Monday, June 1, 2009

Movie Studies - Quentin Tarantino's ~ Reservoir Dogs (1992)



If you have not watched Reservoir Dogs before, you should watch it first if not the surprises and twist that is the main focus of revealing the characters in the movie will be ruined.

Its a great movie so go watch it first, trust me you'll blow the movie experience once you've read the studies below.


A bit About.....

Quentin Tarantino is the director of some of the most controversial films and carved a name in the world of film making. Some of the other films directed by QT are; Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1&2 and Grind house : Death Proof.

Was a Special Guest Director on Frank Millers ~ Sin City (2005)

Reservoir Dogs is Quentin Tarantino's director debut film at Sundance Film Festival, before this he worked as a video store clerk in LA. Initially QT was planing to shoot it on 16mm film with his friends on a budget of 30,000 USD, with some help from Harvey Keital managed to raise the budget to 1.5Mil, the movie grossed about 3Mil.

Reservoir Dogs is a Indie Cult Classic and hailed as one of the best independent films ever.

Opening Round Table Diner Scene

One of QT's trademark in his films is the chit chatty gossips and rambles of a group of the characters at a diner or in a car. Most of the time the gossips and chattering are about social issues and current/past events and not really related to the movie but it does give an insight of the characters habits and mind set, example; Mr Brown is a pervert. In the Opening Round Table Diner Scene, all the main characters are seated at a diner having their breakfast while chatting about the following topics;

(1) "Like A Virgin" by Madonna
(2) "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" by Vicky Lawrence, Reba McEntire.
(3) The social ethics of tipping.

The thing I like about this scene is the use of the camera tracking around the table behind the characters back, while they idly chat on about stuff. The use of the FGround characters back as a transitional effect and framing/anti-framing. Like some thumbs I've drawn above, the backs of the FG character would block the focus of the other characters at the opposite end, there is even one time the screen went black for a while because the camera was tracking behind the characters back. The use of it as a transition when they needed to cut to another track they waited till the backs of one of the characters covered the screen black and then cut, making the transition seemed seamless and smooth. The use of framing like when the character talking was framed in between two of the FG characters back at time 3|12.

The idea of using a track instead of cutting from one person to the other was that it didn't make the audience feel edgy/constant need of changing focus and restlessness from the continuous cuts. The tracking helped made the scene light, relaxing and enjoyable, the slow tracking left/right was smooth like silk, it made it comfortable for audience to enjoy viewing certain faces of characters at their own pace instead of constant changes caused by cut, like a waiter serving you food after you're done with one plate and not just shoving food in your face when you're not ready.

The other reason from my personal opinion is that what you see isn't as important as what you hear. I felt that the director wanted the audience to listen to the issues the characters were chatting about and not really at the characters themselves and when the director wanted to he could single out anyone of the characters to emphasis a reaction at a point of the topic. Besides that the tracking created a sense of unity among the group because of the semi circles it would be tracking around them. Most importantly it eliminated the use of constant cutting from one angle to another to show all the characters. And when it did make a cut, the cut was sharp and focused at a single point of importance like when the camera suddenly cut to Joe who said "Wong" and Mr White snatches the address book away from Joe out of irritation, that was an important and sudden reaction.

Mr Blonde's Torture Scene

The infamous Torture Scene, when people talk about Reservoir Dogs, this scene would be one of the most talked about especially the brutality of the ear cutting despite the fact that you don't actually see the action of cutting off the ear, and the unforgettable rendition of how Michael Madsen plays Mr Blonde as the psycho maniac dancing to the song "Stuck in the middle with you" by Steelers Wheel before slicing Officer Nash's face.

Just going to Breakdown the shots and describe some of the more important shots like Shot 07, as well as comparison of the 180' flip between Shot 05 and Shot 23.


Shot 07; Having the choice of not showing the audience the gruesome act of cutting off Offc. Nash's ear by turning the camera away but remaining in the same take in actually makes the scene more disturbing, not disgusting and gruesome ... but very disturbing. This is because though visually we don't see the torture happening, we as the audience knows Mr.Blonde is slicing something on Offc. Nash's face, and the audio of him squirming just helps ignites the audience's wild imagination on how brutal and gruesome the torture is.

