Reservoir Dogs: 25th Anniversary Screening of Tarantino’s 1992 Cult Film

The 25th anniversary retrospective screening of the seminal indie feature, Reservoir Dogs, at the Tribeca Film Fest took place April 28.

Cast members Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and writer-director-actor Quentin Tarantino got together to reminisce after the 1992 movie screened to a packed house at the Beacon Theater.

Tom Waits Reading Madonna Speech

Tarantino discussed the casting process. “We had the casting director from ‘L.A. Law,’” the director recalled. “A lot of really wild people came in and read the parts. Tom Waits came in and read. I had Tom Waits read the Madonna speech, just so I could hear Tom Waits say those lines. And actually, other than Harvey, he gave me one of the first profound compliments on the script. No one had ever told me my work was poetic before.” (Roth, Madsen and Chris Penn all got their parts through those L.A. auditions; Buscemi came aboard after a round of casting in New York.)

Long Rehearsals

Keitel recalled the film’s unusually long rehearsal process. “We had two weeks of rehearsal, which is unheard of in Hollywood,” he said. “We actually almost went to four, because Quentin thought at one time about doing a play.”
The most iconic and violent moment in Reservoir Dogs is the scene in which Madsen’s character, Mr. Blonde, tortures a captured cop (Kirk Baltz), cutting off his ear after doing a little dance to the jaunty tune of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
That dance was spontaneous. “You never made me do it in rehearsal, because I was so intimidated by it,” Madsen reminded Tarantino at the panel. “I didn’t know what to do. In the script, it said, ‘Mr. Blonde maniacally dances around.’ And I kept thinking, ‘What the f–k does that mean? Like Mike Jagger, or what? What the f–k am I gonna do?’”

Madsen didn’t even practice his big moment at home. When it finally came time for him to shoot the big torture scene, he found inspiration in an unlikely source. “I heard the music, and I said, ‘Oh, f–k, I better do something,’ and I started thinking about Jimmy Cagney,” Madsen said. “I remembered this weird little thing that Jimmy Cagney did in a movie that I saw. I don’t remember the name of it. He did this crazy little dance thing. It just popped into my head in the last second. That’s where it came from.” They only shot the scene three or four times, and the first shot of him breaking into that dance is the from the very first take.

Tarantino always intended for “Reservoir Dogs” to be more than a genre film. He was particularly intrigued with the idea of casting Roth because the British actor had some real art-house cred after his breakout work in 1990 films “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Vincent and Theo.” “You were like this budding art-film superstar,” Tarantino told Roth at the panel. “And I didn’t want ‘Reservoir Dogs’ to be a straight-to-video genre movie. I wanted it to be a genre-based art film, like ‘Blood Simple,”” he added, referring to the Coen Brothers’ 1984 film.

Some audience members flee during festival screenings. “I started counting the walkouts during the torture scene,” Tarantino said. “33 was the largest walkout.”

He had thought that at least everyone would be able to sit through it when it screened at the Sitges Horror Film Festival, where they had just shown Peter Jackson’s early gore film, Dead Alive.  “I thought, ‘Finally, I’ve got an audience that won’t walk out.’ Five people walk out of that audience — including Wes Craven!