Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: Jackie Brown

The first thing I think of when I think about 'Jackie Brown' is the color blue - the french blue of her Cabo Air uniform, an instantly iconic design that is one among many triumphs for costume designer Mary Clare Hannon; Hannon stocks the movie with stylised, subtly retro threads that also feel lived in, work-ready, persuasively part of the texture of everyday life. In its balance between the iconic and the workaday, that uniform is the film in a nutshell. It symbolises all the financial stresses and consequent dubious compromises that gnaw away at Jackie (Pam Grier), but it also turns her into a visually striking generic figure, a player in Tarantino's game of cool. With one look at that uniform, we know that Jackie's both a loser and a winner. 

The long opening tracking shot that follows Jackie through the airport to her work is my choice for best shot: impressive on its own terms, that blue uniform raises it to another level. Held in profile as the tiled backdrop scrolls by and the credits flash up, the combined potency of the costume design and Grier's own history help Tarantino coin Jackie as a new film icon. Still, even serene, in motion, this opening shot suggests exactly the way Jackie's sang froid and poker face will see her through to the end. And yet the shot reveals at the same time the mundanity of Jackie's daily life, catching her on the slog to her (relatively) dead end job - life as a flight attendant drained of its traditional glamor. People often talk about the unusual empathy 'Jackie Brown' finds for its characters in contrast to Tarantino's other films. I'm not sure those other films are quite as emotionally cool as typically assumed, but 'Jackie Brown' signals its interest in stylisation modulated by thoughtful attention to people's actual, frustrated lives right in this opening shot.

I also love its semi-reprise in the lead in to the theft itself. The background tiling is now a matching shade of blue. Jackie is no longer stuck in daily drudgery and desperation - she's seized the initiative. This is Jackie's world now. 
           The second thing I think of when I think about 'Jackie Brown' is red.

This post has been brought to you by The Film Experience's 'Hit Me with Your Best Shot' series.

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