The director is tapping into the audiences power of imagination to portray the brutality of the torture scene. The depth of our imagination is always deeper and livid than what is shown to us, besides each of us have a different threshold of what gruesome is. Example; some people might imagine that Mr Blonde is slicing Offc. Nash cheeks (some might find it bearable), while others imagination might be Mr Blonde slicing the tongue off or worse still skewering the blade into one of the eyeballs of Offc. Nash eye socket. You see we all have different levels of what gruesome is in our imagination and how effective it was to this torture scene.

Besides that, Shot 07 also reminds me of a similar take in the film Scarface (1983) played by Al Pacino. There was also a torture scene where one of the gang members were using a chain saw to dismember a person in the bath tub, similar situation similar camera move of shifting the camera away from the actual torture sequence but remaining in the same take. Quentin Tarantino being Quentin Tarantino I'd bet he would admit of lifting this camera move from the torture scene from Scarface (1983).

Comparison between Shot 05 and Shot 23; Breaking the 180' line is used in cinema photography to create a sudden change/to confuse/an exchange of power to the situation. In this case, Shot 05 was breaking the 180' to give a sudden jolt of confusion to the audience's vision, to throw us off balanced of the situation as Mr Blonde splashes gasoline onto Offc. Nash, the sudden impact of the gasoline splashing the face, the shock Offc. Nash would be facing that he's going to be burnt alive.

As in Shot 23, the breaking of the 180' was gradual as the camera started off on the correct side of Mr Orange base on continuity issues and gradually the camera started to track Right and around Mr Orange till it's facing his back while he continues to unload his gun at Mr Blonde. The use of this camera movement was great for mainly two reasons;

(1) It's a cool way to portray Mr Orange gunning down Mr Blonde instead of a cut here and a cut of dead Mr Blonde, the audience gets to watch the action uninterrupted.

(2) The shift of "Power" of the characters and situation from Mr Blonde to Mr Orange.

Conclusions & After Thoughts

A damn good movie, especially if its the first time you've watched it. Utilizing one main stage setup as a primary location to slowly unfold the turn of events while using chapters to reveal the truth and back story of each characters and how they got in the current situation.

After re~watching Reservoir Dogs a few more times and assuming the events in the film Reservoir Dogs chronically happened after Pulp Fiction, I can't help the fact that this movie and Pulp Fiction is related in characters, so below are just a few interesting debatable points.

Time 5|30 ~ Mr Pink played by Steve Buscemi debates on the issue of tipping and is against it, Mr pink mentions that he has worked minimum wage before and never had the opportunity to get tipped. His points of debate is why people are tipping waitresses in diners but not waiters at fast food joints or franchised restaurants. In Pulp Fiction, Steve Buscemi plays a young waiter in Jack Rabbit Slims dressed as Buddy Holly.

Time 38|04 ~ The character Mr Blonde aka Vic/Victor Vega is a stone cold egoistic sadistic thief/killer. In Pulp Fiction, John Travolta plays Vincent Vega an egoistic drug addict henchman. QT also admits of having wanted to do a film called "The Vega Brothers".

Time 27|15 ~ During Mr White's interview, Joe asked "What happened to Marsellus's Spy, didn't he always move your ice". In Pulp Fiction, Marsellus Wallace is an underworld Lord, Mr White played by Harvey Keital also played The Wolf (cover up agent) working for Marsellus Wallace.

Time 1|00|00 ~ After Mr Orange guns down Mr Blonde, you can subtly hear the radio in the BGround playing "... the traffic report is brought to you by Jack Rabbit Slims...". The phrase "Jack Rabbit Slims" is repeated 2 more times after that. In Pulp Fiction, Jack Rabbit Slims is a franchised steak house with fancy theme decorations and dressed up waiters and waitresses as famous people. Steve Buscemi plays a young waiter dressed as Buddy Holly.

Time 1|15|30 ~ There are some specific shots in Reservoir Dogs where Mr Orange looks for his ring to wear. Mr Orange played by Tim Roth also played Pumpkin aka Ringo a small time British accent thief who thinks of quitting and holds up a diner with his wife but fails. Mr Orange and Ringo wears a similar ring on the same finger. Personal opinion; after an emotional and psychological failure at the diner hold up and given a second chance to live at gun point by Jules, Ringo turns a new leaf to become a cop, wife leaves him. The scene of Mr Orange putting on the ring is a remembrance of his past life.

Other characters played in Pulp Fiction;

Mr Brown played by QT also played Jimmie Dimmick in Pulp Fiction, a spoilt opinionated proud house husband who has links to the underworld. Mr Brown complained about his colour code.

Reservoir Dogs Complete Study Notes

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