***½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras A+
starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi
written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
by Bill Chambers
"They were perfect strangers, assembled to pull off the perfect crime. Then their simple robbery explodes into a bloody ambush, and the ruthless killers realize one of them is a police informer. But which one?"
--DVD liner summary for Reservoir Dogs
I came around to being a fan of Reservoir Dogs after Quentin Tarantino's standing had crested and the backlash was kicking in. It's impossible for me to see now why I didn't take to it initially--solid flick, as they say. Stylish, knowing, but not necessarily pretentious. Well-performed. And moving, in its macho way: Let us not forget that Reservoir Dogs ends in tears and an embrace.
The film is also fairly self-contained, and I can't think of much to say about it a decade after the fact that would enlighten anyone. FILM COMMENT's Amy Taubin tries in a partial commentary on the tenth anniversary DVD release of Reservoir Dogs, offering that the picture deals with the phenomenon of "white-on-white violence"--which, with all due respect to Ms. Taubin, is just salad dressing on the word "violence." One of the few fresh things that occurred to me as I watched the new Reservoir Dogs disc was that we underestimate Tarantino the Director--it is rare for praise of his sense of mise-en-scène to receive equal billing with his grasp of dialogue and structure, but he has that kino eye.
Look at the warehouse where most of Reservoir Dogs takes place; pay attention to the manner in which he shoots it: this is the exact desolate garage you imagine when someone says "warehouse," yet there is nothing anonymous about it. The longer you watch, the more its green interiors evoke the feeling that these characters are underwater, or in an aquarium, and the meagre amount of inventory is draped in protective plastic or paper, foreshadowing the splatter to come. (Coloured bottles in the bathroom mimic our heroes' codenames and suggest that's where boss Joe (Lawrence Tierney) got the idea.) Tarantino often shoots the goings-on in the warehouse from low angles, emphasizing and privileging the point-of-view of the dying Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), who lies bleeding for seventy-five percent of the film. When Orange all but takes Reservoir Dogs hostage through chapters devoted to his backstory, it feels like a logical extension of the picture's visual bias, which might be why there's something gratuitous about the film detaching itself from his POV to provide backstory on, say, Mr. Blonde. Tarantino is clearly going for a heist tapestry in the vein of Kubrick's The Killing but isn't yet fluent enough in the grammar of cinema to pull it off.
His instincts, though, can't be faulted. During the fabled "ear" sequence, a set-piece that may become the '90s equivalent of Taxi Driver's "You talkin' to me?" monologue (if it hasn't already), my favourite part is not the brilliant pan-away when Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) goes to work on a gagged-and-bound cop (Kirk Baltz) with a straight razor, but the fact that thereafter we follow Mr. Blonde out to his car as he retrieves a can of gasoline. It's as though the camera is wired to Mr. Orange's mix of dread and curiosity--which is, after all, ours as well: we are the same helpless spectator to Tarantino's shenanigans. The reveal that "Stuck in the Middle with You," the song Mr. Blonde was dancing to inside, is so hyper-diegetic that you can't hear it when Mr. Blonde leaves the building, produces the kind of frisson a certain type of film fan lives for. It's this playful, Godardian side of Tarantino that should endure long after his pop-culture references become as meaningless as Eddie Haskell's hip jabberwocky on "Leave It to Beaver" and his spontaneous violence loses its shock value.
Artisan's Reservoir Dogs - Ten Years: Special Edition DVD comes in five packaging flavours: Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, and, in super-limited quantities, Mr. Brown (the Dog Tarantino himself played). I was sent Orange automatically for review, which is probably what I would've chosen, anyway--always the man spilling his guts. Each sleeve features a fold-out flap containing information and select quotes from the cover character, thus it seems more a concept tailored to a viewer's tastes than it does a ploy--à la the Rita-or-Diane gimmick of the Mulholland Drive DVD--to prompt multiple purchases.
This 2-disc set divides its Mark Rance/Jennifer Peterson-produced supplements and digitally-remastered transfers between the platters, with Disc One including the letterboxed version and bonus material and Disc Two housing the full-frame Reservoir Dogs and such extras as the abovementioned Taubin yakker. I prefer the film in (2.35:1 anamorphic) widescreen: cropping aside, haloing mars the pan-and-scan presentation. Flesh tones are as pasty as they were on the LaserDisc release, but the image can boast improved detail, and it doesn't have the edgy quality it used to. Reservoir Dogs has been remixed in 5.1 Dolby Digital--and DTS for the widescreen edition alone--and the results are generally pleasing. The Seventies music doesn't gain much depth or dimension, but gunshots kick up dust in the subwoofer. A curiously big aural charge occurs after the bathroom monologue delivered by Mr. Orange, when he activates a hand-dryer. Surround usage is not as aggressive as the left-right splits.
