I am a huge lover of all things Quentin Tarantino. I quote his films on a daily basis and have twice suffered fairly major injuries in my excitement to see his work (messed up rotator cuff falling down the stairs on the way to Grindhouse and torn calf muscle 7 minutes before his season finale episode of CSI. Long story. Still watched it.) Whenever I am sad, or angry, or scared, or just need to be inspired by something great, Pulp Fiction is my default. He never disappoints me, and always makes me laugh. Q is my Ryan Gosling.
Beside every great Director is his leading lady. And while Uma Thurman and Pam Grier may be the first names that spring to mind, there is another unsung shero in this story. Sally Menke, the brilliant woman who edited every single one of Tarantino’s films, sadly passed away just over a year ago. I only discovered this tragedy about an hour ago reading an interview with Rosanna Arquette about Pulp Fiction’s release on Blu Ray, which prompted me to read up on the woman who evidently played an integral role in creating some of my favourite cinematic masterpieces. I can’t believe what a profound effect she’s had on me, and yet somehow I knew nothing about this amazing woman.
Hollywood is so full of shiny stars that sometimes we forget about those people beyond the glow of the spotlight. Menke referred to editors as “quiet heroes” because Joan Rivers doesn’t usually stop them on the red carpet to find out who they’re wearing, and we rarely have to deal with annoying controversies about whether or not they should have done that nude cover shoot. And yet they are ultimately largely responsible for creating the pace and tone of the films we love and maximizing the talents of the celebrities we worship. We take for granted impeccable dramatic tension and comedic timing, forgetting that someone took millions of hours locked away in a tiny dark room deciding whether that shot needs to last five seconds or six to achieve its optimal impact.
For 17 years Sally Menke took Q’s vision and weaved it into gold. She was the only editor he ever entrusted his masterpieces to, and he credited her with playing a major part in the creative outcome of his films. She spoke of their “symbiotic” relationship where they knew what the other was thinking and could finish each others’ sentences. He wrote the snappy dialogue, and she made it breathe. He created some of the most iconic soundtracks ever, and she gracefully choreographed his footage to “K-B-I-L-L-Y’s super sounds of the 70’s”. It was a partnership in every sense. Her loss is devastating.
So Sally, this tribute is to say thank-you for blowing my mind again and again. Thank-you for removing my brain from the mundane 90 page three act structure and taking it on the Pulp Fiction wild non-linear adventure ride. Thank-you for history’s most intense chugging of a glass of milk in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, and for the classic Jack Rabbit Slims Twist Contest. Thank-you for Mexican standoffs, sword fights, car trunk POV cuts, and for ensuring that any time I hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” I will only be able to think about ears getting cut off. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, you were an inspiration, and the next time I watch Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds (possibly all in one sitting), I promise to appreciate the legacy you’ve left.