Last Christmas, I received one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, called Great at Any Age, a pocket-size reference book chronicling the age of geniuses, celebrities, and assorted famous and infamous people throughout history. I read that Judy Garland appeared on stage for the first time when she was two-years-old, which is the same age I said my first words. While I spent my teen years watching MTV, Stevie Wonder scored his first #1 single. Now that I’m 31 (about the age Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye), I’m the same age Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed his most underrated but one of my favorite films, Jackie Brown.
1970s blaxplotation queen Pam Grier plays the title role, a middle-aged stewardess who uses her crappy airline as a means to traffic money for a gangster, played by Samuel L. Jackson. After getting arrested, she befriends an aging bail bondsman (1970s exploitation king Robert Forester), and the two form a plot to set-up Jackson’s character while robbing him at the same time. Tarantino’s brilliant writing makes for a terrific heist plot. But the heart behind the Jackie and bondsman’s characters elevates Jackie Brown to a terrific film. As their hair is graying and they look back on a life of regret, they see the heist as their last chance to spend the last years of their life living comfortably. That the film seems trapped in the 70s is not just clever genre filmmaking. The soundtrack, clothes, hairstyle, even dialogue, are nuances adding to the feeling that life was better back then.
Tarantino’s insight into the mid-life crises of his male and female lead is amazing. It reminds me of his cinematic rival, Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote and directed the equally mature Magnolia while in his early 30s.
I might be daunted by the brilliance Tarantino and Anderson achieved at such a young age. Then I read in Great at Any Age that Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek in his 40s, Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho and The Birds in his 60s, and Cecil B. DeMille made The Ten Commandments in his 70s. Last year, when Tarantino was interviewed about Inglorious Basterds, he stated that directing films was a young man’s art form, and that he only had a few films left in him. I hope he’s wrong.