The Legacy of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof

Only a handful of directors knows how just to catch the attention of people like Quentin Tarantino. No doubt, he is good at doing things right. Considered as an exploitation film that stroked the sensibilities of genre nerds, the theatrical release of the double-feature throwback experiment is seen to both confuse and alienate the general moviegoing public at the same time.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse was released on April 6, 2007. The directors made an intentional affectation that got many unsuspecting patrons unhappy. The saw the nicks and scratches in the film as damaging. As a result, the confidence of the filmmaking duo began to wane when disappointments from general disinterest and the resulting box office came filing in.

While some may consider the gritty, 70s-style exploitation flick to be one of Tarantino’s purest movies, there is a good number of viewers who are still wondering where his contribution was. When credits of “Planet Terror” – Rodriguez’s lead film – starts to roll, these were the people who pulled on their coats and obliviously left the theater all because they felt deceived.

Up to this very moment, the film –Death Proof – still carries along a raging debate with lots of disapprovals from the viewing public. Even as a major part of the filmmaker’s broader legacy which was meant to serve as a standalone entertainment, the film generally appears to be a far more contentious piece.

While some may find it hard to gauge the lasting effect of the movie, a good number of fans – both the obsessive and casual ones – consider the 2007 American exploitation film as the worst effort of the director by a wide margin.

You can read all of Quentin Tarantino’s Screenplays here.

Death Proof: The Film

Under the collective title “Grindhouse,” the film – Death Proof – was theatrically released as part of a double feature with Planet Terror which was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Basically, it was aimed at recreating the experience of viewing the double features of exploitation film in a grindhouse theater. Though released as part of a double feature in the US, the film got a separate release outside the shores of its home country.

Quentin Tarantino both wrote and directed the film which stars Zoe Bell, Mary Elizabeth, Tracie Thoms, Sydney Poitier, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito, Rosario Dawson, and Kurt Russell. In the film, Zoe Bell played herself as stuntwoman while Kurt Russell starred as the stuntman. The film pays homage to the muscle car, exploitation, and slasher films of the 1970s. During the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, Death proof was seen to be in the main competition for the Palme d’Or.

Death Proof: Behind the Scenes

Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the way stunt cars were “death-proof” by stuntmen so their drivers could be able to survive horrific collisions and high-speed crashes. It was this fascination that led to the production of the creation of a slasher film that features an upset stuntman with a “death-proof” car which he uses to stalk and kill sexy women.

Apart from women-in-prison films, Tarantino was looking to do a more rigid film. That was when he came up with the idea of using the structure of a slasher film to create something strict that people will love. According to Robert Rodriguez who helped title the movie, the film was simple and straightforward.

In Tarantino’s earlier film – Kill Bill– he had featured stuntwoman Zoe Bell as a stunt double for Uma Thurman and was stunned by her performance. Initially, he thought her role to be a cameo one but it later turned out to be her first on-screen acting. Zoe Bell on her part never understood the enormousness of her role until her name was featured on the film posters opposite other characters like Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, and Kurt Russell.

Based on the stuntwoman herself, Bell was selected to play the character, Zoe. In order to make the film look more like the typical 1970 movies shown in grindhouse theaters, the filmmakers sought to employ various unconventional techniques to reflect the style. One way they could do this was to intentionally damage the film. Throughout the feature, the film looked it was in bad shape. This is evident in the hilarious switch in title when the title ‘Quentin Tarantino’s Thunderbolt’ was abruptly replaced by a title card with an inexpertly emblazoned inscription – ‘Death Proof’ – across the screen.

The leading female role was written by Tarantino himself. Basically, he sought to create a kind of a loving homage cinematic sub-culture that many find difficult to comprehend. Viewers who are not used to the “grindhouse” cinema phenomena found it difficult to understand how the film was set out. Both in its look and feel, the film went out of its way to imitate the style of exploitation cinema that was popular in the late 60’s and 70’s.

