[A script of the video essay follows:]
Quentin and Pam’s Big Score, Part 1
Things don’t look good for Beaumont Livingston. His self-proclaimed benefactor, Ordell Robbie, has just posted $10,000 to bail bondsman Max Cherry in exchange for Beaumont’s release. Armed with a pump shotgun and way too much information about Ordell’s gun-running business, Beaumont faces not only the inside of a trunk, but a potential 10 year rap unless he cooperates with the Feds. Ordell bails him out because he believes “Beaumont’s going to do anything Beaumont can to keep from doing them ten years, including telling the Federal gov’ment any, and every motherfucking thing about my Black ass.” Beaumont already has, and ATF agent Ray Nicolet is laying in wait for yet another of Ordell’s “employees,” a flight attendant with $50,000, an unbeknownst 42 grams of blow and no intention of declaring either at customs.
Mr. Livingston, I presume, expects Ordell to deliver on his promise of a late night chowdown at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. That Los Angeles institution is tasty enough to make a brother spoon with a spare tire in a vintage American automobile. But in his haste and hunger, Beaumont Livingston forgot two things: One, all that greasy, fried shit’ll kill you. And two, if you’re a character in a Quentin Tarantino movie, and Samuel L. Jackson shows up looking like the Crypt Keeper and offering you a ride,
Don’t get in the car.
The Beaumont sequence is pure Tarantino—comic dialogue, loopy situations, sudden violence. But this scene is lifted from Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch. And as much as Jackie Brown feels like a Tarantino film, the plot is faithfully Leonard’s. Tarantino wisely pulls entire sequences verbatim from Leonard’s pen, adding his own dialogue as stand-in for the novel’s expert descriptions of action and detail. Leonard is a master of character creation, gritty conversation, and delightfully convoluted situation. A perfect match for Tarantino’s first, and thus far only, according-to-Hoyle adaptation, and the director is respectful to his source.
But like all great directors, Tarantino is a compulsive who must pay tribute to his obsessions. Obsessions like:
That last thing got him in some pretty hot water with Spike Lee.
With a love of Blaxploitation etched in his DNA, Tarantino had to notice that Rum Punch has elements of the genre. There’s a tough main character dame who’s strong enough to fend for herself, a hood criminal with a bevy of women and minions to do his business, and one final, big score designed to extricate the criminal from the ghetto for good. Blaxploitation movies rarely had all three of those things at once—a perfect opportunity for Tarantino’s brand of genre homage and transcendence.
The only minor issue was that Leonard’s heroine, Jackie Burke, was White. Tarantino needed Foxy Brown. The solution was obvious.
This, for the uninitiated, is Pam Grier. It takes Rum Punch 39 pages to introduce Jackie to us. Jackie Brown takes maybe 39 seconds.
Quentin Tarantino was 10 years old when Pam Grier starred in Foxy Brown, a film whose most unsavory plot aspect (and its resulting vengeance) he lifted for Kill Bill: Volume One.
Here, he lifts Foxy’s last name, her movie’s title font and her portrayer. Grier was the queen of Blaxploitation, wielding a shotgun, razors in her ‘fro and a take no prisoners attitude that was simultaneously terrifying and sensual. Jack Hill, who directed her in Foxy Brown, Coffy and two other films, said that Pam Grier had “that something special that only she has. She has ‘it’.” Hill could get a witness from any fan, for we knew: Not only did Pam Grier have “it,” she could whip your ass with “it” as well.
It’s obvious Tarantino wants to show the Grier toughness he loves, but he has deeper intentions. He wants to bring out her softer side as well. In her 70’s output, her vulnerability is physical. She is always abused yet always avenged. Outside of movies like Bucktown or Greased Lightning, she was rarely afforded a typical love story. We’ll talk about Tarantino fixes that next time. For now, flight attendant and money carrier Jackie Brown has to think quick and plan that big score fast. Ordell has bailed her out for the same reason he sprung Beaumont. Michael Keaton’s Ray Nicolet is breathing down her neck to squeal on Ordell, and Ordell has other intentions for her neck. Robert Forster’s Max Cherry, Jackie’s soon-to-be love interest, plays an unwitting part in the scene that got fans of Pam out of their seats in the theater. Herewith, the tough side of Pam Grier.