Has Reservoir Dogs Aged Well?


(wailing in pain) “I’m sorry!” So, in the very first sentence of the New York Times’ review of Reservoir Dogs, Critic Vincent Canby wrote “it’s been an unusually good year for the discovery of first rate, new American film directors”, Then goes on to list four films that you’ve never seen by four directors that you’ve never heard of, none of whom lasted more than a decade making movies, before continuing, now add to that list the name of Quentin Tarantino. I guess one out of five ain’t bad. (Screaming) “You’re gonna be okay!” 25 years after that review, Tarantino is probably the most popular living, working director in the world, after maybe Spielberg and Scorsese. His eight films have grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide, and writing about his work could fill a small library. The quarter century milestone is a good opportunity to look back at how Tarantino’s first film has aged. I’ve a slight obsession with firsts, with how things begin, and the first shot of Reservoir Dogs is probably the first that I think about the most. Okay, yeah, obviously I know this is not technically the first shot of the movie, but I’ve always sort of viewed the diner scene that precedes the opening credits as a kind of overture of Tarantino’s entire filmography. Traditionally overtures are mood setters. A little bit of music that sets the tone for what’s about to follow. It’s only natural that in Tarantinoland, the overture is a seven-minute conversation about Madonna songs and the merits of tipping. ”But no, society says ‘don’t tip these guys over here, but tip these guys over here’, that’s bullshit.” So, the first shot of the story proper is this, and it’s one of the most electrifying openings in film history. Like the first notes in the first Led Zeppelin album. Before you have a chance to blink, you’re involved. Your mind fans forward and backward through time. It’s usual in film for actions to have consequences, but here, consequences have actions; actions you begin to imagine. A heist gone wrong. [Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” playing in the background] And just like you’re in the past, you’re also in the future, calculating how long this guy has left to live and what can be done to save him. And of course, like Mr. Orange bleeding out, you can’t escape the present either, because that’s what pain is; a brutal and specific attention to the present moment. It’s that pain, that panicked feeling of time running out, that separates this film from others that begin in media res. Whenever I create anything, I always hold it up against the opening of Reservoir Dogs; is the beginning as attention capturing as this? Does it have the same kinetic energy launching you into the narrative? It’s here too, of course, that we’re introduced to the technique that made Tarantino famous: the non-linear structure of his story-telling. In interviews, Tarantino compared the Byzantine tracks of his early films to novel-writing. “Novels have always had just a complete freedom to pretty much tell their story any way they saw fit, alright, and that’s kinda what I’m- That’s kinda what I’m trying to do.” But while I think the comparison to fiction is apt, I also think that there is a relationship here again, with music. One of the things that I think helped Reservoir Dogs age so well is Tarantino’s instinctive sense for narrative momentum. To me, the ordering of the movie is a lot like an underexamined aspect of popular music; the sequencing of albums. One of the reasons I love Abbey Road, for example, one of the reasons I’ve listened to it so many times all the way through, is because the song sequence carries me through. Even in the first half, where there’s no medley, the arrangement has thrust. I mean, just imagine the change in feeling if the album began with, say, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. [Beatle’s “Maxwell’s silver Hammer, playing in the background] Now imagine the change in feeling if Reservoir Dogs began here. “Say hello to a motherfucker who’s inside. Cabot’s doing a job and take a big fat guess who he wants on the team?” The sequencing in Reservoir Dogs has the same natural rhythm as an album cycle does; offering a variety in tempo, from intense, to reflective, and back, while linking corresponding scenes together. All Tarantino’s films are constructed this way, like albums; more like albums, I think, than novels. Even the ones with more straightforward narratives. [Rick Ross’ “100 Black Coffins”, playing in the background] “And part of my thing when I’m coming up with an idea is to go through that record room and go through those records, and to kinda ‘find the music’ or the ‘personality’ of a given movie. It’s like I’m looking for the rhythm that this movie needs to play in, I’m looking for the spirit and the rhythm that this movie needs to play in.” The other thing that Tarantino is most known for is his dialogue, and of course, some of the references in Reservoir Dogs haven’t aged so well. “You know who she looked like? She looked like, uh, Christie Love. Remember that TV Show?” “Get Christie Looooove” “Get Christie Looooove!” “She’s a cop?” “Oh yeah!” “You’re under arrest, sugar!” (laughing) Nobody today remembers the show Get Christie Love, but what’s more important here is the concept; people still talk about TV shows, entertainment is still a common language between strangers. “Taking genre characters in genre situations allright, and giving them a real life spin, have them sound like real people, like, y’know, me and my friends, and just other people, and make references that other people make…” Reservoir Dogs translates into 2017 because the humanity and the comedy that Tarantino breathed into genre films is still felt all over Hollywood. “Footloose; and in it, a great hero named Kevin Bacon teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that dancing is the greatest thing there is.” I think the only context in which Reservoir Dogs hasn’t aged so well is within Tarantino’s own filmography. For all the purchase it has on film culture and popular culture, it’s still very clearly his most amateur movie. It’s impossible to say how it would be received today if it was released, because so much of cinema in the past 25 years is influenced by this style. But I think Siskel and Ebert got pretty close in their original reviews. “I liked the movie as far as it went, I wanted it to go further and try more.” “I had the same reaction, that it was a lot of- an exercise in style, uhh but then I got that really quick, I mean, I understand what he’s trying to do here, which is to show things in crime movies that crime movies don’t show. For example, the sloppiness, the humour… But we get that within 15 minutes” The missing piece to Reservoir Dogs is the deeper character studies and exploration of big ideas that you get in Pulp Fiction, in Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. However, I do think that there is one point in Reservoir Dogs where Tarantino does reach for something deeper. The commode story sequence. All of Tarantino’s work comments on the nature of storytelling itself, but the part when Mr. Orange, an undercover cop, learns a fake story to sell the criminals on his credibility, is one of the best instances of this in all his movies. He splits the sequence into four parts: Orange learning the scene, Orange rehearsing the scene, Orange performing the story for an audience, and finally, the story coming alive. It’s an elegant illustration of how words can transform into stories, and stories into reality, or into movies. And it’s a nice touch that the only thing that keeps the cops from noticing the drugs is a similar storytelling situation, because stories can keep us from seeing reality too. “Buddy, I’m gonna shoot you in the face if you don’t put your hands on the fucking dash!” As an exercise in genre and style, Reservoir Dogs is superb, one of the best in film, and if it falls just short of the transcendent heights that Tarantino would later go on to reach, that’s not really a criticism because, I mean, let’s see you reach try to reach ”just short of transcendent” with your first movie. I think a good rule of thumb for how well films have aged is simply whether or not we keep watching them. 25 years on, I’m still watching Reservoir Dogs, and I’ll bet that’ll still be true 25 years and more from now. Hey everybody, Thank you so much for watching, this episode was brought to you by VRV. VRV is a service that pulls together a lot of great content channels like Rooster Teeth, Mondo, Tested, Cartoon Hangover, Crunchyroll and Funimation, it’s cool to have those two in the same place, You can download the VRV app on Xbox, Playstation, iOS, or Android, and if you get the VRV combo pack at this link, you can get a 7-day free trial. Once you get that combo pack, I’d recommend that you watch a show called March Comes Like A Lion on Crunchyroll, it’s a show about A 17-year-old Shogi player (Shogi is a Japanese foreign variation on chess) Really good, it’s beautiful, melancholy, I think you’ll really love it, also Adam Savage’s one day builds on Tested is just a great time, all the shows are in HD and ad-free, I definitely recommend checking out the VRV app. I’ll see you guys next time.

