Tarrantino has the type of name that announces itself, and the pre-publicity that circulated ahead RESERVOIR DOGS filled me with such a thrilling anticipation, that I was excited like I’ve never been excited by a film before prior to seeing it on the first night at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. The cinema was packed with people my age who had also been whipped up with the promise of a film for our generation – the VCR generation – and Tarrantino, who worked in a video rental shop, was the ultimate popular culture geek who injected so much enthusiasm, pop- knowledge and humour into his interviews that it was easy to become fanatical about his talents and his promise.
The film didn’t disappoint the audience at the Cornerhouse back in 1993, so much so that it prompted a standing ovation from some members of the crowd: we laughed knowing laughs at the trivia-rich dialogue, we whooped with delight as Mr Pink slammed over the bonnet of a car, we squirmed in horror as Mr Blond went ‘medieval’ on the cop’s ear and we left the cinema puzzling over who shot Nice Guy Eddy. I’ve never been in such a responsive audience; the reaction was so ‘un-British’. One of the fellow geeks, rose out of his seat and bowed to the screen when the final, off-stage shots are fired and the screen goes to black.
It is a perfect film in many ways – the look, the dialogue, the story and the performances – come together to make something extraordinary. Like many others, I memorised the excellent opening sequence, where guys in suits discuss the interpretations of Madonna’s LIKE A VIRGIN
I devoured everything Tarrantino, film scripts, soundtracks and hastily written biographies to find more about this nerd who made being geek – chic. He was a one-man publishing industry. PULP FICTION (1994) followed and he seemed to live up to his promise. JACKIE BROWN (1997) was more of the same, done at a slower pace with more room for reflection. There were a raft of copy cat films soon afterwards – GO (1999) with its chopped up narrative, THINGS TO DO IN DENEVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD (1995), TWO DAYS IN THE VALLEY (1996) and GET SHORTY (1995). The success of the film injected new life into independent films of the era as well as providing a pay-day for Harvey and Bob Wieinstien’s MIRAMAX films. His influence was felt in television (he was name checked in Brookside), music (a sample from Pulp Fiction appears in THE FUN LOVIN’ CRIMINALS Scooby Snacks) and drama (locally, a RESERVOIR DOGS version of Macbeth was quite successful).
Watching the film now for the umpteenth time, it is easy to forget that its central, narrative premise is that of a ‘rat in the house’. Mr Pink is convinced that they were set up fail the diamond heist that has happened off-screen. On first viewing, there was an element of surprise when the under cover cop is revealed. Some of the best scenes are those where he is learning his role, ‘getting into character’, complete with an amusing anecdote about a drugs deal that goes wrong. The tension and uneasy camaraderie between Mr White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) is perfectly played at the start of the film. The camera angles and the framing intensifying the confined action match the dialogue as they go into claim and counter claim finally culminating into that Mexican Standoff image that has become representative of the film itself: Buscemi frantic on the floor while Keitel is coolly standing above him.
Reflecting on this enthusiasm now seems quiet odd as I haven’t seen INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and I haven’t been able to complete DEATH PROOF despite a couple of attempts. In the midst of the honeymoon period following his début there were hints of inconsistency, particularly in his acting roles in FOUR ROOMS and DUSK TILL DAWN. Is it a case that his fresh vision became adopted so quickly by other films in the 90s that it became mainstream and boring? Or, is it the case that he doesn’t release enough films for them to be disposable? Either way, this wonderful film will always be on my list of favourites.