It would appear that a vast majority of mainstream audiences didn’t find the film at all amusing. This alone led to the major criticisms leveled at it. In the first place, the film is not meant to be taken very seriously. Rather, it was purposed to be a pastiche or a parody of the class of movies a greater percentage of viewers wouldn’t want to see. But in terms of content, theme, and plot, it tends to be highly controversial and little in the way of conventional film logic.

The original idea was to pastiche two films and relay them at drive-in movie theaters as a double feature. As they move from state to state, theater owners will just have to take up the role of the filmmakers to re-cut and re-edit both films. This is the explanation for the appearance of a severely depreciating film stock, the switch between black and white and color, the sloppy editing and the purposeful mistakes in continuity.

Death Proof: The Critics

In a bid to appeal to the obsessive-type movie aficionado who are capable of appreciating the joke and getting the references, the filmmakers try to create a focused adoption of shoddy film-making which is in no wise sloppy as some may see it. To this end, it becomes quite difficult to see what people may be criticizing. A greater number of people would be reluctant to consider sevral semi-unclear movies that influenced the film as they will not actually expect it to keep them enthralled and entertained.

While the rest of Tarantino’s works have received wide praise, Proof’s merits have suffered derisive sarcasm. During a roundtable interview with a Hollywood reporter in 2012, Tarantino was quick to state that he felt the film stains his credit thereby regarding as the lowest point of quality that can be accepted from him.

However, come to look at it, the film seems to contain certain features that can rarely be found in any of his works. Tarantino’s film is such a personal work that’s got his fetishes, self-indulgence, influences, and interests at work. No doubt, everything here including the heavy flaws contributes immensely to the body of work displayed in the film.

Obviously, the movie is the palpable result of the most exciting auteur in cinema. It can be said to be a film writ in his largest, loudest letters. While some critics may see Death Proof as a remake of some cheapie slasher exploitation flicks, others can freely say it is the ecstatic fantasy daydream of the maker after night binging on girl gang.

Apart from Tarantino, there would only be a few people that admire the exploitation in the film. As a matter of fact, most of the features in Death Proof were no classics. Referencing to “vanishing point” is just unheard of. An average moviegoer must have never come across such things as “SwitchBlade Sisters.” No doubt, the movie is unbearably talky.

As part of the pastiche, Tarantino and his crew deliberately insert continuous dialogue that makes it sound chit-chatty with endless gabbing. Those who accustomed with this will find it difficult to understand that the action was deliberate. This was basically done to conserve the budgetary production of the film and at the same time, reference the downside to genuine seventies Grindhouse flick.

Death Proof: The Raves

Outside the meaningless girl talk and the ponderous lulls that can even be forborne, there are still some interesting features in the movie that cannot be overlooked. As a matter of fact, it is hard to deny that the vehicle stunts exhibited in the film are impressive. No doubt, Sally Menke did a beautiful job there! One absolute shocker that cannot be by-passed is the spectacular crash. This remarkable moment alone requires both a ‘pause and replay’ action.

The Jackie Chan factor was fully observed here when Zoe Bell heightened the tension with a sense of actual danger while performing her own stunts. Along with an admirably old-school precision, the climactic cat-and-mouse car chase proved very pristine. As an actress and stuntwoman, Zoe Bell never found the role of playing herself any challenging. Thanks to a sympathetic advantage, she found so easy to showcase her bubbly personality.

Also, the remaining casting is ideal. At first ominous and then pathetic, the renascent Kurt Russell showcases his fatherly charm and charisma into something extra ordinary. He deftly navigates through his role with tonal hairpin turns that are only typical with him. Even Mickey Rourke would have found this role to be quite challenging to handle. No doubt, the twisted ex-stuntman Mike did a great job getting off on chasing pretty women off the road.

Tarantino seeks to upgrade the Mike to the status of a near-immortal by making him literally untouchable especially when he’s in that death-proof car of his. In fact, Stuntman Mike was so elevated that he could not be killed by anyone except in the hands of another stuntman. But in this scenario, there was a stuntwoman.

