Friday, December 21, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Jackie Brown

I have decided to not attempt any major review on JACKIE BROWN for a few reasons. The main reason being that so much as already been written on the film, by writers much more eloquent than I am, that I am not sure of what I could add. I typically try to focus on films that haven’t been written on enough, and that certainly isn’t the case with JACKIE BROWN.
The other two reasons have to do with Tarantino himself. I figure fans of his already have a clear favorite and they are unwavering in their dedication towards it. Secondly, that people who don’t care for his work won’t be swayed by anything I can write…
So instead of a review I am going to offer two things to the table. The first is a simple list of things I believe about the film. Some you might agree with and some you might not. I offer no evidence for any of these, but I believe them all nonetheless and am not likely to change my mind anytime soon.
The second thing I will offer is a personal story about the first time I saw the film, what it meant and what it continues to mean to me. You may or may not want to skip over this, as it is really just my way of paying a personal tribute to a film that has come to mean a lot to me.

First up is the list:

1. The slow pacing that many people have complained about is deliberate, and is among the cleverest things Quentin Tarantino has ever accomplished. The slightly off pacing fits in perfectly thematically with the characters in the film.

2. This film is among the greatest works dealing with that particular time in a person’s life when they have just slipped past their prime. That weird moment when you are not old, but youth is no longer in the cards for you either.

3. This is the last great performance that Robert De Niro gave us, and what Samuel L. Jackson says to him after he shoots him foreshadows what many of his fans would like to say to him today.

4. There have been few characters as truly terrifying as Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell and Jackson has never been better in a role.

5. The opening shot of Pam Grier is one of the perfectly designed and realized entrances in film history.

6. The first time Robert Forster lays his eyes on Pam Grier is one of the most romantic shots in modern film.

7. Robert Forster is the most underrated film actor alive.

8. It is tragic that more directors weren’t smart enough to give the extremely talented Bridget Fonda more parts of this substance.

9. Bridget Fonda’s line delivery of her thoughts on ambition might be the funniest in any Tarantino film.

10. This is one of the only films made since the seventies that actually looks like it could have been made in that decade.

11. Pam Grier’s “Long Time Woman” is one of the great-lost soul tracks of the seventies.

12. Enough attention hasn’t been paid to the fact that Tarantino used a song from a Jess Franco work during one of the films key moments.

13. Sid Haig’s cameo is the perfect bit part as it is long enough to be substantial but not short enough to be just distracting.

14. The film’s soundtrack is one of the best examples of a score being used as a series of interior monologues ever.

15. The Delfonic’s “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind” is one of the five greatest love songs ever written.

16. Tarantino’s film finally helped give legitimacy to one of the most undervalued, misunderstood and underestimated genres in film history.

17. The final shots of Robert Forster and Pam Grier in this film are among the most moving in all of modern film.

18. Pam Grier was robbed when she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.

19. The true heart and soul of Quentin Tarantino can be found in this film.

20. JACKIE BROWN is the best film Quentin Tarantino has ever made.


I first saw JACKIE BROWN on Christmas night in 1997 in Lexington, Kentucky. I was 24 years old and I was frankly at a very low point in my life. I had recently dropped out of college to take care of my sick father, had broken up with my girlfriend of two years and was dealing with some serious problems of an emotional and chemical nature.
Seeing JACKIE BROWN that Christmas night, as a rare light snow fell in Lexington, was a special moment that gave me a rare healthy escape from the things happening in my life. I clicked with the film immediately and it gave me comfort for months after when things really began to hit a real low point for me.
The months leading up to JACKIE BROWN for me were interesting. I had liked RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION but unlike my best friend David (who I saw JACKIE BROWN with) they weren’t two of my favorites. Tarantino didn’t become really one of 'my guys' until JACKIE BROWN, and it is because of this film that I really count him among my favorites. I have loved and admired all of his work so far but JACKIE BROWN is the one that really hits me emotionally.

