Everyone warned Quentin Tarantino. Producers, friends, critics and viewers demanded that the director remove the scene in which Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) slices off the ear of undercover cop Marvin (played by Kirk Baltz). Tarantino (Knoxville, Tennessee, 1963) was 28 years old and had no film resume, but, stubborn and with an abundance of personality, he was not going to let anyone get between him and his first film, which was released in October 1992, just ago. 25 years. He had an ally today of rabid current: the producer Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful in Hollywood and today totally ousted after multiple accusations of sexual harassment of actresses, including stars like Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie.
But the story begins with a handwritten script, with misspellings, bad punctuation, and grammatical errors. Pages ripped off and others pasted over with zeal. And on the cover, a declaration of intent: “Reservoir dogs. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Final version”.
The producer, Lawrence Bender, had an acting teacher whose wife knew actor Harvey Keitel. She sent him the script (already typed) and, with Keitel on board the project, they managed to shoot Reservoir dogs for two million dollars (1.6 million euros). But the most difficult task still lay ahead: finding a dealer. Quentin Tarantino screened it at the Sundance Independent Film Festival, where he was told by experts that the ear torture scene was rubbish. Nobody bought the movie.
Harvey gave his arm to twist, kept the torture scene and said goodbye to Tarantino as only a businessman with the pretense of a gangster knows how to do: “Don’t forget that it was Miramax who has allowed your film to turn out exactly the way you wanted”
That’s where Miramax came in, Harvey Weinstein’s independent company, whose goal was to introduce arthouse cinema into multiplexes in shopping centers. Weinstein loved the script and sensed that Tarantino’s rock star spirit would function as a magnetic promotional tool. But when he began to show the film he ran into the concrete wall of the limits of the offense: his advisor, Ben Ziskin, defined Reservoir dogs as “the worst movie I’ve ever seen”.
To test the reaction of other profiles, Weinstein screened the film to his wife, Eve (his first wife; then he remarried Georgina Chapman, who has left him these days after the scandal), and his sister-in-law, Maude. When the ear scene came, they both got up and left the room. “I don’t care how good it is,” Eve Weinstein told her husband, “this is disgusting.”
Harvey Weinstein recalls, in the book on independent cinema of the nineties Down and dirty picturesby Peter Biskind, that all the people present seemed pissed off at him for having put them Reservoir dogs And when he approached Tarantino to apologize, the director yelled at him, “I just didn’t make it for your wife!” Tarantino explained to Biskind, years later, that “the problem is that they expected to see Pretty woman. This movie was never intended to be for everyone, I made it for myself and everyone else is invited. “
After the discussion, Eve Weinsten returned. “It’s disgusting, but I want to see how the story ends,” he confessed. Harvey gave his arm to twist, kept the torture scene and said goodbye to Quentin Tarantino as only a businessman with the pretense of a gangster knows how to do: “Don’t forget that it was Miramax who allowed your film to turn out exactly the way you wanted “.
Tarantino remembers this victory as the defining moment of his career and compares it to a phrase from The color of money (Martin Scorsese, 1986): “If you know when it is time to say ‘yes’ and when it is time to say ‘no’, everyone will go home in a Cadillac.” The only drawback is that now you had to share Reservoir dogs with the world, and, in the nineties, no one was prepared for it.
Harvey Weinstein’s strategy was to sell art as if it were commercial. But Quentin Tarantino understood that the system was just the opposite, because Reservoir dogs it was cinema for the masses disguised as art and essay. That’s what makes him a visionary: Tarantino knew what the public wanted to see before Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein, or the public themselves were aware of it.
The violence cool, the grotesque and ramshackle dialogues (Reservoir dogs opens with a debate about whether Like a virgin, by Madonna, is about having sex with a black man) and the narrative as fragmented as those pages of script overlapped with zeal had been exploited for decades in B-series cinema. And Tarantino, who never went to film school but rather educated in a video store in California, he knew the visceral effect that cheap movies (pejoratively called “pulp fiction”) they woke up in the average viewer. Or, at least, in the spectators who stayed to see the entire movie.
Quentin Tarantino took to the hobby of counting how many people were leaving the room when the ear scene arrived. “The highest number of dropouts in a single session was 33,” recalls the director. “When we presented it at the Sitges festival I assumed that everyone would stay there to see it, because the day before they had screened Braindead: your mother ate my dog [Peter Jackson, 1992]. Well, five people left and one of them was Wes Craven [director de Pesadilla en Elm Street]. The bastard who did The last house on the left! Was my movie too harsh for him? “
Quentin Tarantino enjoyed each abandonment, despite the fact that one of the protagonists of Reservoir dogs, Steve Buscemi, told him that most viewers considered that the ear scene ruined the movie, because the director knew that this was “the best fucking scene in the fucking movie.”
It was, as Peter Biskind concluded, what makes Reservoir dogs in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Today the mischievous torture and the amputated ear not only endure as an iconic moment in film history but, as does the scene from Over the rainbow on The Wizard of Oz or the end of the box in Seven, is testimony of an author who relentlessly imposed on hundreds of people who tried to convince him to remove it.
And, as with the most mythical scenes, it has been generating a mythology around it over the years. “I didn’t know what to do,” recalls actor Michael Madsen, “in the script it just said ‘Mr Blonde dances like a maniac’ and I was like, ‘What the hell does that mean? Like Mick Jagger? What the hell do I do? Without having rehearsed, Madsen stood in front of the chair and when it began to ring Stuck in the middle with you, of Stealers Wheels, he began to dance like one of his idols: “I remembered that crazy little dance that James Cagney did in a movie, it occurred to me at the time.” They shot the scene four times, but the one that appears in the movie is the first take. The rest is literally history.
The audience was in a culture-induced coma (Reservoir dogs shared billboard with Maximum alert Y Home alone 2, lost in New York) and Quentin Tarantino’s cinema was an electric shock that no one saw coming. Reservoir dogs it barely recovered the investment during its exhibition in commercial theaters, many accused it of being empty, gimmicky and gratuitously violent. But critics, the industry and the video stores would make it the most famous independent film in history so far. So when 18 months later Tarantino submitted his next script, Pulp fiction, stars like Bruce Willis, John Travolta or Uma Thurman lined up to get out in it. Pulp fiction it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the Oscar for best screenplay and, most astonishingly, broke box office records. We didn’t know when we needed it until we saw it.
Cinema was never the same again because audiences would no longer settle for movies about a boy and his dog having adventures. It turns out that insolent, stubborn and headstrong little boy named Quentin Tarantino revolutionized high culture by claiming low culture. And Tarantino, grateful to the one person who believed in him as much as he himself, has directed his next seven films for Harvey Weinstein.
Today, this tycoon has been fired from his company, abandoned by his wife and repudiated by the industry following the denunciation of dozens of women who were sexually assaulted by him. Several stars have expressed their condemnation of Weinstein, but Quentin Tarantino, for the moment, is not among them. The only thing that has transpired is that you need a few days to reflect on the subject.
It is the first time in 25 years that someone has managed to leave Tarantino speechless.