Something happened to crime-fiction in the 90s. Something that challenged not only the genre itself, but also the way stories were told. The core of storytelling was flipped around with a grim smile and, for a short period, mainstream dared to challenge the intellect and political correctness of the audience.
Movies like The Usual Suspects, Se7en, L.A. Confidential, Trainspotting, the German movie, Lola Rennt, along with the computer game Grand Theft Auto, and even the Danish movie, Pusher, the brilliant debut of director Nicolas Winding Refn, were all part of this new and mesmerizing trend; but of course one director stood above them all—Quentin Tarantino. Especially his first two movies: Reservoir Dogs and the masterpiece Pulp Fiction. Both made an impact on me back then that would change the way I wrote, not only inspiring me to jump from the horror genre (where I had managed to make a name for myself in Denmark and Norway) to try my luck writing novels in this new crime sub-genre, but they also made me rethink everything about telling stories.
The ongoing dialogue of Tarantino’s characters added a sharp sense to the characters as they discussed anything from Madonna songs to hamburgers to potbellies, all the while, the grotesque, non-chronological storyline unfolded,. They were of course, for the most part, criminal psychopaths going on with their everyday life as criminals when all hell broke loose. Still, their constant chatter of anything but the storyline made it all seem more real. It’s like John Lennon’s words, “Life’s what happens when we’re busy doing something else,” made into art.
It wasn’t just cool or funny, it was edgy, it was alive.
The characters in Pulp Fiction are strangely unique. Most of them being some sort of psychopath, living in a subculture where crime and murder are everyday business; they go to the extreme in lack of guilt or conscience. Still, they appear emotional, understandable, or even vulnerable in some sense. The acting is no less than phenomenal.
Yet, what really blew me away, was the non-chronological storyline. The way the timeline of the story was mixed up, jumping from act to act as we follow different stories that all come together in a blur, trusting the audience to have the brains to figure out the right connection between the different chapters of the story. It was like storytelling was reborn.
To me, Pulp Fiction stands as the most remarkable movie of the 90s. Hell, you couldn’t find a party in Copenhagen in the late 90s where the soundtrack wasn’t played. Pulp Fiction was everywhere.
At the same time, many other writers and directors were challenging the way crime stories were told. Pulp Fiction may have been the best, but Tarantino was far from the only one doing this. Something was happening, and I wanted to be a part of it. The crime genre was reborn right in front of us all. It was alive and it was kicking.
I paid my ticket, sat in the dark, and watched as Vincent Vega took care of Mia Wallace and Jules Winnfield found God.. I had my eyes glued to the screen trying to figure out who Keyser Soze really was in The Usual Suspects, and was stunned by the ending. I watched as the serial killer John Doe stepped right out of the seemingly auto-piloted plot in Se7en, giving himself up to the police and turning everything upside-down. I saw Pusher five times in the cinema that summer when everybody in Copenhagen was running around saying, “How many problems, you have, Franke?”
Crime was alive.
The crime stories I wrote in the years that followed were all inspired by this wave of challenging, black humored and often explicit crime movies.
I feel a stronger connection to these movies than to the later wave of Scandinavian Mysteries.
My newest book in English is called Russian Dope.