In a bid to evoke the typical nature of the film’s location – Austin, Death Proof features a soundtrack packed with southern-flavored obscurities which are also part of the director’s favorite. Long before joining the industry, Tarantino has been working as a musical ‘curator.’ So, he knows just how to bring his least-gimmicky and most consistently listenable tune selections into the mix. Just so you know, the director wrote all the song titles used in the movie. As a huge part of all of his films, Quentin Tarantino was able to get his personal 45 collections into the jukebox in the Texas Chili Parlor.

Tarantino is famous for monkeying with his movies’ timeline. But unlike his other movies, Death Proof is the only film that runs in chronological order. Here, he had no choice but to skip the trickery features such as the flashbacks so as to perfectly get aligned with the down-low style of Death Proof. Littered with his personal touches, Tarantino does well to recycle “Death Proof” from thriller materials and stock horror.

Death Proof: Final Thoughts

Towards the end of the film, an amusing but unanticipated change-up occurred when the girls gained superiority over the nefarious Stuntman Mike. This alone is capable of bringing a soothing relief on the face of every aficionado praying for an imminent escape for the girls. No doubt, the girls in tight t-shirts, the other characters, the music, and the colorful iconography added to constructive nature of the movie. All these made it look like a joyous, darkly comic romp.

Apart from attempting to turn its audience on to a whole new world of cult Japanese cinema, Death Proof fully demonstrates to its audience the great use of movement, color, texture, and tone employed by the filmmaker. Nevertheless, the film is meant as a piece of entertainment. The final scene of the movie was shot near the Neverland Ranch, at the entrance to Midland School just on Figueroa Mountain Road.

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Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

In terms of American independent film, there is Before RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), and After RESERVOR DOGS.  Director Quentin Tarantino’s feature debut was a truly paradigm-shattering event, single-handedly turning a sleepy Utah ski town into something of a promised land for aspiring filmmakers the world over.  No one quite knew what to make of its razor-sharp wit and unflinching violence, but they knew that a forceful new voice had just descended with a vengeance on the complacent Hollywood system.  It’s hard not to speak in hyperbolic terms when discussing Tarantino—the man’s style and subject matter practically begs for it.

RESERVOIR DOGS has often been voted as one of, if not the best independent films of all time.  As a hard-boiled gangster/crime picture, it wears its influences on its sleeve, but then proceeds to upend every expectation in the book like a bull in a china shop.  Despite multiple viewings, it will still grip its audiences with gritted teeth and clenched knuckles like it did the first time.

I was a senior in high school when I familiarized myself with Tarantino, having casually heard how PULP FICTION (1994) was such an incredible film throughout my life.  It wasn’t until I watched my first Tarantino film, 2004’s KILL BILL VOLUME 1 in theaters that I was compelled to visit his back catalog.  On a whim, I snatched up both DVDs of PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS, with only the faintest idea of what I was getting myself into.

While his later films would sprawl out to broader scales, RESERVOIR DOGS tells a very tight, very compact story that could easily be translated into live theatre (and has, on multiple occasions).  Five common criminals team up to stage a simple diamond heist, only for it to go horribly wrong.  The dazed and confused criminals rendezvous in an industrial warehouse on the fringes of town, trying to make sense of what happened.  As they argue and debate amongst themselves, they slowly realize that there’s a rat, or worse—an undercover cop—in their midst.  But figuring out the identity of the rat won’t be so easy, with tempers flaring and unexpected loyalty defections that raise the stakes to Shakespearean proportions.

You can read all of Quentin Tarantino’s Screenplays here.

Tarantino got his break off of RESERVOIR DOGS simply by the strength of his crackerjack script.  Through some personal connections, the screenplay winded up in the hands of character actor and frequent Martin Scorsese collaborator, Harvey Keitel.  Upon reading Tarantino’s script, Keitel immediately called up the young aspiring director and asked to take part in it.  Keitel’s participation proved instrumental, bringing in $1.5 million in financing and serious name recognition for a film that Tarantino had initially envisioned shooting with his friends for $30,000.  Coupled with the opportunity to workshop his script in-depth at the Sundance Institute’s Directing Labs, Tarantino was able to come to set on the first day with all the tools he needed to deliver a knockout film.

