What is left to say? tank dogsA movie, all this talk?
A young Quentin Tarantino’s greatest trick was to turn his audience into the same kind of discussion group that criticized the finer points of Madonna over coffee in Los Angeles, Pat and Lauren’s search for pop culture in search of hidden depth. A shark in the aquarium of America’s nascent indie circuit, his auspicious debut piqued the interest of countless novice film fans and David Foster Wallace alike. The image of bedroom walls plastered with his posters has become a cliché, backed up by possibly fabricated claims that film school professors had to ban articles on the author’s work just to get dazzled kids to write about everyone else. Every aspect of the film has been subject to rigorous analysis: the idea of dressing as symbolic armor, the soundtrack offering a redeeming seal of a single wonder bereft of great believability, the air of Shakespeare to the climax of corpses, the hip irony of Michael Madsen’s soft-shoe routine, the hidden harbinger of infidelity in setting soap bottles. .
After 30 years, the textural bones were picked clean. In revisiting one of the most comprehensively criticized works of Western canon, new insights can only be gleaned from how the intervening years of its creator, and how we have changed along with it. It is now an important point of comparison, casting the ways in which Tarantino has grown—and often refused to grow—more comfortable with his contrast with his own, the industry’s and his audience’s. Even as the boy’s genius on the festival circuit has matured in full swing as a designer, he has remained a stalled political development cause, unable to let go of the delight he feels in stirring up polite society.
All this means is that the N word doesn’t play the way it used to. Tarantino certainly knows it, as he lately hid his penchant for stirring up taboos for bad language in places like the Old West or the South that were invoking it. (He once did in Hollywood pared down outright bigotry, and it still sparks whole controversy for portraying an Asian character in a somewhat unflattering light.) A crew of crooks prone to speaking out in eruptions of racism, anti-Semitism, you name it. There is a temptation to come to the widespread conclusion that audiences view Reservoir Dogs through more enlightened eyes these days, while at the same time maintaining reservations about Tarantino’s provocative tendencies combined with admiration for his mastery of form. But for all the legend of Reservoir Dogs as an overnight Sundance success, Peter Biskind’s Final Scene Report Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and Rise of Independent Film tells a conflicting story.
In the book, he quotes the founder of the festival, Robert Redford, of the disgust he felt during the premiere of Reservoir Dogs: “I went to the theater one night during…the festival to see some movies…and I could hardly eat for 24 hours because they were laden with violence “. Shoot-em-up Tarantino’s wannabes are just as common in Sundance as their coming-of-age stories, but his sinister nihilism and blood-stained honor were anathema to the human status quo in Park City at the time, a haven for sensitive and honest sentimental projects about the real struggles of real people. Or, as Tarantino himself referred to such fare, “ivory trade shit.” Angry at audience outrage over two horrific crime novels on a one-year program of six alleged queer novels, Redford dared rename it the “Gay and Lesbian Sundance Film Festival.” (The trailer for his next film, Palme d’Or-winning Pulp Fiction, will open with a bullet blasting off the laurels of Cannes as some sober piano music departs for surf rock “Misirlou.”)
His shoulder knot about the split between the grindhouse that raised him and the arthouse he sought to conquer seems odd from 2022’s advantage, and not just because of how he became a fixture at the Oscars. He won the whole damn game, with the infamous genres now enjoying market share and equal respect for the drama in indie cinema. The Reservoir Dogs’ culture war is so long gone that the film is no longer readable as a rebel soldier, and its sense of subversion today summoned a reaction from a new, more ideologically determined generation of vigilantes dependent on taste. Set out to impress his viewers, Tarantino lives today in a world that has never been easier or more difficult. There’s a certain innocence to the way he’s trying to get up from us, and it’s refreshing that his off-color spurs are just stealing Jimmy, rather than covering some of Craig’s more nasty retro agenda aligned with, say, S Craig Zahler.
Looking back, Tarantino’s debut is a reminder that you can never go home again, not even if you’re a persistently persistent author. With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he took his talents to Sony and the studio system, closing the door on the independent leagues with the downfall of longtime Sherpa Harvey Weinstein. This movie was a joy to cross over, with his cramped car cruising around Los Angeles the antithesis of containing the pressure cooker at the Reservoir Dogs warehouse. These days, his idea of a single site photo lives up to The Hateful Eight, a 70mm splendor backed by stunning natural vistas of snow-capped mountains. By comparison, Reservoir Dogs is quite convenient, and its exclusion from pivotal gem theft as a cost-cutting measure is clear that Tarantino successfully passed as a narrative amalgamation. He’d never make such a small movie with such a huge impact again, but after that, he wouldn’t have much to prove either. Not yet 30 and hungry for shame, he sparked a scandal that hasn’t quite faded away, only his goals go up and down with time.