My wife Brooke and I were discussing Pulp Fiction recently, specifically which of its three plotlines is our favorite. I’m partial to Jules and Vincent’s Very Bad Day. She prefers the Butch story, with the exception of the sequence we both agree is the weakest in the film: the extended cab ride with Esmarelda Villalobos. I said it felt to me like Tarantino just had an idea or fetish for a sexy foreign cab driver character who was obsessed with death, and just figured, “Hey, I’ll squeeze her in here! Why the hell not?”
“Esmarelda Villalobos,” my wife said, “is a Blue Duck.”
I cracked up and declared that she was absolutely right, and that this should be the name for all such Esmeralda Villa Lobos type things going forward. They are Blue Ducks.
For those of you not familiar with the classic of modern cinema that is Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison (it was the first movie I bought on DVD because I figured I’d want to watch it over and over, and damned if I wasn’t right), when man-child Billy is repeating the First Grade (it’s a long story), his final assignment is coloring. As his teacher stands over him, Billy says, unprovoked, “I drew a blue duck because I’ve never seen a blue duck before and, frankly, I wanted to see a blue duck.”
So a Blue Duck in film or other arts would be something that only exists because the author wants to see it. I’m not saying it’s always a bad thing, either. In Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds, I laughed out loud in the theater every time a touch came on screen that was just so obviously something Tarantino wanted to do because he could. Why does Hugo Stiglitz get giant ’70s grindhouse titles of his name when he’s introduced when nothing else of that style exists in the movie? Because eff you, that’s why. It serves no purpose to the larger story, other than reminding you that you’re watching a Tarantino film. It’s a Blue Duck.
My guess would be that Blue Ducks most often turn up in the work of auteurs who can’t be told that their work needs editing, or in the work of well-meaning amateurs who figure they have one shot at greatness and try to squeeze every cool idea they ever had into their first project.
Can you think of any other Blue Ducks in the worlds of film, literature or comics? Share them in the comments. But most importantly, next time you see one, don’t forget what they’re called. What do YOU think, Mr. Duck?