Poemita was actually preceded by writing I developed for my video [Re]Cuts, a project influenced by William Burroughs’s cut-up method. I am in the process of producing a second video that uses actual tweets from Poemita.

I worked on Poemita on and off, sometimes not posting for months at a time. In fact, I don’t have a single post for the year 2011.  But during the month of August 2014, I realized that Poemita has been a project that is closely related to my ongoing remix of Theodor Adorno’s work in Minima Moralia Redux. It could be thought of as a negative version of that project (I am using the term “negative” here in dialectical terms). To allude to this relation, I inverted the color scheme for the word cloud visualizations of Poemita to be the opposite of Minima Moralia Redux’s. Poemita takes the concept of the aphorism as Adorno practiced it and tries to make the most of each tweet. Most of the postings are well under 140 characters, and they all try to reflect critically on different aspects of life and culture.  I try to do this creatively, and write content that may appear difficult to understand, but ultimately may not even make sense; the aim is to create the possibility for the reader  to see things that would not be possible otherwise. In short it is an experiment in creative writing, and this is why the project was titled Poemita.

I may not be able to post consistently, but I will certainly be posting tweets more regularly then before.  And I will eventually be repurposing the tweets in different ways to explore how context and presentation along with selectivity are ultimately  major elements  in the creative act. This will become clear as I release the tweets in different formats in the future. This, in essence, is a way of remixing data.

To reflect on where this project is going, I decided to analyze it as I would other texts to understand how it is constructed, and to evaluate the type of patterns that may be at play in my online writing. What follows, then, is a set of studies of  the tweets for the years 2010, 2012 and 2013. I will be releasing analysis of 2014 later, after the year is over.

First, it is worth looking at word clouds for the three years:

Poemita_2010Figure 2: Word cloud of tweets for 2010

 

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Figure 3: Word cloud for tweets of 2012

 

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Figure 4: Word cloud for tweets of 2013

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Figure 5: Word cloud of tweets from 2010-2013.

We can note the top four or five words for each cloud for the respective years of 2010, 2012, and 2013 and consider how they eventually become part of the larger cloud for all of the years of 2010-2013. The number of occurrences could be accounted for yearly, but for the current purpose of this analysis, it should be sufficient to evaluate the number of words in the largest cloud for all three years (figure 5).

In the cloud above (figure 5), then,  there are a total of a 1,712 words and 863 unique words. The most used words besides articles and prepositions appear much larger. These words appear the following number of times in the actual body of the text:

Time: 12
Thought: 11
Sound: 7
Space: 5
Thoughts: 5

The word trend chart at the top of this page (figure 1) shows how these words relate to each other in terms of writing sequence. If you were to choose a particular node, you would be taken to the actual text and shown how the word appears in its context. The tool I used to this word analysis is Voyant. Seeing the words in a diagram provides a visual idea of how they relate to each other within the actual writing.

This gives a sense of repetition, and may even allude to certain interests in terms of content and ideas within the corpus of the text, but it does not provide a clear sense of how the words actually function, or under what context they recur. For this, the way the words are used in actual sentences can be mapped. In the following word trees, the top five words (in order of times repeated), Time, Thought, Sound, Space, and Thoughts are linked to all the phrases that follow them:

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Figure 6: The word “time” linked to the phrases that come after it. Click on the image to view a larger file.

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Figure 7: The word “thought” linked to the phrases that come after it. Click on the image to view a larger file.

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Figure 8: The word “sound” linked to the phrases that come after it. Click on the image to view a larger file.

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Figure 8: The word “space” linked to the phrases that come after it. Click on the image to view a larger file.

 

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Figure 9: The word “thoughts” linked to the phrases that come after it. Click on the image to view a larger file.

The word trees above show how each of the words are implemented to create particular statements. At this point, it is possible to make certain assessments.  Let’s take the word “thoughts” (figure 9).  We can see that three out of five times it comes at the end of the sentences. We can also note that the exception to this is a reflective statement: “thoughts of grandeur.” Let’s take a look at the word “thought” (figure 7) and we can notice that it is part of a much more complex set of phrases. Two times, the word is part of the branching recurrences “Improvisation fills one with…” and “the very thought of…” But notice that in the last one thought is also followed by a period.

Finally, we can consider the words that come before these words. Let’s take the word “thought” for a brief example. For this we can use voyant:


At this point we can get a full sense of how the word recurs and how it functions each time it appears. This approach puts me in the position to evaluate what similarities and differences their implementation may share in order to evaluate particular tendencies I may have in my writing.

We could go on and examine the other top words in the same way, but this is enough to make my point.  It becomes evident that how the word “thought” and its plural “thoughts” are used has much variation in the creative approach in terms of twitting. At least, I, as the actual writer, become aware of the way that I tend to relate to the singular and plural instantiation. This in the end is a reflective exercise that enables me to be critically engaged in understanding my own tendencies as a writer. I plan to use this analytic approach to further the possibilities of writing tweets that can offer a lot more content just under 140 characters.

One of the issues that I assess in all this is the role of repetition.  One may think that repetitive occurrences are bad for creativity, but in practice, it is through repetition that we come to improve our craft and technique in any medium. In terms of how words are used or repeated, with analytical exercises like this one, a writer can come to understand how certain words recur and under what context, to then decide if to implement them differently or omit them altogether in future writing.

I certainly was not thinking that I would use these words the most when I began writing in 2010. They appear to recur and I’m not sure why, but the point is that now I can use this awareness to improve my own creative process.

This analysis can get very detailed, obviously, but this should be enough at this point. This is just a brief sample of how I am data-mining my own writing to also develop other projects  by remixing the content. I will also be mining twitter postings to evaluate how what I learn in this focused project may or may not appear to be at play in the way online communities communicate.