Run Date: 10/04/2011
With the simultaneous Blu-ray releases of “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown,” arguably the two jewels in the Quentin Tarantino crown, you can now own all of the filmmaker’s features on the high-def platter. Have the best been saved for last? Quite possibly. And if you’re of a certain age, there’s also a good chance you haven’t seen one or even both of them, which means you are in for some seriously cinematic rides. Perhaps the best news, aside from how gorgeous they look, is that both discs are very reasonably priced, which makes them much easier to obtain than Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase.
Rosanna Arquette: "It was a fun little moment in a film. I wanted to be a part of this ensemble piece. I love the idea of repertory theatre. Sometimes you’re in a big role, sometimes you’re in a small role. I never really cared about the size of a role; I just care about the quality of a script and what it’s saying."This writer had something of a Tarantino-thon recently by viewing both discs back to back, and, unsurprisingly, they did not disappoint. But I was especially taken by “Pulp Fiction,” as I hadn’t seen it in years, and everything that’s great and revolutionary about it came flooding back. See, I was 23 when “Pulp Fiction” came out in 1994, and it was a time when film as an art form was feeling awfully stilted. And then this movie charged out of the gate and it was like nothing anybody else was even attempting to do. It was the most seductive piece of filmmaking I’d seen in years. It wasn’t just me, either. Everyone I knew who was into film felt the same way. Despite the fact that we were already bowing at the altar of “Reservoir Dogs,” nothing prepared us for the “Fiction.” We devoured it, repeatedly, and discussed its many intricacies and detours like it was some kind of biblical text. I saw it on the big screen at least a half a dozen times, and each viewing was like going to film church. A few months later came the crappy bootleg VHS tape, and it’s anyone’s guess how often I sat through that. By the time the laserdisc was released, I was beginning to suffer burnout. That, mixed with a few other factors, pretty much kept me away from “Pulp Fiction” for a decade or more (give or take a scene or two on cable from time to time).
“Pulp Fiction” today feels absolutely as fresh as it did all the way back in the autumn of ’94. The film has the power to come back in a big way, on the best home video format currently available. Forget about digital downloads and streaming, Blu-ray is hands down the best way to experience this movie. (As it turns out, aside from an old DVD, Blu-ray is the only way to legally obtain the movie presently.) We turned to one of the film’s stars, the versatile Rosanna Arquette, who plays piercing fetishist Jody, to see how she was feeling about the “Fiction” years after the fact. “What I’m excited about is that it’s going to be a whole new audience discovering the film. I have a teenager, and all of her friends are watching it,” she enthused.
Hardcore Tarantino buffs will no doubt recall that Rosanna’s sister, Patricia, had the lead in a Quentin-scripted film a year prior to the release of ”Pulp Fiction.” Arquette turned the clock even further back in the timeline: “Before ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘True Romance,’ there was a script I was going to do called ‘Mickey and Mallory,’ which ended up being ‘Natural Born Killers.’ It was one of the best scripts I’d ever read in my life, and I felt, ‘This writer is so fantastic!’ And then came ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ and then my sister did ‘True Romance,’ which was magnificent. Then they were casting ‘Pulp Fiction’ and [Quentin] asked me to coffee at Swingers, and then he asked if I would do this role.” She speaks of Quentin with nothing less than respect and admiration. “One of the things that Quentin was great about was that we had this rehearsal period, which was like a play. We rehearsed it out so you could try things.”
Back when I was repeatedly seeing “Pulp Fiction” theatrically, there were always moments that could be counted on to get reactions from the audience. One such moment occurs right before Uma Thurman’s Mia is about to have a needle plunged into her heart. In the fleeting, silent seconds before this happens, the camera offers a close up of Jody’s face, which sports an almost childlike grin of excitement. Every audience I ever saw the movie with erupted with laughter at the split-second shot.
Arquette mused in a way that a Tarantino player should. “I remember being in the moment when we were actually shooting. This whole other magical thing happens when the film is whirring. You can just hear it. Now it’s all digital. It’s so sad. 35mm is beautiful and great.” She continued, quickly moving from the death of film to the birth of her defining moment in this defining film. “I remember it just came over me: The needle, the needle. She loved being pierced, and this was the ultimate piercing! The ultimate piercing in the heart! Everybody else was freaking out, but she was getting off on it!”
Characters in Tarantino movies are so well-drawn that they don’t always need loads of screen time in order to remain memorable. Arquette’s attitude towards Jody is refreshingly old school, reminiscent of a time when the film industry wasn’t populated by whorish divas, eager to hog every spotlight. “It was a fun little moment in a film. I wanted to be a part of this ensemble piece. I love the idea of repertory theatre. Sometimes you’re in a big role, sometimes you’re in a small role. I never really cared about the size of a role; I just care about the quality of a script and what it’s saying.”