Tarantino has always had an impeccable eye for casting, and the ensemble he collected for RESERVOIR DOGS is filled with unconventional, yet incredibly inspired choices.  The aforementioned Mr. Keitel experienced a late-career resurgence as a result of his performance as Mr. White, the tough yet tender thug at the center of the story.  Tim Roth, as Mr. Orange, is convincing as both a dangerous criminal and a cocky undercover cop.  Roth’s performance is superlatively dynamic despite spending the majority of his screen time lying in a pool of blood.

Michael Madsen plays one of the film’s most terrifying characters, a smooth and squinty-eyed career criminal with a volatile sadistic streak—Mr. Blonde, real name Vic Vega.  Madsen’s too-cool-for-school performance results in a simple torture sequence becoming one of cinema’s most profoundly disturbing moments.  Mr. Blonde is a sick fuck, taking great pleasure in torturing a cop by cutting off his ear and soaking him in gasoline, only for his own amusement.

Steve Buscemi plays Mr. Pink, a squirrelly, self-deluded member of the team.  Tarantino initially wanted to play the part of Mr. Pink, but Buscemi’s energetic, bug-eyed audition convinced him otherwise.  Buscemi’s performance is incredibly memorable, with his argument for why he doesn’t tip waitresses in the opening diner scene being one of the most iconic moments in the movie.  Veteran character actor Lawrence Tierney plays the gang’s curmudgeonly fat-cat boss, Joe Cabot, with a tough, yet paternal flair.  Rounding out the cast is the late Chris Penn as Nice Guy Eddie, Joe Cabot’s vindictive rich-prick son.

As Tarantino’s first, true professional work, RESERVOIR DOGS looks slick and polished, with none of the amateur-looking roughness that plagued his first attempt, MY BEST FRIEND’S BIRTHDAY (1987).  The first film to be produced with his frequent production partner, Lawrence Bender, RESERVOIR DOGS puts every cent of its $1.5 million budget on the screen.  For his first time working with 35mm film, Tarantino chooses the inherently-cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio to create dynamic wide compositions and infuse the maximum amount of style.  Cinematographer Andrjez Sekula gives the film a mid-80’s Technicolor patina comprised of washed out colors to complement Tarantino’s “Valley burnout” aesthetic.  The muted color palette also makes the bold splashes of crimson blood all the more jarring and visceral.

I’ve written before about how Tarantino educated himself on filmmaking primarily by the voracious consumption of films, so it’s interesting to see how he uses the camera when he has the financial resources to be creative.  For the most part, RESERVOIR DOGS assumes a somewhat formalist style, preferring wide compositions and deliberate, smooth dolly movements.  This is interspersed with jarring handheld work, especially in the use of long tracking shots—a technique that would later become one component of Tarantino’s signature style.  For instance, there’s a moment halfway through the film when Mr. Blonde interrupts the torture of his captive to retrieve a gas can from his car outside.  The camera follows Michael Madsen as he steps outside, grabs the canister, and returns inside in one continuous shot.  While admittedly simple visually, this technique is incredibly complicated to pull off in one long take—there’s exposure switches and focus pulling to worry about, not to mention the fact that film is designed in two different color temperatures (daylight and interior), and can’t exactly be switched out mid-take.  Techniques like this require a competent, steady hand that fundamentally understands the nature of film-based acquisition.  RESERVOIR DOGS is full of these understated, incredibly complicated visual flourishes. For a first-time director with no formal film education to effortlessly do this time and time again, with style and grace to boot, is truly an astonishing thing to behold.

Tarantino’s mastery of the craft on his first time at bat also extends to the film’s sonic aspects, specifically the music.  The director eschewed the use of a conventional composer or score, opting instead to create a rockabilly musical landscape of old 70’s rock songs.   This conceit is incorporated into his self-contained universe, as the broadcast content of Tarantino’s fictional, recurring radio station K-Billy.  Tarantino’s eclectic taste in music is responsible for perhaps the film’s most infamous, enduring scene—who can easily forget the uneasy juxtaposition of watching a man’s ear hacked off while the jaunty rhythm of Stealer Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” bounces along the soundtrack?  As a developing filmmaker myself, Tarantino was a huge influence in the sense that his style exposed the unlimited possibilities of inspired and unexpected musical selections.

