Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jackie Brown

OK, I was totally in tears within the first three minutes of rewatching Jackie Brown. That opening sequence at the airport has to be one of my favorite sequences in film ever. It just keeps expanding: it starts off as a clear homage to The Graduate, but then you see that, rather than being super-emo about a twenty-two-year-old white man's sense of spiritual stasis, it's updating the reference to make a comment on an aging black woman's inability to gain much traction against her life. But then the pace evolves, as she starts walking briskly, eventually breaking into a run. At that point I realized that her journey through the airport is also a metaphor for the journey of her life. First it's an unhurried glide when everything seems easy and progress happens without much exertion; then it's a strutting, confident stride on her own steam; then it's a panicked dash to the finish line, trying not to be late for her sense of responsibility to herself, for her outside commitments, and perhaps even for some perceived appointment with her own destiny--that rush to get it all in before it's too late. It's also one of Tarantino's few purely cinematic moments so far in his oeuvre. It's like watching him finally learn to really be a director, to trust his visual instincts without the snappy dialogue to back it up. He's reveling in film history here--again, with the fairly explicit bite from The Graduate, but also with the look and feel of '70s credit sequences via the typography and color palette, but I also even see California-style Altman here in those lengthy tracking shots and the way the sunshine gets all blown out as she runs past the window in silhouette. And, of course he's also reveling in the deliciousness of that fact that he has unfettered access to photograph a woman as stunningly beautiful as Pam Grier for as long as he wants to--a deliciousness that's thoughtfully tempered with clear respect and affection. You can almost hear him thinking, "let me shoot you like this so that I can make everyone feel about you the same way that I feel about you, so that everyone will remember how amazing you can be." As I watched all this unfolding, revisiting this much loved film, I started laughing at its brilliant audacity, its multivalence, its perfection, then crying because it was all kind of too much--then laughing at my crying, then crying some more for good measure. It's beautiful. (Check it out here on YouTube if you haven't seen it for a while yourself.)

Jackie Brown is probably the Tarantino film I've seen the most and am consequently most familiar with (and, depending on the day, it's probably the film I'd call my favorite of his), so there weren't a whole lot of surprises for me on the order of what I experienced in the past few weeks with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Watching it this week brought more a sense of pure joy to be revisiting this old friend. I was struck, though, with how much everyone in this film is aging with varying degrees of discomfort about it. The whole notion of taking these nearly forgotten '70s movie stars like Grier and Robert Forster is right there in front of your face, and it obviously comprised many of the talking points surrounding the movie when it first came out. But I don't think I'd ever really noticed the anguished enormity of the line that Ordell speaks to Louis right before he shoots him: "what the fuck happen to you? You used to be beautiful, man." Wow. It had never occurred to me to read their friendship in light of their past history together, but of course it makes sense. They've seen each other age through time wasted in prison and "career" changes, all leading up to this last proverbial chance to make one big score. Of course, there's also the meta-level commentary on DeNiro's own aging from skinny young punk lighting the world on fire with his Method ferocity into a portly, avuncular character actor taking roles that were more and more beneath him. "You used to be beautiful, man." This is the movie's battle cry. And not in a shitty, judgmental way--just in the way that taking a moment to observe the passage of time can be profoundly philosophically flummoxing.

This is also, of course, the film where Tarantino starts to transition more decisively away from men's stories and into women's, becoming, if not a feminist filmmaker per se, then at least one who keeps a deep and abiding love for all manner of female kick-assery close to his heart. And, pound for pound, give me this soundtrack any day of the week over Reservoir Dogs' or Pulp Fiction's!

In other news, I was delighted to have been asked back as a guest blogger over on eat!drink!snack! this week. I contributed to Shawn's newly launched "the musical fruit" column, where he's pairing songs with fresh produce. You can find my post on the Long Winters' "Blue Diamonds" and a lovely pint of blueberries here.


parowpyro said...

dang. i thought there was going to be footage on youtube of you laughing & then crying & then laughing at your crying & then crying some more.

good film though.

allison said...

Hahaha, whoops. I CAN HAZ ANTECEDENT?

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog just now makes me want to re-watch "Jackie Brown" so bad. The opening scene in the airport is really the only part I clearly remember. Every time I get into LAX and go past that multi-colored tile wall I remember that scene. Crazy! That has always stuck in my mind. We'll have to show it to you when you make it out here for a visit.


Michael O'D said...

Great post. Dead-on about the soundtrack, too.