Comments from Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer Monte Hellman, DP Andrzej Sekula, editor Sally Menke, and actors Chris Penn, Kirk Baltz, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth were cobbled together to form a commendable yak-track for the widescreen Reservoir Dogs. I thoroughly enjoyed Tarantino's contribution, although his favourite adjective, "fuckin'," grows tiresome. The great Hellman--originally brought on board the Reservoir Dogs team to helm the picture--reminds us that he directed Silent Night, Deadly Night, perhaps negating my passing notion that Reservoir Dogs would've turned out even better under his sure hand. Sekula and Menke, meanwhile, are the strongest of the remaining participants, which I say in large part to encourage you to watch the talking-heads with Penn, Baltz, Madsen, Bender, Roth, and Tarantino elsewhere on the disc rather than skip them thinking you've heard it all.
Madsen wins the unofficial Best Interview award: Settling disagreements among his children, introducing us to his "attack bird," recalling a bit of Method acting that involved going for tacos with a body in the trunk of his Cadillac, these ten minutes with him prove an unexpected treat. (I wish he'd do more comedy, and I don't mean of the Species 2 variety.) Penn's interview was conducted in the back of a furnished, moving truck; Roth's chat out by the pool is intercut with the Busby Berkeley routines of "The Reservoir Dogs Synchronized Swimmers"; Tarantino's compelling 15-minute rap receives an overly cute "Once Upon a Time" fairy-tale framing device; Baltz is blasted with a spotlight for his "interrogation"; and Bender speaks from behind a desk in his office.
Three slow-paced, semi-redundant deleted scenes (Nina Siemaszko appears in one of them as an informant), two alternate angles--graphic-to-the-point-of-absurdity--of the ear scene, and Reservoir Dogs' theatrical trailer round out Disc One. Like its companion platter, Disc Two took me several (pleasurable) hours to explore in full. Taubin, ROLLING STONE critic Peter Travers, and VARIETY's Emmanuel Levy chime in with optional audio commentaries for specific sequences, with Taubin saying the most resonant things despite the occasional head-scratcher. A "K-BILLY" interface enables you to tune into different radio segments (such as a section of Steven Wright outtakes), in addition to a re-enactment of the ear chop executed with the collectible Reservoir Dogs dolls that serves only to demonstrate the dolls' inflexibility as action figures! (It's very similar to Laura Nix's puppet show on Artisan's Rambo Trilogy.)
Moving on, "Class of '92" catches up with Sundance 1992 players Alexandre Rockwell (whose In the Soup won that year--remember?), Chris Münch, Katt Shea, Tom Kaelin, and Tarantino, who reflect on their successes and failures at that red-letter festival. (Don't skip the prologue, which retraces the humiliating (for Tarantino) dry spell suffered by Reservoir Dogs during the Sundance awards ceremony.) Tarantino has also supplied 11 minutes of footage from his Sundance workshop for Reservoir Dogs, featuring Steve Buscemi first as Mr. White then as Mr. Pink, with Tarantino taking over as a peculiarly hostile Mr. White. Ultimately, it's not difficult to see how these shot-on-video vignettes could convince Reservoir Dogs' backers of Tarantino's ability to handle a feature.
In "Tributes and Dedications," Tarantino runs down the list of the eight luminaries to which he dedicated the Reservoir Dogs screenplay back in '91, revealing in the process tastes evolved by age and experience. (He no longer digs on Brother Chow, John Woo, or Jean-Luc Godard.) The featurettes "One Big Teddy Bear" (inexplicably set up by FILM THREAT's Chris Gore) and "The Good the Bad and the Bunker" pay tribute to the late Lawrence Tierney and the living Eddie Bunker, respectively. Roth, et al. basically second Tarantino as he compares Tierney to the irredeemable character he played in 1947's The Devil Thumbs a Ride, while Bunker tours L.A., every street's name triggering a story from his criminal past. In "The Reservoir Dogs Tributes," Tarantino inspirations Hellman, Jack Hill, Pam Grier, and Roger Corman are individually interviewed and cram a lot of career introspection into short periods of time.
"The Film Noir Web" enlists ostensible specialists Mike Hodges, Robert Polito, John Boorman, Donald Westlake, and Stephen Frears to wax profound on the titular genre, and a rich text guide to the ingredients of film noir caps off these "Noir Files." A live-action piece on the men behind the Reservoir Dogs toy line titled "Small Dogs," an intriguing, narrated panorama of production stills called "Securing the Shot: Location Scouting with Billy Fox," the dumb "Reservoir Dogs Style Guide," and a Reservoir Dogs poster gallery finish off this encyclopedic collectible.
100 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English DTS 5.1 (widescreen version only), English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround; CC; Spanish subtitles; 2 DVD-9s; Region One; Artisan