RESERVOIR DOGS put Tarantino’s bold, take-no-prisoners style on the map.  It suddenly became very cool in mainstream entertainment to find creative combinations of wit and profanity, to play up violence to an almost-cartoonish degree, or to make left-field pop culture references.  When Tarantino used his crucial opening minutes to ramble at length about the true meaning of Madonna’s song, “Like A Virgin”, he jumpstarted the era of self-referential pop culture that gave us the likes of Joss Whedon and Wes Craven’s SCREAM (1996).  As an interesting little aside, the characters mention Pam Grier at one point, who would later go on to start for Tarantino in his third feature, JACKIE BROWN (1997).

Other elements of Tarantino’s distinct style make their first appearance here in his filmography.  He incorporates a nonlinear storytelling structure, a chronological conceit that withholds key information for maximum dramatic impact, courtesy of Tarantino’s most valuable collaborator: the late editor Sally Menke.  His penchant for twisting his characters’ motivations into Mexican Standoff scenarios manifests itself quite literally in the climax of RESERVOIR DOGS, an occurrence that accurately reflects the uncertain loyalties and hidden intentions of its characters.  Other, lesser Tarantino-esque tropes also pop up throughout, like extended sequences set in bathrooms or diners.

Tarantino, along with Generation X contemporary Kevin Smith, were two of Sundance’s first high-profile breakout filmmakers.  RESERVOIR DOGS was a game-changing picture, with its release launching the career of one of cinema’s most audacious, divisive characters.  All those years of watching countless films, hacking away at his old scripts, and good-old-fashioned networking had finally coalesced into a directorial style that was comprised of everything that came before it, yet completely unlike anything that had ever been seen.

Sponsored by: Special.tv – Stream Independent 

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

Three years after his breakout hit, PULP FICTION (1994), set the cinema on fire, director Quentin Tarantino returned with a follow-up feature that again confounded his audience’s expectations.  Primarily known for directing his own material, Tarantino found himself adapting pre-existing material for the first time.

He had always been a fan and kindred spirit of author Elmore Leonard, and found in Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch” the inspiration for what he would come to call “his take” on the Blaxploitation genre.  The result was 1997’s JACKIE BROWN, a solid and surprising film that was met with modest commercial success, a warm critical reception, and indisputable proof that Tarantino wasn’t a one-trick pony.

You can read all of Quentin Tarantino’s Screenplays here.

JACKIE BROWN tells the story of the titular character, played by 1970’s blaxploitation icon and sex symbol Pam Grier.  Jackie is an aging career criminal, down on her luck and trying to save up legitimate money for retirement on her paltry airline stewardess salary.  To make ends meet, she smuggles cash for arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) across international borders.  When she’s caught by agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm Bureau, she strikes a deal to help the ATF catch Ordell in exchange for her freedom.  An elaborate sting involving marked bills and a Torrance shopping mall is devised, drawing in aging bounty hunter Max Cherry (Robert Forster) and schlubby ex-con Louis Gara (Robert DeNiro) into the complicated plot.

Emboldened by John Travolta’s career resurgence in the wake of PULP FICTION, Tarantino runs with the idea of stocking his JACKIE BROWN with aging (yet still excellent) performers that have seen better days.  Pam Grier is a revelation as the titular heroine.  She’s a former sex symbol that is unafraid to show her age, which gives her the perfect amount of gravitas for the role of a weary stewardess with a con-man’s disposition.  It’s easily the best performance of her career, and I’m uncertain that any director will ever again use her as well as Tarantino does here.   While she didn’t exactly go on to accumulate more work in the wake of JACKIE BROWN’s modest success, her profile was raised considerably as was the level of professional respect afforded to her.

