1992, Bobcat Goldthwait, Chris Penn, Cleavon Little, crime, Eddie Bunker, everything Is a Remix, Harvey Keitel, homage, independant film, kill bill, Kirby Ferguson, Lawrence Tierny, mash-up, meta, Michael Madsen, Monte Hellman, postmodernism, quentin tarantino, reservoir dogs, Steve Buschemi, Steven Wright, stylish, Super Soul, Vanishing Point, violence
Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buschemi, Michael Madsen, Steven Wright, Lawrence Tierny, Chris Penn, Quentin Tarantino, Eddie Bunker
“Do you ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies?”
This otherwise-innocuous question is cruel when asked of a bound-and-gagged cop by Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) who is about to remove the cop’s ear with a straight razor. Such is the tone of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs; a glorious show of violence set to the super sounds of the Seventies. K-Billy (Stephen Wright) is the omipresent, unwitting emcee providing a catchy and ironic sountrack for the action of the film; he’s a deadpan Super Soul. Ok, I’m gonna stop that right there. That will be the first and last time I mention any specific films because to do a rundown of all of the references in a Tarantino film has been done-to-death, would be boring in my hands and has been done by more capable folks than myself. If you wanted that kind of thing you could find it anywhere. Tarantino’s famously astounding debut is frequently marginalized, at least it is by me, in lieu of his later and certainly better work but the fact is that it’s really one ambitious debut.
Reservoir Dogs opens as the film’s colour coded cast, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), gang leader Joe (Lawrence Tierny) and his son “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn) are in a restaraunt, deeply involved in a dissection of Madonna’s hit “Like A Virgin.” This is the sort of fun, showy-offy pop-culture deconstruction that Tarantino used to do a lot but has toned down in recent years… a little. With the next shot, Tarantino achieved one of the most iconic images in all of American cinema, the whole crew wearing black suits and skinny ties, strutting in slow motion to the first track in one of cinema’s most memorable and darkly hilarious soundtracks. A fade-in from the credits finds Mr. Orange bleeding out in the backseat of a speeding car driven by the panicking but reassuring Mr. White. Their diamond heist went pear-shaped and ended in a shoot-out. Mr. White brings Mr. Orange to a warehouse hideout, where Mr. Pink arrives with theories of a set-up. This group have intentionally kept any personal information from each other, a great plan as far as liability goes but ultimately they don’t even really know enough to know who they can trust and who they can’t. Tarantino tells this story in a very non-linear way, perhaps a decision that is a little more style than substance but it’s well-handled nonetheless.
Whenever I watch it, I feel like Reservoir Dogs is a tremendous achievement, one that ignores it’s weird indie, first-film status and just straight-out acts like the full-budget film that it wishes to be. Before Reservoir Dogs Tarantino was just a shithead working in a video store who tossed together a script in a couple weeks, and somehow he managed to get help from Monte Hellman and Harvey Keitel. Alongside Keitel he was able to cast some rather high-profile names such as Steve Buschemi and Lawrence Tierny, not to mention the perfectly-cast Steven Wright. My knowledge of the film industry is, obviosuly, speculative and based on nothing but to me it seems like a rare bit of luck that any filmmaker would get such support for their first film. Of course none of this is worth anything if Tarantino didn’t know what he was doing, but he did. He was entirely self taught, claiming to have learned to make films by watching films and it shows. For a debut picture, or really for any picture, Reservoir Dogs is meticulous, and Tarantino clearly knew exactly how to achieve his very specific vision. This sort of extreme, glorified violence, mixed with dark humour and strangely preoccupied dialogue was such a strange mix, an entirely new aesthetic that seemed to come from Tarantino fully formed. Trantino’s gift for the creation of a film is astounding, clearly knowing when to strike and when to wait; In a film that basks in its blood and gore, he tellingly looks away from the notorious ear-slicing. Tarantino’s brain is addled with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and music history, and is driven by agressively individual tastes; he knows what he wants and it’s impressive. I suspect even Tim Roth’s performance, sounding more like Bobcat Goldthwait than a man with a bullet in his guts, is intentional. As much as Reservoir Dogs is about anything, it’s about pop culture. It’s the first of many love letters Tarantino has composed for the glut of pop culture he is so enamoured with, and it’s a hell of a place to start.