If “Pulp Fiction” is the cinematic equivalent of a kid playing with every toy in the box, then “Jackie Brown” is like the adult coming in and telling the kid to clean up the room. It took Tarantino three years after “Pulp” to unleash a new work, and while critics seemed mostly pleased with the results, audiences were at best divided, and at worst uninterested. (It’s anyone’s guess how the film might have been received had it not opened on Christmas Day.) Upon its release, I wasn’t particularly enthralled by what I’d viewed. I even went back a second time a couple weeks later to give it another go, and guess what? I fell asleep. Unfortunately, “Jackie Brown" just wasn’t “Pulp Fiction,” and many years would go by before I gave it another go on DVD. That viewing was along the lines of, “For once I was blind, but now I can see,” because it was then that the plainly obvious became clear: “Jackie Brown” had no aspirations of being as revolutionary as its predecessor. While I may not have been imbibing in “Pulp Fiction” over the past decade, “Jackie Brown” has become a movie I sit down and watch at least once a year, and it captivates every single time. Despite whatever problems the movie may have had in finding its audience, there’s one man who’s forever in its debt, and that’s Robert Forster, who plays one of its half dozen central characters, bail bondsman Max Cherry.
Robert Forster: "I was thrilled to be in a movie that not only had adults as the subject matter, but went back to a moviemaking style that people are more familiar with. It was not his biggest hit. ‘Pulp Fiction’ was a hit. A genuine hit. And ‘Jackie Brown,’ as good a movie as it is, was not that big a hit, so there were a lot of people who didn’t see it."Forster’s Tarantino reminiscence isn’t all that dissimilar to Arquette’s. “I had auditioned for ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and I thought I hit that audition out of the park. As I left the room, Quentin came out after me and said, ‘Look, this isn’t going to work. I’m going to give that part to the guy that I dedicated the script to – Lawrence Tierney.’ So I didn’t get that job. But some years later I ran into [Quentin] in a restaurant, and asked him what he was doing, and he said he was adapting Rum Punch, and he said, ‘Why don’t you read it?’ I did, and about six months later he shows up in the same restaurant and hands me a script and says, ‘Read this and see if you like it.’ I didn’t have to chase it. I had no agent at the time. My career was well underwater. I was just picking up scraps by then. He came along and said, ‘Here. You’re going to work again. Let’s go.’ What a guy.”
Forster also has no illusions about the film’s place in history compared to its ironically elder sibling. “‘Pulp Fiction’ gave us moviemaking that we’d never seen before. He pushed moviemaking. There’s even that word – Tarantino-esque. After ‘Pulp Fiction,’ he goes backwards to an old style of moviemaking where you take a long time with your characters, and your takes are longer and you’re not jumping around, in and out of sequence, and so forth and the things he became known for.” Forster waxes that the film is indeed, “More languid and lyrical.” He continues, “It was a departure in the other direction. I was thrilled to be in a movie that not only had adults as the subject matter, but went back to a moviemaking style that people are more familiar with. It was not his biggest hit. ‘Pulp Fiction’ was a hit. A genuine hit. And ‘Jackie Brown,’ as good a movie as it is, was not that big a hit, so there were a lot of people who didn’t see it.”
Indeed, as a hardcore devotee of the film, it’s been my experience all too often that folks who claim to be students of all things QT have not only not seen the picture, but frequently have never even heard of it. This boggles the mind, given that it stars Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson in a role that’s as different from Jules Winnfield as Jules is from Mace Windu, but also that it’s the one Tarantino film in which you’ll find an actor by the name of Robert De Niro. Forster enthuses about what his co-stars brought to the “Jackie Brown” table. “Everybody was at the top of his game. The material to start with was great, but everybody – everybody – delivered. Sam Jackson? What a performance. De Niro’s in a role that you’d never expect him to be in. I marvel at these guys. How generous DeNiro was – he could easily have fit the Max Cherry role – to have done this interesting, quirky guy! The payoff is terrific. Every time you see De Niro on that screen, he’s always doing something interesting. And then you watch Michael Keaton and Bridget Fonda and Michael Bowen and Chris Tucker – how about that scene? And the woman who does her Supremes act? Every little thing in that movie is a knockout.”
Fans of “Jackie Brown” will undoubtedly agree with Forster, who saves a great deal of praise for his co-star, Pam Grier, who played the titular Jackie. “What a beautiful woman!” he declares. “I get to do a scene where the last thing in the movie is that we have a kiss. And what a beautiful kiss. You go from knowing someone from their movies, to going into a movie where you’ve got a scene in which you kiss them.”
“Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” are two very different sides of the same Tarantino coin. They come from a time in his career when the filmmaker was cementing his place in film history. A Tarantino movie remains an important cinematic event even today, especially with “Inglourious Basterds” having given a massive jolt to his oeuvre two years ago. Yet these movies together may just represent his strongest, most memorable and focused work; the former because of how it changed the very definition of what modern cinema could be, and the latter because of how it thoughtfully and methodically reinvented what cinema had already been.