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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pulp Fiction and Perfection; ERISA and . . . "Repeal"?!

Pulp Fiction, Imperfection and Perfection

Pulp Fiction is probably my favorite movie of all time. But is it Perfect? The answer, in my mind, is "no," although I probably would not have homed in on the slippage if not for Tarantino's own work. Indeed, the fix, as I see it, would require the use of raw materials that already exist in his toolbox.

The only time in the movie which struck me as a bit disconnected (well, unintentionally disconnected) is the time when Harvey Keitel (i) gets to Monster Joe's Truck and Tow, near the end of the Marvin/Bonnie arc (did anyone notice that the cop in Reservoir Dogs is Marvin (and that some guy named Marcellus is mentioned there, too)?), and (ii) strikes up a clearly I-love-you-like-a-daughter conversation with Joe's daughter, Julia Sweeney. Something is amorphously off about that conversation - there's just no predicate; and you're left wondering where Joe is or, at least, why he's never given more play.

Well, it turns out that Joe was played by the somewhat ubiquitious Dick Miller, and that the scene that fills this gap was indeed filmed, edited and ready, in its entirety. The scene not only supplies the bridge from Keitel to Sweeney, but also contains a smoother transition when Keitel first sees Sweeney into the final repartee between those two. It's on the deluxe DVD as one of six deleted scenes, and is described by Tarantino as follows: "Actually, of all these scenes, it's the one that I almost kept in. Alright, y'know, right down to the wire, at the last minu . . . , well, . . . ah, we don't want to be here unfortunately. But I want to be here."

I know that Tarantino's resisted the desire to do a "director's cut," expressly (as stated on the DVD) on the basis that Pulp Fiction as it stands is the film he wanted to make; and he continues on that the outtakes are on the DVD for completists only. But I really feel that Tarantino probably got lobbied out of including this scene. Unlike in the case of the arguments for excluding all of the other deleted scenes on the DVD, the arguments for excluding the Monster Joe scene seem strained; I think Tarantino feels like he let this one get away.

Having said that, I, too, am ambivalent about directors' cuts. On the one hand, the movie is what the movie is, and a director's cut is an invitation to tossing in the kitchen sink. Generally, there's a reason that something is left on the cutting-room floor. (Who knows what Kevin Costner did to merit being left as the totally unseen dead guy in The Big Chill?)

On the other hand, why is it necessariy the case that the first cut is always the best? I've sometimes wondered authors don't tweak books more often, and Broadway shows do indeed evolve sometimes. Here, as great at PF is, this one little missing scene, if inserted, might actually proceed to make the movie . . . Perfect.

(Compare the deletion of the Miller scene to the deletion of the Eric Stoltz monologue to John Travolta. The Stoltz monologue is good, but not great, and is, I agree, way too long. The actual final edit is masterful - it turns out that the monologue was bookended by two lines that are left in, and the deletion is somehow flawless, with the two retained lines butting up against each other seemlessly. It's quite something.)

Where does all of this leave us? Dick Miller is already in the credits, notwithstanding that he is not in the movie. Thus, other than one big paste, literally all the work is done! So do it QT; get out a version that folds in that one scene you know darn well belongs in there. Call it a Director's Mini-Cut, if it makes you feel better, but, with apologies to Ben Stiller in Starsky & Hutch (and maybe Nike), Do It!

ERISA and . . . Repeal?!

While Pulp Fiction may be butting up agains Perfection, no one is going to accuse ERISA of the same thing. Now, the Obama administration, in its proposed legislation relating to health-care reform, is so fed up with one a portion of ERISA that it is proposing to make changes that are at the heart of one ERISA fundamental principles. The principle in question gets to the basic nature of the U.S. benefits system as a voluntary one. In particular, as relevant here, the decision of whether and how to provide health benefits has generally been left fundamentally to the private sector.

In its editorial, "Repealing Erisa," that venerable publication, The Wall Street Journal, goes so far as to characterize the administration's efforts as amounting to an attempt to repeal ERISA. In that editorial, The Journal uncorks the following line: "The more we inspect the House bill, the more it looks to be one of the worst pieces of legislation ever introduced in Congress."

Well, I guess it's becoming increasingly clear that ERISA is no longer hidden away in the back room out of the glare of the spotlight. To characterize ERISA-related legislation as "one of the worst pieces of legislation ever introduced in Congress" - wow! (See also my prior post on Justice Souter's resignation and some purported attribution thereof to ERISA litigation.)

Before leaving the topic, I had one more point. The Journal describes the administration's proposal as follows: "The House bill says that after a five-year grace period all Erisa insurance offerings will have to win government approval—both by the Department of Labor and a new 'health choices commissioner' who will set federal standards for what is an acceptable health plan. This commissar — er, commissioner — can fine employers that don’t comply and even has 'suspension of enrollment' powers for plans that he or she has vetoed, until 'satisfied that the basis for such determination has been corrected and is not likely to recur.'"

I don't here want to get into the question of what health care should or shouldn't look like. I also don't want to get into the question of whether The Journal's feared parade of horribles would indeed ever materialize.

I do, however, want to make one point in the "be careful what you wish for" vein. It's really nice to be in control of the process and to get done all the things you substantively want to achieve. But - once you build the machine, you may not always be in control of the your creation.

So, if you build a beast that entitles a central decisionmaker to make substantive decisions regarding the subject matter in question, that's all well and good, until the "other side" has control. Do you really want to be arguing with the right-wing of the Republican party, after control has someday shifted, about whether the only approved ERISA health-care plans need to be those that do not provide reimbursement for abortions, etc., etc.? It's good to be king, but . . . .

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