100 thoughts on “Has Reservoir Dogs Aged Well?

  • I like Tarantino but I don’t think he writes in a ‘real conversational way’ like he thinks.
    It’s often like a lot of Tarantinos taking yo each other. Don’t think it’s reflective of real conversation

  • I think it’s slightly overrated. It was my favorite film when I was younger but just a few weeks ago I rewatched all his movies with my girl who hasn’t seen any and we agreed to rank R Dogs towards the bottom in ranking of all his movies. Mind that the bottom of his list is still incredible. As good as reservoir dogs is, inglorious bastards kill
    Bills pulp fiction hateful eight are all better imo

  • I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago. It's a pretty alright movie. I don't think it's anything amazing tho

  • Watched Reservoir Dogs for the 1st time last night. (I’m 20) and it’s my favourite film now.

    Due to YT recommendations, I’ve been watching a lot of analytical videos on Quentin Tarantino and personally. I think he genius. Better than Spielberg or JJ Abrams or George Lucas or whatever.

  • Not great, but it has aged better than some other movies of that era. I'm one of the people who isn't much for it anyway, when I was about 15 I thought this and Scarface were the best movies ever, as you get older you realise nah

  • I like that it doesn't dive deep in character development. It would be blah blah blah in this film. It doesn't need it. Why wish for cookie cutter movies? I want more people to veer off the path. It is risky, but here it works perfectly

  • I remember watching this for the first time in a long time a few years ago. Yes, the opening is pure emulsion and created palpable anxiety. Stupid great film for a hundred different reasons.

  • the guy w/ the cigar at the end there, is apparently an ex-con /writer, but he also had a small role in ''straight time'' w/ Dustin Hoffman. an outstanding crime film.see it. if you like crime films.

  • I remember when this movie burst onto the screen.i went back to see it two more times in a week.It was a milestone in cinema in terms of its impact.as part of QT's filmography it absolutely stands up 25 years later.

  • It's interesting that you mention Tarantino writing scenes like a producer puts together an album because Tarantino's discography seems to follow in the footsteps of loads of iconic bands. Where there's always a great debut breakthrough album that's raw and has all the core componants of the band's sound (Reservoir Dogs) followed up with a more polished, deliberate sophmore release that ends up being seen as the band's magnum opus (Pulp Fiction). Fortunately Tarantino hasn't followed the tradition of then releasing endlessly more disapointing efforts that seem detatched from what made the music great in the first place.

