MyM’s Scott Snowden joined Quentin Tarantino and the cast of Reservoir Dogs as they reunited for the film’s 25th anniversary at the Tribeca Film Festival…
Very few people had heard of Quentin Tarantino back in 1992, so the cinematic success of Reservoir Dogs began slowly – at first. As word began to spread following its initial run, local cinemas began to show packed-out weekly midnight screenings. The film rocketed a young filmmaker from obscurity to the limelight and gave the independent movie scene a much-needed boost.
As much as Beavis and Butt-Head, Kickers or Caterpillars, Radiohead or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Reservoir Dogs was an important part of ’90s pop-culture and almost every UK student household had at least one of the movie’s posters on its walls. To mark the 25th anniversary of Tarantino’s gritty, neo-noir crime thriller, the final night of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival saw the director and cast members Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel reunite to watch a 35mm print from Tarantino’s own collection.
Despite being picked up for distribution by Miramax when it was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1992, Tarantino revealed that the premiere wasn’t without its problems. “God, that was a disaster. That’s kind of famous, actually,” he says to a captivated audience at the legendary Beacon Theatre on New York’s Upper West Side. “It was our very first public screening. They didn’t have a scope lens for the projector and it’s a scope movie and I let them show it anyway. That would have been bad enough.”
“It gets to the climax and all of a sudden the lights come up. They bring the lights back down and then – almost as if on purpose as far as suspense is concerned – right at the height of the movie there’s a power outage and all the power goes out,” he describes in dismay. “So, I was like, ‘OK, this is what it’s like to watch your movie in public.’ It was a fucking disaster.”
“I remember, there was all this talk the next day or the next two days about the torture scene, it became this big, big thing. Steve [Buscemi] comes to me and says, ‘Did you hear what everyone’s saying? They’re saying the torture scene just ruins the movie!’ And I go, “What are they talking about? It’s the best scene in the fucking movie! Did you see how many people walked out? That’s the shit!’”
According to Tarantino, things didn’t get any easier on the rest of the festival circuit. “I’d barely left Los Angeles County, forget about going to other countries. The thing is, at a film festival screening sometimes people don’t know what they’re about to see. They read the program and hear a synopsis and that’s it, so it’s understandable that maybe this is not what they want to see and they have to leave. So I started counting the walkouts during the torture scene, 33 was the largest walk out…”
“Thirty-three people walked out?!” Tim Roth exclaims, almost choking on the water he’s sipping. “Uh-huh,” confirms Tarantino. “But I thought when I got to the Sitges Film Festival and they had shown Peter Jackson’s movie, Dead Alive, which is just drowning in zombie guts and blood and brains, I thought, ‘Well, OK, finally I’ve got an audience that won’t walk out.’ I even joked about that in the introduction to the movie. Five people walked out of that audience, including Wes Craven!”
Incredibly, the man who gave the world The Last House on The Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, apparently couldn’t handle a little ear-hacking. “You never told me anything about that. That’s a pretty cool story,” Madsen murmured into his microphone, in the way only Madsen can.
Tennessee-born Tarantino showed a disposition toward film from a young age. His time spent working in a video rental store in Manhattan Beach endlessly watching movies, making notes on camera angles, editing techniques and even scribbling down early scripts, has become the stuff of legend. It was here, in the long-since extinct Video Archive, once located at 1822 North Sepulveda Blvd, that Tarantino met Roger Avary and a revolutionary writing relationship was born.
Tarantino wrote the script for Reservoir Dogs in three-and-a-half weeks, persuaded by a young producer named Lawrence Bender who he’d met a few years earlier at a Hollywood party. Bender had an acting teacher whose wife knew Keitel.
“Our dream was to get Harvey as Mr White,” explains Tarantino. “Then all of a sudden, we had this connection [via Bender] and it was that kind of Christmas tree effect. Then next thing we know, Harvey is leaving a message on Lawrence’s answering machine, saying, ‘I’ve read the script. I love it. I want to be in it. I would even like to help you produce it to get it going. Give me a callback.’ I think we danced around and it was an amazing experience. That was the beginning of the beginning.”
Budget constraints meant that Tarantino was reluctant to go to New York for a casting, instead opting to use the talent available in Los Angeles. However, he was finally convinced to spend a weekend on the East Coast after much persuasion from Keitel.
“So we had one weekend and Harvey paid for me and Lawrence to fly to New York… and Harvey was in first class, we were in coach,” laughs Tarantino. “We actually met in the middle to have a drink, kind of to talk with Harvey in the middle of the flight and Harvey goes, ‘Yeah, you know…I mean, I guess in a perfect world there’d be no such thing as first class, but since there is, I’m gonna fly it. So we met with a whole bunch of New York actors and that’s where we got Steve.”
It transpires that every actor aside from Roth originally read for different roles. Keitel liked the character of Mr Blonde to begin with, while Madsen read for Mr Pink. The cast took part in two weeks of rehearsals before the five-week shoot, something that even back then was generally unusual.
“One of my favourite memories doesn’t involve the making of the movie,” Tarantino reminisces. “We’d finished rehearsal and Harvey had the whole cast around for dinner at his house in Malibu – I was living in Glendale with my mom at the time. And you know, you can just take Sunset Boulevard from Glendale all the way to Malibu. It’s a long ride, but it’s cool.
“We’re all there and we’re having a great time and I realised that a lot of pressure was off my shoulders, cinematically. These guys were so perfect for their parts. They were connecting so well with each other. They really understood the material. I was like, ‘Fuck, if I just keep this movie in focus, I’ve got a movie!’ Anything else I bring to it will just be frosting, but the cake is here. It’s these guys and I got that. I watched it at dinner all night.
“And I remember that night, getting in my car and just taking that drive – all those little windy roads on Sunset – and that was the happiest moment of my life. This thing that I was thinking about for so long, not just Reservoir Dogs, but making movies in general, [I thought], ‘This might just work out.’”
Photos: © Tribeca Film Festival
This article first appeared in MyM magazine Issue 62. Click this link to subscribe to MyM magazine.