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"Pulp' put under microscope

Published Oct. 1, 2005

In the lecture room at the Tampa Museum of Art, the lights went dark Sunday.

On the screen, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction rolled with scenes of gangster-style executions, sadistic rape and dark humor. In the audience, professionals sat in a hall decorated with brightly colored paintings by children.

Once a month, the Tampa Psychoanalytic Society shows a film chosen for its psychological intrigue and complexity. Psychologists, professors and film critics meet at the museum, watch, then analyze the films in an hourlong discussion. Between 20 and 60 people regularly attend.

The society will screen seven films this year, including Fargo, Ingmar Bergman's Persona and Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. The program has run for three years.

"I have found that psychoanalysis is the best model for explaining how things go awry," said Dr. David Bassett, a professor at the University of South Florida, and one of two panelists to lead the discussion about Pulp Fiction.

The conversation about Pulp Fiction _ filled with references to Sigmund Freud, the director's childhood and even personal stories from the audience _ at times seemed as surreal as the film itself.

Tarantino's movie is a dark comedy that follows two Los Angeles gangsters, played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, through a series of killings. It mixes grotesque images of dead bodies, sex and drugs with dialogue that shows the wit and humanity of the film's killers. The movie moves back and forth in time; Tarantino scatters scenes with obscure references to pop culture and cinema.

"It is almost a perfect post-modern film in terms of mixing high and low moments," said Lance Goldenberg, film critic at the Weekly Planet, and one of the panelists.

Jackson and Travolta banter about the differences at McDonald's in France, and how Europeans drown french fries in mayonnaise, Goldenberg noted. Then, they kill five scared teenagers hiding in an apartment. Just before pummeling one trembling boy with bullets, Jackson recites a passage from the Bible.

And they do the dirty work with the utmost style, Goldenberg said. The gangsters wear black jackets and thin ties and discuss a trip to Amsterdam.

"There is a certain fascination, a vicarious fascination, with getting involved with these characters," said Alan Ickowitz, an audience member.

Perhaps, Bassett said, Pulp Fiction unconsciously shows the danger of taking something from your father.

"A strange underlying feeling is that you really shouldn't go after Daddy's money," he said.

Everyone who steals from the Mafia king, Marsellus Wallace, or tries to seduce his heroin-addicted wife, played by Uma Thurman, is hunted down and killed, Bassett said.

He explained how traumas in Tarantino's childhood reveal themselves in his films.

Tarantino's mother, who was 15 when he was born, took him to violent, sexually explicit movies because she did not know better, Bassett said.

"I think we see this rape scene in the film, and we see the overstimulation" of Tarantino's youth, Bassett said.

Karma Bennett, an audience member dressed all in red, wanted to understand the significance of another scene in the film.

"Every time (John Travolta) gets in trouble, he is in the bathroom," she said, and left the question hanging.

At a glance

The following is a schedule of movie forums from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Tampa Museum of Art.

April 20, Persona

May 18, Vincent and Theo

June 8, Heavenly Creatures

July 20, River Is Boss

Aug. 17, Fargo