Venerable character actor Robert Forster also became a beneficiary of Tarantino’s “Travolta Effect” when he signed on to play the role of Max Cherry, the bounty hunter with a heart of gold.  Forster has certainly seen better days—a fact that Tarantino emphasizes with every close-up, revealing entire canyons of wrinkles etched into the man’s face like dry riverbeds.  Max Cherry is an honorable, decent, and good man whose judgment is compromised by his love for Jackie Brown, but he never approaches anywhere near unlikeable because of it.  He gives the film a paternal presence that elegantly counters Grier’s feisty persona.  Tarantino had always been fond of Forster as an actor and used his powers of cultural persuasion for good once again to make us remember Forster’s subtle, compelling talent for eons to come.

Samuel L. Jackson, in his second consecutive Tarantino appearance, plays the film’s main heavy—the inimitable, ratty-ponytailed arms dealer Ordell Robbie.  There seems to be a thing with Jackson and having creepy/weird hair in his collaborations with Tarantino, because the style he rocks in JACKIE BROWN makes me all kinds of uneasy.  Ordell is a cold-blooded psychopath who commits murder in the name of his business interests, and there is simply no other actor on earth that can convey that kind of charismatic menace.  Jackson plays the character like a classic Blaxploitation antagonist, albeit updated with a Kangol hat and a 90’s sensibility.

Similar to Bruce Willis’ inclusion in Tarantino’s previous film, it must have been a dream come true for a director profoundly influenced by Martin Scorsese to sign an actor like Robert DeNiro to his film.  DeNiro, who spent much of the late 90’s and 2000’s taking uninspired paycheck roles, gives one of his best performances in years as the fu-manchu’d ex-con Louis Gara.  DeNiro wheezes and mumbles his way through his performance, giving off the impression of a weary tough guy who’s content living out the rest of his days as a total slob.  The veteran actor does a great job amping up the sleaze by going for broke with his greasy, unkempt hair and prison tattoos peeking out from underneath baggy Hawaiian shirts.  It’s a deeply funny and macabre performance that shows us a side of DeNiro we’ve never seen before.

Michael Keaton also turns in one of the best performances of his career as ATF agent Ray Nicolette.  He assumes a gum-smacking nervous energy as a man who thinks he’s cooler than he actually is.  It’s an inspired, left-field casting choice on Tarantino’s part, but then again so was Keaton for Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film of the same name.  Keaton steals every scene he’s in, which says a lot when he’s up against the likes of Grier, Jackson or DeNiro.  What makes Keaton’s participation even more charming is the fact that he reprised the role a year later in another Elmore Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s OUT OF SIGHT), as a good-natured nod to Leonard’s wider literary universe.

When you’ve got a starring cast primarily composed of character actors, it stands to reason that the supporting cast might get overshadowed.  However, the supporters of JACKIE BROWN hold their own against their leading counterparts.  Bridget Fonda adopts the perfect beach bunny/stoner affectation as Melanie, Ordell’s Hermosa Beach girlfriend (he’s got them all around town).  Chris Tucker gives, frankly, his best performance ever as Beaumont, a petty criminal and squirrelly character that finds himself on the wrong side of Ordell’s good graces.  And finally, Rob Zombie mainstay and veteran exploitation film actor Sid Haig has a brief cameo as the judge at Jackie Brown’s trial—a nice nod to the long list of films they’ve done together.

Right off the bat, most people will notice how visually sedate JACKIE BROWN is compared to PULP FICTION or RESERVOIR DOGS (or even his later work, for that matter).  That’s not to say that the film isn’t visually dynamic, but it deals in metaphorical shades of grey, rather than stark black and white.  Working again with his regular producers Lawrence Bender and the Weinstein Brothers, Tarantino has a significantly-sized tool chest to pull from, but he opts for a restrained, mature approach.  Foregoing his usual cinematographer, Andrzej Sekula, Tarantino instead has hired Guillermo Navarro, who brings a naturalistic look to the proceedings.  Gone are the burned-out Technicolor hues of Tarantino past—JACKIE BROWN’s 35mm film image boasts an earth-toned color palette, peppered with bold swaths of reds, blues, greens, and yellows that harken back to the colorful Blaxploitation films that inspired it.  Returning production designer David Wasco helps translate Tarantino’s San Fernando Valley burnout aesthetic to the inner industrial wastelands of central LA.  The predominantly warm color scheme of the film further plays into the 1970’s vibe, along with the incorporation of other stylistic relics of the era, like parallel action shown in split-screen and punchy, detail-filled insert shots.