  • I might be in the minority when I say that Reservoir dogs is my favorite Tarantino film. I don't even know why it just ticks me in all the right places.

  • I watched it again two weeks ago. While I remembered it as great way back when, it didn’t hold its charm for me personally.

  • I just watched it a few weeks ago, as I was showing it to my niece as part of her film education. I had forgotten that Tim Roth was really at the center of the film. Overall it holds up pretty well. It's not as shocking as it was when it first came out, but still great to watch. My niece liked it and then watched Pulp Fiction a few days later. While we were watching Reservoir Dogs, I told her to keep an eye out for all the connections it has in Pulp Fiction, so many similar shots/angles, even scenes. All good stuff… And then we went to see Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which I loved, she liked it — But I am a huge Polanski fan so the alternative history was an especially interesting "what if"

  • RD has definitely aged well. I recently watched it side by side with the script on one side of the screen. I noticed that Michael Madsen improvised his lines a lot, fell out of character when he forgot them onscreen, but indelibly made the character his own just the same. Also, the very techniques that made Tarantino relevant now, is what was percolating back then – genre bending without breaking, amazingly clever dialogue and characterizations, strong point of view, clever structure manipulation, and probably most not talked about – he was very interested in the minutiae of the genre, the spaces between the lines.

  • I don’t need you to tell me how good my coffee is, Jules. I know how good my coffee is. When Bonnie goes to the store, she buys shit. When I buy my coffee, I like to taste it.

  • Late comment, but I've gotta say that you've also come a long way with your craft, and your first videos were pretty awesome to begin with!

  • You don't need to understand the reference to enjoy that scene, it's a group of characters talk how people talk. The problem with that scene in Guardians of the galaxy is that the scene is relying on the audience laughing along for it to work. In years to come when few people have heard of Kevin Bacon or Footloose, then it's just a pointless bit of dialogue out of character for those two individuals.

  • I never understood the reason why Tarantino said that the choppy slow motion walk in the beginning was due to him not being able to afford a high frame rate camera, yet later in the film there's clearly parts that are shot at a high frame rate for smooth style slow motion. I mean it doesn't matter, the walk at the beginning and how it's shot is iconic, but the trivia surrounding it is just odd.

  • Resevoir Dogs is my second favorite movie but I still love asking people who've not seen it, who they think the snitch is

  • Reservoir Dogs felt like it was 20 years old when it was released – from some alternate version of the 70s. That's part of what made it so damn cool and why it ages so well.

  • Its always felt like a stage play to me. The sets are limited. I could imagine a stage direction of this. Has anyone ever done it?

  • I hear you on him being a current director, but he had a huge gap of like 10 years where he didn't do any movies, and Kill Bill was pretty dated, it was like he was stuck in 1996 when everyone else had been doing the "Tarantino style" for 8 years

  • Nobody knows what are Scorsese's and Spielberg's first films. If you were to ask random people if they could name them they'd probably say "Taxi Driver" and "Jaws".
    Meanwhile, Reservoir Dogs is a bonafide classic. That's how great Tarantino is; dude got it right from the start.

  • I saw this the first time at Joe Carey's apartment. He worked in a video store and I hung out in there a lot and since I was still a teenager and hadn't seen ten thousand movies to know their directors and everything else, this was one of a hundred things I pulled of the shelves because I liked how the box looked or the titles were something I had heard somewhere else. And I took this one when he was closing the store one night and we went to his apartment (I forget if Bob or Mike were around) and we got drunk, blah blah blah, and sometime the next morning I put this fucker in the VCR and earned the name Quentin Tarantino to my vocabulary.

  • right, mr nerdwriter….
    i've been watching your videos for like, 2-3 years i think,
    big big fan, you never disappoint and you're the best video essay artist around,
    but i have a bone to pick with you.
    somehow i never saw this video, so ive put it on, and immediately have this horrific feeling of frustration because you've used led zep in this video to make a perfect comparison, leaving me craving a version of reservoir dogs with good times bad times in it.

  • Well i'm 18 and i watched it for the first time recently and loved it as much as Pulp Fiction so if it appeals to a different generation then it must have aged well

  • Weird. This is my favourite film ever precisely because it is a deep character study. There's not one wasted bit of characterisation. Unlike every other Tarantino movie, there's not a single bullet fired that doesn't tell you something about the person firing it and the person shot. There's a lot of "pure style" in his latter movies. As for an "exploration of big ideas," that just sounds like wank. That idea of "stories becoming reality" is pretentious grasping at straws. I like this review overall but that was a weird end.

  • "That's what pain is, a brutal and specific attention to the present." Fuck dude! That was a bullet to my brain!

    Reservoir Dogs is a far superior film to, well, anything else QT has done certainly. For starters, much as I like (not love) Pulp Fiction, and it does have some great moments, it's a bit too slick, cool and smug. Like when a band or artist you love has a great debut, then they get money, do drugs and release the almost compulsory shit follow up album.

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