British Board of Film Classification

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction was submitted for classification in August 1994. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

The film had recently won the Palme D'Or award at Cannes Film Festival in May 1994 and was Quentin Tarantino's second feature film, following the success of Reservoir Dogs (1992). Pulp Fiction follows three interrelated stories in a non-chronological order, involving a contract killer called Vincent Vega, a prize-fighter called Butch, and Vincent's partner Jules.

Two BBFC Examiners and the BBFC's Director James Ferman examined the film. The Examiner report available here describes how the film "shows us little violence, but holds our attention with charismatic characters for whom violence is merely a prominent item on their job spec".  The most violent sequences in the film involve the gunning down of Vincent and the capture and torture of Butch and a gangster called Marcellus. This scene also involves sexual violence as Marcellus is raped by the captors, although most of the rape occurs off-screen.

The most problematic aspect of the film for the BBFC however was not the violence but a scene involving Vincent taking drugs (heroin) and enjoying the experience. BBFC Examiners note the "close attention to the paraphernalia of hard drug usage" and a close up of a needle piercing skin with blood filling the barrel of a syringe. The sequence is accompanied by 60s surfer music and ends with Vincent driving while high and seemingly very satisfied with the effects of the drugs. The Examiner report claims this scene was problematic for the French classification board and certainly made the drug use appear attractive. Despite this, the drug use is key to, and balanced out by, a subsequent scene involving the gangster Macellus' wife Mia. Mia mistakes heroin for cocaine, snorts it and overdoses, frothing at the mouth, causing Vincent to dramatically stab her in the heart with a syringe of adrenaline. This scene counterbalances the attractiveness of taking heroin and the Examiner report describes it as clearly displaying the consequences of drug taking. The film was classified 18 without cuts.

The video of Pulp Fiction arrived for classification in April 1995. The scene involving the injecting of heroin by Vincent was more of a concern on video, where it could be replayed repeatedly and out of context. The BBFC requested the scene be reframed to ensure sight of the needle entering the vein was off-screen. At this time the BBFC was not yet working to published Guidelines or using large scale public consultation exercises to inform its decisions, but the BBFC's Director James Ferman - who had himself worked in the field of drugs education prior to joining the BBFC - was concerned that this kind of detailed and ritualistic portrayal of the mechanics of drug use had the potential to glamorise such behaviour for those predisposed towards addictive behaviours.

The reframing 'cut' was waived for the Blu-Ray release of Pulp Fiction in 2011 and the film was classified 18 uncut for its 20th anniversary cinema re-release in 2014, with the BBFCinsight "drug use, sexual violence".

As the Examiner notes in 1994 "The language is pretty ripe too, but at 18, who gives a …".
 

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