Camera movements and pacing are a huge component of Tarantino’s style, and JACKIE BROWN showcases considerable development for the young director in that regard.  He has an uncanny intuition that tells him when (and how) to move a camera, and when to keep it still.  This is complemented by his trusty editor Sally Menke’s keen ear for the natural rhythm or music of the scene.  One example occurs early on in the movie, where Ordell has just locked Beaumont in his trunk under the auspices of rolling up on some shady arms customers with bad intentions.  Once inside the car, Ordell turns on a classic soul tune that stands in stark contrast to the pitch-black events on-screen.  He drives him to an adjacent vacant lot, fires a couple rounds into Beaumont, and drives away.  What’s remarkable about this scene, however, is that Tarantino presents the action from an objective, omniscient point of view, whereas he usually opts for an extremely subjective angle.  The camera slowly cranes from the street up over the vacant lot’s fence, where Ordell’s car and his crime are framed in the distance.  Despite our emotional remove from the central action, it’s a haunting sequence because Ordell’s cold-blooded nature is emphasized even more so than if we had seen the blasts close-up.  The off-tone musical selection is the coup de grace, and a textbook example of why Tarantino stands apart from his contemporaries and copycats.

Tarantino’s visual style is easily definable due to his recurring compositional conceits.  There’s the well-known trunk POV shot (manifested in JACKIE BROWN prior to the aforementioned Beaumont murder scene, where Ordell squabbles with Beaumont about actually getting inside the trunk).  The film also sees the introduction of another major composition conceit- the profile shot.  By this, I mean his tendency to frame his characters in profile.  This is seen most often in dialogue sequences, but he also uses it to striking effect in motion, such as the iconic opening of the film featuring Jackie Brown riding an LAX people-mover while a colorful mosaic of wall tiles rolls past (which is itself a reference to the same opening shot in Mike Nichols’ THE GRADUATE (1967), that time against blank white tiles).  The use of profile shots points to parts of Tarantino’s aesthetic influenced not by film, but by pulp novels, Japanese manga, and comic books.  These influences would go on to manifest themselves to a much larger degree in his next project: KILL BILL (2004).

While JACKIE BROWN is Tarantino’s first true linear storyline, he can’t help but incorporate nonlinear elements into the narrative.  In a design inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON (1950)—a film about a singular event retold in the differing perspectives of its ensemble—Tarantino stages the central money-switch sting as a converging event for all the characters involved.  We see the plan carried out from the point of view of each key character, and each time a little more information is revealed until we have the complete picture.  Tarantino makes extensive use of long tracking shots here to convey the size of the mall location, effortlessly weaving in dialogue of peripheral characters into the ambient sound mix in a way that conveys where the current subject is on the overall timeline.  It’s a showy technique, to be sure, but Tarantino resists the urge to showboat his directorial skills and lets his perspective shifts naturally build the story and the suspense.

Music plays an integral role in JACKIE BROWN, as it does in all of Tarantino’s films.  While it is certainly an inspired and eclectic mix of source tracks, it is admittedly more on-the-nose than the likes of using surf rock for PULP FICTION’s pulp noir.  The soundtrack throws many nods to the Blaxploitation genre by including a mix of classic R&B and soul cuts.  Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” in particular is used to striking effect in the opening credits, becoming the film’s de facto theme song.  Some hip-hop, as well as an off-tone country ballad by Johnny Cash also makes an appearance.  Unlike his previous films, there is somewhat of a score element in JACKIE BROWN, albeit it is culled from a pre-existing work: Roy Hyer’s score for COFFY (1973), a classic in the Blaxploitation genre that made Pam Grier a star.