I remember that Christmas day clearly. The morning was spent with my mom and dad outside of Louisville, and then I had to go and open the video store that I managed in Lexington. Christmas days in video stores are interesting, as the first half is totally dead and the second is slammed. I can still picture the way that empty parking lot looked to my chemically induced glazed stare as the Jack Lemmon picture SAVE THE TIGER playing behind me refelected on the store windows.
I worked until the early evening and while the snow didn’t amount to much of anything it was lovely to watch falling. Shortly before I left work one of my favorite customers came in, a beautiful woman named Elizabeth whom I would always give free films to. I promised I would tell her how the new Tarantino film was but ironically I can’t remember now if I ever did.
I picked my friend David up at his house and we were off. The theater was fairly packed with mostly excited guys my age, and some couples. The hallway to the theater was lined with various poster designs for the film, and I remember stopping and admiring the shot of Bridget Fonda for a couple of minutes.

It is odd the things you remember. I can remember where we sat and that the floors were still sticky from the previous show. I remember there was a girl I knew named Whitney, who resembled Sherilyn Fenn, sitting a few rows up, and I reminding myself to try and speak to her on the way out...although I can’t remember if I did.
Like I said the film and I clicked perfectly. I actually felt like it was screening just for me as the disappointment that most of the audience was feeling was palatable. I responded to the characters, the slow pacing, the photography, the music and the vision it presented of the human spirit just passed its prime.
I had the same reaction the two other times I saw it in a theater. Thinking back on it now, I wish I would have seen it a dozen times but the three were it.
Thinking on the film and listening to its soundtrack helped keep me afloat for months after until I crashed landed completely. It is odd how my best memories are usually small good things that happened during my worst possible periods, but that is the way it has always gone for me.

So it has been ten years since JACKIE BROWN. I am in a much better place now but damn I am not 24 anymore, and the fact that I won’t be 34 anymore in ten years pretty much guarantees that the film will grow even more special to me.
The theater where I saw JACKIE BROWN closed down a few years ago, and I don’t remember having more than a flurry on Christmas day since. I haven’t seen my father, my friend David, Elizabeth or even that girl Whitney who looked like Sherilyn Fenn in years and I don’t expect I ever will again. JACKIE BROWN remains for me though and I find myself gravitating towards it each Christmas. Surprisingly this violent and sun baked essay on regret and disappointment has become my favorite Christmas film.
These days I feel a lot like Max Cherry at the end of this film...standing, frozen...not unhappy but frustrated in his inability to hold onto what is slipping away and lamenting his inability to move forward.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

It was great hearing your personal story about how you first saw this film and what it means to you. I agree with you on all your points. I've never been as a big of a Tarantino fan as some people. I actually liked True Romance better than Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, even though I know he only wrote that and didn't direct it. I didn't see Jackie Brown when it first came out. I actually saw both of the Kill Bill films before I ever saw Jackie Brown. I regret that so much. It is an amazing film. The entire cast was fantastic in it. Many of them have never had a chance to shine like that again. Pam Grier is one of my favorite actresses of the 70's. It was great to see her in a starring role again. She deserved an Oscar for this film. I loved the pacing of the film. I think so many people expect a Tarantino film to be all action and not much dialogue. I think he's great when he gives the characters a chance to talk. It's one of the reasons why I prefer Death Proof over Planet Terror.

Steve Langton said...

What a wonderful post. Best thing I've read on this film and your personal account of your first viewing is extremely moving. My first encounter with this film was at opening weekend in London. Before the film had ended I got the feeling this may be the best film Tarantino would ever make. We'll see about that one, but it's certainly his best to date, I'd say

Robert Monell said...

That IS a major review you have done. I agree that it's QT's best work, at least the one I can most relate to. But I don't fit into the present Pop Culture mainstream and this a vacation for me. Foster is terrific in this as he is in Jess Franco's ESMERALDA BAY, playing the exact opposite type of role, a vicious Central American torture specialist. An great unknown performance in a great unknown film and another Jess Franco connection. Thanks for the thoughtful blog.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks to you all for your very nice comments. This was one of the most personal posts I have ever done here and i appreciate the nice words and thoughts...

Kotto said...

it's nice to finally be in the company of film fans who agrees JB is QT's best film. here i was thinking i was the only one!