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RESERVOIR DOGS 20th Anniversary Screening

I was fortunate enough recently to check out the 20th Anniversary theatrical screening of Reservoir Dogs and I was concerned that I’d have nothing to say. I’d watch it and think “Yeah, the acting is still good, pacing is perfect,” etcetera. But I did have a couple revelations which I thought were interesting, so here goes.

I forgot that there was no musical score. None at all. It’s been about a decade since I last revisited what I think is Tarantino’s best film to date so I knew some things would have gotten past me but this was too obvious and made me enjoy the film even more. It takes guts to allow such dialogue heavy scenes just play out and to trust your own script. But one thing that annoyed me in revisiting this classic was the Madonna “Like a Virgin” monologue which I did remember as kind of funny but now just find annoying. Maybe if it was delivered by an actual actor I might like it but it just grated on me with its overabundance of cleverness and self-indulgence, which are also the aspects I dislike in Pulp Fiction. However the Madonna monologue is one of the only moments in Reservoir Dogs that seems so disingenuous so it stands out in what feels like a very sincere film.

Maybe I’m wrong about the sincerity but in watching the scenes between Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel it’s incredible how heartbreaking these moments are especially within such a hyper masculine film. I enjoy how Tarantino lets these scenes play out in the midst of a film that alternately has so much action and violence. When Keitel leaves Roth for the first time to talk to Steve Buscemi the scene lingers on a terrified Roth as he wallows in his own blood and whimpers for Keitel. These are the kind of moments that are usually edited out for brevity so it’s a minor detail that makes this film stand out. Of course lingering on Roth is also so the audience will empathize with his character to help misdirect the fact that he is the “Rat”.

The most interesting aspect in re watching Reservoir Dogs after many years was appreciating how much of the film revolves around the performances. I’ve always known this film has influenced me but it may have left more of an impression than I thought. I’ve directed nine narrative short films and am currently in production for my first feature film and I have almost always arranged and modified my shots to the actor’s performance. For example when I was fortunate enough to direct novelist Dennis Tafoya’s “How to Jail” (which is currently in post production) I organized a wide angle master shot which went on for eight pages and could play out as one continuous theatrical scene. Tarantino let a lot of his scenes go on as wide shots and let the drama play out with only limited close ups and edits. This is very unique for such a dramatic and character driven piece and I believe this style really influenced me. I also appreciate Tarantino’s lack of slick and/or complicated camera techniques in his first film which allows our attention to stay on the characters and not the cinematic process. I don’t think I saw one jib arm or crane shot in the entire film and when the camera does move it’s subtle and innocuous.

I was going to mention something about masculinity, race and gender but I’ll just say I think critic Amy Taubin has had some interesting things to say about Reservoir Dogs before she goes far too academic on the subject.

Paul von Stoetzel is the proprietor of Killing Joke Films and has directed and/or adapted numerous award winning plays and films in the Twin Cities including his feature documentaries, SNUFF: a Documentary about Killing on Camera and Scrap, which both gained major North American distribution. He has produced and/or directed over 20 short films and music videos in or around the Twin Cities area as he continues his education at The U of M for his MFA in Film. His most recent short film, the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation “The Curse of Yig”, is currently travelling the film festival circuit while he completes a dark noir short “How to Jail” adapted from novelist Dennis Tafoya for their literary adaptation collective Brute Force Films. For more about Brute Force Films, check their web site and Facebook page.