Friday, June 23, 2006


I finally got around to renting Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN the other night. Like CACHE', this, too, is a film that owes much, I think to Alfred Hitchcock. Tarantino describes this as a "hangout movie." He spends the first half of the film in long scenes – many of them eight or nine minute uncut takes – just letting the audience "hang out" with his characters, allowing us to see their motives, their pasts, what makes them tick. The real drama and suspense don't occur until roughly the second half of the film. This plot arc puts me in mind of PSYCHO, for example, which follows a similar pattern.

Likewise, as we see how each character's personality unfolds, the good guys ain't always so good and the bad guys ain't always so bad – as in Hitch's films. Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) plays a street weapons dealer who amasses a small fortune that he intends to retire on. While we recoil at his business and his propensity for violence, we also identify with the American Dream to which he aspires – through hard work and prudent use of his funds, he has built a good business that will enable him to soon retire. The Hitchcockian (not to say, Schopenhauerian) rub is the disconnect between Robbie's actuality – he's a petty thug – and his aspiration to transcend all that. Again, think of Marion Crane's thievery in PSYCHO.

There 's a bit of Marion Crane in Jackie (Pam Grier), the film's heroine, as well. Getting a raw deal in life, clearly overqualified for the life she's leading, we want her to transcend her existence. Her aspirations lead her to double cross both Robbie and the police, steal his hard earned money and have him assassinated. Our feelings about her are mixed. We want her to win, yet what it took for her to prevail is truly monstrous. In the film, she does, in fact, get the loot, but it comes at great personal cost. She loses her love interest, the Philip Marlowesque bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Robert Forster), who sees her for what she has become and admits to being a bit afraid of her monstrosity. Thus the movie ends on an ambiguously happy/bitter note – just as Hitch would have liked.

There are a couple of overt Hitch touches, such as an overhead "God's eye" shot of Jackie in a clothing store's fitting room, transferring her money from purse to shopping bag. (Tarantino's commentary informs us that this was an overtly Hitchcockian shot.) Later, at the climax, Tarantino slows the pace, rather than speeding it up, which enhances the suspense. Very Hitchcockian. During this slow build-up, the commentary track feeds us a series of well-known Hitch quotes about melodrama being 'life with the dull bits cut out,' etc.

Obviously, Tarantino's creative taproot sinks into grittier genres than Hitch's. But JACKIE BROWN is, I believe, a very Hitchcockian film. I'm going to end this post by fantasizing about Tarantino dropping by Hitch's office for a noon meal of steak and french fries....

Joel Gunz

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