I'm walkin', yes indeed: Jackie Brown on DVD

By Justin Remer

Justin Remer is an Ohio-born writer and filmmaker, currently living and studying in New York City.


In an interview on the bonus materials disc of the long-overdue first DVD edition of Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown, the director debunks a somewhat popular notion that, upon repeat viewing, Jackie Brown is a better film than 1994’s Pulp Fiction because it is much deeper in its characterization and humanism. That works, Tarantino says, only until you see Pulp Fiction again.

Even so, I have to say Jackie Brown is dearest to me of Tarantino’s films because of its willingness to spend time with its over-the-hill characters and its attitude that its plot is basically secondary. Some would argue the film is flabby at two and a half hours, but watching it again, I was not bored for a moment.

That said, on repeat viewing, it becomes apparent that a lot does not happen in Jackie Brown. Tarantino states later in the interview that Jackie Brown is a better film on repeat viewing because you can truly savor the “hanging out” scenes and not let the story trouble you. By saying this, he seems to conveniently forget all of the story-dependent walking in the film. It seems there are more prolonged steadicam shots following people as they walk in Jackie Brown than in all of the films of the similarly walk-happy Paul Thomas Anderson.

Tarantino cannot deny that these shots work best when the viewer does not know the outcome and is able to invest the shots with dread. Tarantino sets up this connection to dread at a point about forty-five minutes into the film when small-change gunrunner Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson, walks from his car to the front door of the home of Jackie Brown, played by Pam Grier. Jackie fears Ordell may want to kill her for talking to the police about him. And as we watch him patiently walk across her lawn with a gun in his pants, slipping a pair of gloves on his hands, we suddenly fear for her too.

Just the spirit of Ordell haunts a later pair of shots, in which Robert Forster, as Jackie’s cohort Max Cherry, walks from a department store dressing room outside to his car with a bag full of Ordell’s money. The camera follows Forster until he opens his car door and gets in, then it waits. The camera holds for a moment at the empty space above Max Cherry’s car before panning down to reveal Max Cherry alone inside. Obviously, this prolonged walk and especially this hesitation above the car is meant to provoke the suspense-movie-bred anxiety that, when the camera pans down, Ordell or one of his thugs will be in the car waiting to do harm to Max Cherry. It is bold and blatant manipulation of the audience, and it works too... the first time you see it.

Unfortunately, after knowing the mechanics of the plot and re watching this shot, one can be left wondering, “Why did I just spend two minutes watching someone walk to his car?”
It leaves me to suggest the best way to re-watch Jackie Brown is to do so with someone who has never seen it. It allows you to savor the dialogue and the “hanging out” without troubling yourself about the plot, but it also allows you to witness how those pesky long walking shots work on someone who does not know what is going to happen and therefore allows you the closest thing to having your memory fully wiped.

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The new two-disc DVD collector’s edition of Jackie Brown, more anticipated in some camps than The Phantom Menace DVD and certainly delayed longer, is more than worth the wait. It does not have a commentary, which is unsurprising since Tarantino stated on the From Dusk Till Dawn commentary track that he is so sick of his own films by the time they are ready for video that he will not watch them again to comment. Instead , there is a fun hour-long interview with the director, fifteen minutes of deleted and extended scenes, and a pretty standard behind-the-scenes documentary with a few highlights -- like the sight of Robert De Niro sitting silent as Quentin Tarantino answers his interview questions for him. It has common features, like filmographies, stills, trailers and TV spots, and not-so-common features, like complete printed reviews and articles from the time of the film’s theatrical release.

What is great about this set is the goofy stuff. Taking a cue from the expansive and wonderful Switchblade Sisters DVD that Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures released, there are trailers, posters, radio spots, and more from the careers of Robert Forster and Pam Grier, just as the Sisters disc was full of such material on director Jack HIll. Sure, that means you can find a respectable clip for Medium Cool, but there are plenty more trailers from later Forster flicks, like Alligator, Avalanche, and his directorial effort, Hollywood Harry, collected with promos for any number of films with Pam Grier in an exotic women’s prison.

The Jackie Brown DVD will surely satisfy fans of the film, of the stars, and of the director. In his introduction to the DVD, Tarantino claims it took so long for this edition to be released because he wanted to give fans a great disc-set. More likely it is getting released now, along with expanded editions of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, to remind casual moviegoers of Tarantino’s existence so that they go see Kill Bill next year. Still, this edition has been compiled with a fan’s love for movies -- big and small -- and for other fans.


                                                                 © FILM JOURNAL 2002