Saturday, February 26, 2005

Jackie Brown

I'm almost done with Promethea. The series is at direct injection level right now, I really want to read the rest of it right now, but I'm trying to give what's happened so far a little more time to sink in. The thing that strikes me is how similar this is to The Invisibles. I have the feeling if I hadn't read The Invisibles, I'd be reeling and in awe right now, like I was after the first reading of Volume III. I still love what Moore is doing, it's just I'm more into the characters than the concepts, because I've already read the concepts in The Invisibles.

Anyway, yesterday I watched Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino's third film, and his second best, behind only Kill Bill I. Jackie Brown is a really unique film, even though it's referencing 70s blaxploitation movies, it's not in the same way that Kill Bill references Kung Fu movies. It's really in the soundtrack and star that we see the blaxploitation influence, not so much the content of the film.

What makes the film unique is something difficult to articulate. It's a combination of pacing and style. On the DVD, Quentin calls it a 'hangout' film and I think that's really accurate. You're not so much engaged in the story as you're sitting around, kicking it with the characters. Other than the opening title sequence, we don't even see Jackie Brown until a half hour into the film. The film has a leisurely introduction to its world and characters, so that by the time we run into Jackie Brown, we know the stakes of what she's involved in.

But, even once the main plot starts up, we still get the feeling that we're just capturing the everyday travails of these people. Most movies focus on the most extraordinary moments of people's lives, and while what happens in the movie does have a huge impact on the characters, there's never the sense that it's so out of the ordinary, until the end. Sometimes, I feel like the ultimate goal for filmmakers is to make a movie in which nothing happens, yet is still very interesting. This movie is a step in that direction, we just drift through their lives, observing. The thing is, Quentin makes the characters so interesting that their very existence is fun to watch. It's a tribute to his filmmaking skill that he can make someone listening to music in their car as they drive a riveting scene.

The core of the movie is the relationship between Jackie and Max Cherry. Robert Forster as Max Cherry is the most human character in a Quentin Tarantino, and the most interesting to watch. You really understand him, and the joy that Jackie brings to his ordinary routine. The chemistry between them is huge, and I love their final scene together.

The use of music in the film is amazing. Quentin is always able to find brilliant obscure 70s tracks and bring them to the surface, and that talent is never better put to use than here. The most notable is the way he integrates The Delfonics' 'Didn't I Blow Your Mind this Time' into the narrative. Tarantino associates the song with Jackie, so just the scene of Max buying the tape can tell you everything you need to know about how he's feeling. Plus, it's an awesome song. Other great tracks include 'Across 110th Street' over the titles, Brothers Johnson 'Strawberry Letter 23' and The Grassroots' 'Midnight Confessions.'

I could see why some people would find the film too long, it's by no means a tight film. You could easily cut this down to an hour and a half, but that's completely missing the point of the film. It's all about inhabiting this world with the characters, not the money switch business. I can't think of a single scene that stands out as boring or should have been cut.

This film is much less flashy and overtly innovative than Tarantino's other films, but it's also much more real. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are in many ways more about the telling of the story than the story itself, and Kill Bill Volume 1 is all about using a bare bones story as an excuse to do a bunch of sketches and set pieces. This isn't bad, I love to see messing around with the nature of storytelling, but Jackie Brown has such compelling characters, you get more wrapped up in their story than you can in the tale of Butch or Vincent Vega. Quentin is a big fan of Wong Kar-Wai, and while Pulp Fiction seems on the surface more similar to his work, this film actually reminds me a lot of his, in the way it dwells on the lives of people, rather than a really complex plot. This film has a lot of similarities with Kill Bill II, and the relationship between the Bride and Bill is the only thing that even touches Jackie and Max in Tarantino's oevure.

I love the film, and I think it's sad that a lot of people who enjoyed his other work never sought out Jackie Brown. It may not have changed cinema in the way that Pulp Fiction did, but in retrospect, it's a much more unique and layered film, and is just a joy to watch. Watching Jackie play all sides against each other in the brilliantly executed money switch sequence is also watching a brilliantly executed piece of cinema.

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