The new “it” online journal The Dissolve recently featured a video essay by Kevin B. Lee on dissolves. Lee complied the favorite cinematic dissolves from all of the critics at The Dissolve into this video essay, also including a voice-over with them explaining their choices. I felt the need to partake in this exercise, even if I don’t have a nice video essay to back me up.
The cinematic dissolve I enjoy the most is in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. This dissolve occurs during a scene with Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda, playing Louis and Melanie respectively, as they hang out in Melanie’s beachside apartment and engage in minor flirting which soon leads to (minor) sex. Louis notices a picture of Melanie when she was a teenager. He picks it up and look at it as he asks her routine questions about her background while Melanie blends a power shake in the kitchen. Louis remarks that she looks so young and Melanie proudly states that she is basically still the same size as her teenage self. Tarantino inserts a close-up of the young Melanie in roller skates and then dissolves from that photographic image to Melanie in the kitchen.
This is a very delicate and subtle moment in a film that is largely considered to be Tarantino’s most measured and mature. At its most superficial level the dissolve caters to Melanie’s wish to be seen as equal to her younger self. This takes on a larger significance in relation to the film’s central theme of aging and dealing with the process of getting older. The dissolve also foreshadows the brief slip in time in the lazy jump cut from Melanie asking Louis if he wants to fuck to Louis doing just that – “three minutes later”, as the intertitle informs us. Maybe most importantly, the dissolve somehow humanizes Melanie. It gives her a personality, as prior to this she is depicted as not much more than Ordell’s (Samuel L. Jackson) “blonde-haired surfer gal”. Her desires are visualized in this dissolve, as well as her past, present, and future.
Unfortunately, she won’t have much more than “three minutes later” to live in the film. Time is such an ostentatious concern for a director like Tarantino. Here, he treats temporality with a light and deft touch. Expression through compression, which is the mark of a strong directorial hand.