JACKIE BROWN effortlessly crosses out each item on the Tarantino Style checklist: closeups of feet implying the director’s own admitted fetish, chapter-like inter-titles used as scene divisions, yellow-colored title fonts, long tracking shots, creative profanity, abundant pop culture references, etc.  I wrote before in my analysis of FOUR ROOMS: THE MAN FROM HOLLYWOOD (1995) how Tarantino had become such a force in pop culture that he was now referencing himself.  This trend continues over into JACKIE BROWN.  For instance, when Jackie Brown conducts the sting operation, she purchases and changes into a feminine version of the black suit and white shirt worn by the archetypical Tarantino criminals in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION.

There’s also a fictional “Chicks With Guns” TV program that the characters watch, which comes off as a satirical version of the way Tarantino’s films are negatively characterized by the press as violence porn.

Another interesting trope of Tarantino’s style that makes its first appearance in JACKIE BROWN is echoing a hard cut visual transition in the non-diagetic music mix.  In other words, Tarantino and Menke simply cut the music without a fade or transition as the shot changes.  It’s a jarring effect that traces its roots back to the innovations of the French New Wave, and I find it endlessly amusing.

Casual moviegoers might find it odd for a white man to tackle such a specific ethnic genre, but Tarantino has always been comfortable within African-American culture.  By his own account, he grew up in a housing project in Tennessee shared by both blacks and whites, so he feels right at home in JACKIE BROWN’s cultural wheelhouse.  This conceit is not without its problems, however.  Much has been written about Tarantino’s controversial use of the “n” word, and reactions to it fall on both sides of the line—director Spike Lee loathes it, Samuel L. Jackson defends it.  I’m not here to debate whether Tarantino has a right to use the word by virtue of expressing his fictional characters’ convictions, but I am here to note its significant role in his legacy.  The “n” word has always lurked in Tarantino’s filmography: dropped casually/almost unnoticeably in RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), picking up steam and mild outrage when the director (acting in character) says the word himself in PULP FICTION, coming to a common, yet justifiable occurrence in JACKIE BROWN, and finally tipping the scales back into gratuitous-or-not uncertainty with its pervasive presence in Tarantino’s latest, DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012).

JACKIE BROWN occupies an interesting space in Tarantino’s filmography.  Upon release it was hailed as a worthy successor to the groundbreaking PULP FICTION, with influential critics like Roger Ebert going nuts for it.  It was a commercial success and kick-started the flagging careers of many of its cast.   A little less than twenty years later, JACKIE BROWN has been overshadowed by the sheer bombast of his more-recent work, enough to the point where most might consider JACKIE BROWN a minor, yet solid, entry.  It hasn’t aged as well as PULP FICTION has, but then again it always belonged to another dated era entirely.  Among his major motion pictures, it is likely the least seen, but those who give the disc a spin are instantly charmed by its unique characters and throwback vibe.  JACKIE BROWN is a love letter to a genre of films that profoundly influenced Tarantino, and this film is his way of giving back to the ideas and people that gave him so much.


Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos.  His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and Indiewire.

THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors.

Sponsored by: Special.tv – Stream Independent 

Quentin Tarantino Screenplays (Download)

What can be said about Quentin Tarantino the screenwriter that hasn’t been said before? QT has, easily, one of the most unique and singular voice in the history of cinema. You may love him or hate him but you will remember him. Reading his screenplays is a masterclass in dialog, structure, and rhythm.

When you are done reading take a listen to iTunes #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast. Listen to some sample episodes below.

Also check out: Quentin Tarantino’s Micro-Budget First Feature Film: My Best Friend’s Birthday

NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1990)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

TRUE ROMANCE (1992)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

PULP FICTION (1994)

**Won the Oscar** Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

FOUR ROOMS (1995)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, A. Anders, A. Rockwell – Read the screenplay!

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

JACKIE BROWN (1997)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay! 

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KILL BILL VOLUME 2 (2004)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

GRINDHOUSE: DEATH PROOF (2007)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

**Won the Oscar** Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – COMING SOON

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Want to read more screenplays by the best screenwriters working in Hollywod today?

The Bulletproof Screenwriting collection of screenplays are organized by screenwriter's & filmmaker's career for easy access.