15 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Reservoir Dogs' That Are As Intense As The Movie Itself
A non-linear narrative, a heist that's never shown on screen, a rookie filmmaker with an inclination to break every cinematic rule in the book, and graphic use of cruelty juxtaposed with sugary pop hits: Reservoir Dogs could have easily turned into a total debacle. The public might have brushed it off as yet another small-budget film that placed style over substance, destined to ultimately disappear into the endless abyss of movies that failed to leave a lasting impression. Even famed film critic Roger Ebert thought it was so-so.
But a change was brewing in the early '90s, an independent film movement that knocked down postmodern sensibilities - one that didn't cater to traditional storytelling or its restrictions. This evolution was led in large part by a video store clerk with neither a film school degree nor much experience behind a movie camera.
In 1994, Quentin Tarantino forever changed the landscape of cinema and independent film with Pulp Fiction; however, he only received money and big stars for that movie because of the artistic merit of Reservoir Dogs. Nothing about Reservoir Dogs is traditional, from the script and production to the dozens of disgusted people who left the theater during what has become one of the most recognized and parodied scenes in cinema history. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the cult classic, a film many consider to be one of the best movies ever made.
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Harvey Keitel Used His Own Money To Pay For CastingPhoto: Miramax Pictures
In a true act of kismet, the wife of producer Lawrence Bender's acting coach was acquainted with actor Harvey Keitel. The legendary actor was handed the script for Reservoir Dogs and loved it. Quentin Tarantino describes the first time he spoke with Keitel, "He just called us up three days later and said, 'Look, consider me in. Not only do I want to do it, I want to be one of the producers. I want to help get it made. Whatever I can do, let me know.'"
Tarantino was a fan of Keitel, and he was more than willing to cast him in his directorial debut. The film's budget went from $30,000 to around $1.5 million because of Keitel's commitment to the movie. He also contributed some of his personal funds to help finance the picture, even flying the production crew to New York to find more actors. This trip secured Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen.
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Working With Lawrence Tierney Was A Nightmare
Veteran character actor Lawrence Tierney, who played his fair share of goons on the big screen, was cast to play caper organizer and leader Joe Cabot. Unfortunately for Quentin Tarantino, this casting decision almost ruined his directing career in its first week. He said of the actor:
Tierney was a complete lunatic by that time - he just needed to be sedated. We had decided to [film] his scenes first, so my first week of directing was talking with this f*cking [guy]... By the end of the week, everybody on set hated Tierney - it wasn't just me. And in the last 20 minutes of the first week, we had a blowout and got into a [fight]. I fired him, and the whole crew burst into applause.
Tarantino has Harvey Keitel to thank for possibly saving his career. The actor stepped up and talked to the studio in defense of the director.
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Mr. Blonde's Cadillac Actually Belonged To Michael Madsen
While filming Reservoir Dogs, Michael Madsen drove a yellow Cadillac. For one scene, the production planned to rent a car for Mr. Blonde; however, the idea struck Madsen as unnecessary. The actor recalled, "[My car] was in the parking lot right outside the warehouse where we were [filming]. They were gonna go to Budget Rent-a-Car and get a car for Mr. Blonde."
Madsen ended up saying to the producers, "Wait, wait, wait... let's use my car!"
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Michael Madsen Improvised The Ear-Cutting ScenePhoto: Miramax Pictures
Michael Madsen didn't rehearse the ear-cutting scene and felt intimidated by it: "In the script it said, 'Mr. Blonde maniacally dances around,' and I kept thinking, 'What the f*ck does that mean? Mick Jagger?'" Madsen stated he also felt uncomfortable acting out the intense scene because he had a small child at the time.
What's more, the young cop in the film begs Mr. Blonde for his life by telling him he's a father with young kids. Madsen was finally able to push aside his issues and draw his dance inspiration from an unlikely source: "I started thinking about this weird little thing Jimmy Cagney did in a movie that I saw, that's where it came from."
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Mr. Brown Was Wrong About Madonna's 'Like A Virgin'
During the movie's unmistakable opening scene, which features most of the cast chitchatting about trivialities like how much to tip a waitress, Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino) waxed poetic on his thoughts behind Madonna's famous song, "Like a Virgin." Mr. Brown explained how he believed the song to be a metaphor for large male anatomy.
Madonna turned out to be a fan of Reservoir Dogs and asked to meet with the director. Of course, Tarantino asked whether or not he was right about his interpretation of her hit song. Of the interaction, he said:
I asked her, "Am I right about the song?" because I really believed that was the subtext.
She said, "No, it's about love, it's about a girl who's been messed over, and she finally meets this one man who loves her." She signed my Erotica album, "To Quentin. It's not about d*ck; it's about love. Madonna."
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Quentin Tarantino's First Directorial Instinct Was To Break The Rules
Before Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino had little experience behind the camera. He attended a workshop for filmmakers at the Sundance Institute in 1991 to become a little less green. He recalled his thought process:
I wanted to experiment on my first scene with long takes. I didn't want to do coverage; I wanted to stream a bunch of long takes together and see how it would work. This was really the first time since I kind of got a little bit of sense about what I was doing that I had a camera bag in my hand again.
Many attendees at the institute criticized Tarantino for moving the camera so much, but other big-name directors at Sundance, such as Stanley Donen and Terry Gilliam, felt differently. Gilliam said, "The camera literally would not keep still. He was everywhere - down people's backs and up people's noses. It was just marvelous."
Tarantino thanked Gilliam for his encouragement in Reservoir Dogs's end credits.