Interview: The Full Story Of The 'Pulp Fiction' Watch (2024)


Pulp Fiction debuted at Cannes 27 years ago today, winning the Palme d'Or and forever changing cinema. It changed how filmmakers use dialog. It changed how they play with the concept of time. And It changed how viewers engaged with movies.

"Because it was a film that was so structurally, thematically, and metaphorically complex, it really benefited from the kind of hyper analysis and hyper-detailed research that was just sort of starting to happen on a broad scope via the internet," Jason Bailey, who literally wrote the book on Pulp Fiction," told HODINKEE. "I've such clear memories of AOL chat rooms that were specifically targeted at talking about the minutiae of Pulp Fiction. Obviously, this is all unconscious and accidental, but it's a text where the structure of the picture also sort of mirrors those new ways of reading and researching and thinking online. It's a 'hyperlink movie' that hopscotches through the narrative, where a keyword or idea will take us to the next section instead of the natural order of chronology."

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Quentin Tarantino winning the Palme d'Or for Pulp Fiction at Cannes in 1994. (For Kan / Getty Images)

In his book, Bailey breaks down the chronological order of the film step by step. Ignoring linear storytelling, Tarantino begins and finishes the film in a SoCal diner, delivering an ending in which hitmen played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta defuse a robbery and strut out as iconic, Tarantino antiheroes. But if you've seen the movie – and I hope you have, because I'm about to spoil a 27-year-old classic – then you already know Travolta's character dies. You saw it happen. Bruce Willis's Butch Coolidge killed him earlier (but really later), while doubling back for a family heirloom, a Lancet trench watch.

Pulp Fiction is about intersecting stories. But it's also about that watch, which basically has its own scene with Christopher Walken. HODINKEE spoke to Jonathan R. Hodges (Reservoir Dogs, First Man), the prop master of Pulp Fiction and the person who sourced one of cinema's most iconic timepieces. Join us as we continue the tradition of talking about Pulp Fiction on the internet.

How did you pick the watch?

Almost all the information about the watch is given in the speech by Christopher Walken: It was one of the first wristwatches, it was worn by his great-grandfather, his grandfather, and then his father, who was captured in Vietnam and kept the watch hidden inside his body cavity. Pre-internet, we couldn't look things up the way you do now. I was familiar enough with the history of watches – it wasn't something I had studied – but I knew wristwatches started becoming common in probably the late teens, early '20s and prior to that people wore pocket watches. So what I was looking for was a watch that had the basic shape of a pocket watch but could be used as a wristwatch.

I started going to antique stores. I can't tell you exactly where I bought it. Before the internet, you just went out to your sources and shopped. Somewhere along the way, I saw this watch. The main thing that struck me was if you look at it, yes it's round and approximately the size of a wristwatch, but the little pieces on each side to run a band through [wire lugs] are like welded on. It's not crudely done as if someone did it themselves, it's obviously done by the company. But it's like, "Oh, we have a watch, and we're going to weld these things on so that someone can put a strap through." It really fit the bill, and I bought it and showed it to Quentin.

When Bruce Willis saw it, he requested that I put a Speidel stretch band on it. There was only one of them, a lot of times we try to have doubles, but there was one watch. It's kind of obvious, but, because of the story, the watch had to be of a size and shape that it was believable that someone would store it inside themselves for a certain number of years.

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The watch on the Speidel Twist-O-Flex, as requested by Bruce Willis. (Courtesy Miramax)

I was going to say, part of the premise of the scene was that the watch was stored in a certain place for a number of years.

Yes, if you're going to shove something in your butt, it needs to be a certain size and shape.

How much did it cost?

I would guess the watch was definitely under $50. It could have been $20. The stretch band was probably five bucks.

Even in the early '90s, a vintage gold watch is likely to cost more than $50.

I don't think it was a solid gold watch. But again, it's a prop. The audience wasn't gonna reach out and bite into it to see if it was gold all the way through.

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The Lancet watch. (Courtesy Miramax)

What was it like seeing a whole scene devoted to one of your props?

I also did Reservoir Dogs, which was much more low-budget. Pulp Fiction had a lot of very specific props. It wasn't that I thought about it like, "Oh, it's one of my props with this person.” It was more about getting it right. The thing is that working with Quentin Tarantino at that time – and I haven't worked with him since – the working environment was really good. The lines of communication were very open. I wasn't scrambling around at the last minute to find a watch. This is something that I had found. I didn't really offer them options. Because when I found that particular one, I was like, this is it. And Quentin and Bruce looked at it said, "That's it."

I didn't think about it in terms of it being about me. I just love filmmaking. That's why I got into the business. And you're sitting there watching this great scene in a great movie, and it's pretty cool.

The scene establishes the watch as an object Bruce would be willing to risk his life for. It could have been anything, right? But Tarantino chose a watch. Why do you think that is?

That's a really good question. Well, it's small enough to fit in someone's body. It's an item of personal jewelry. And it's not uncommon for men in particular to wear a watch that came from their father or their grandfather or something that's associated with the war.

The thing about Bruce saying “I want a Speidel” on there – well Bruce Willis is known for wearing watches. And he knew that putting the stretch band on indicates that this is something he wears on a frequent basis. There's a lot of emotional associations. There's a history there of something that has gone through the family into battle, and what other prop could you have that they would have taken into battle. A necklace with a crucifix on it? It doesn't really work the same way.

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The watch resting on the tail of Tarantino's ceramic kangaroo. (Courtesy Miramax)

What happened to the watch after the movie?

So I am reading the script, and it talks about how Butch goes back to the apartment to get the watch, and how it's sitting on the tail of a little ceramic kangaroo. Again, this was before the internet. I was going to antique stores and racking my brain. This is one of the most obscure things, and the script's description was so specific. So finally I went to Quentin and said, "Look, I've been searching and searching and searching for this thing, but I can't find it.” He goes, "Oh, it's sitting at home on my desk, I'll bring it in."

As for the watch, that would have gone to Quentin.

Top image courtesy Miramax.

Interview: The Full Story Of The 'Pulp Fiction' Watch (2024)


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