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Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” turns 25 years old this week. To celebrate, the Tribeca Film Festival held a special screening of the film on Friday at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.
Afterward, the director and cast – Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel, and Tim Roth – took the stage for a panel to discuss the film. They shared a few interesting stories about the movie.
Here’s what we learned:
The first ever screening at the Sundance Film Festival was a disaster.
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When “Reservoir Dogs” played at the Sundance Film Festival for the first time, everything that could go wrong did.
Tarantino allowed the film festival to screen the film despite the fact that the fest did not have a CinemaScope lens projector. Because the film was shot with a CinemaScope lens, the director explained that the screening looked like “caca” all the way through.
But the nightmare was only getting started.
“That would be bad enough, but then it gets to the final climax and all of the sudden the lights come up,” Tarantino said. “And somebody realized, ‘Oh s—, what’s going on?’ And they bring the lights back down. Then everybody has their guns pointed on everybody else and right at the height of that scene, there’s a power outage and all of the power goes out. It was a f—ing disaster.”
“I was at that first screening,” Buscemi chimed in. “[Tarantino] didn’t want me to go because he said it would be bad luck.”
Steve Buscemi nearly didn’t get the chance to audition for the role of Mr. Pink.
It’s easy to forget, 25 years after the fact, that “Reservoir Dogs” was an indie film. The producers were working with a limited budget and, as such, were mainly casting actors from the Los Angeles area where the film was shot.
Brooklyn native Harvey Keitel, who played Mr. White and also produced the film, insisted that Tarantino give New York actors a chance to audition. When Tarantino explained that they simply didn’t have the money to go to New York, Keitel paid for their flights and hotels.
It ended up being the right move, as they found their Mr. Pink that weekend.
“I enjoy reminding Steve Buscemi that he owes me his career,” Keitel said.
When “Reservoir Dogs” started screening on the festival circuit, Quentin Tarantino would count how many people walked out.
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Before “Reservoir Dogs” became a cult classic, before Tarantino was a household name, he was just another director who had another film at a film festival.
“The thing about it is, at a film festival screening sometimes no one really knows what they’re going to see,” Tarantino said. “They just get the program and hear a synopsis and that’s that. So it’s understandable somebody gets a ticket at a film festival and maybe this is not what they want to see and they have to leave.”
For some viewers, the infamous torture scene was too much to bear. When it premiered at Sundance, Buscemi informed Tarantino that people were saying the torture scene ruined the film.
“What are they talking about?” the director replied. “It’s the best scene in the f—ing movie! Did you see how many people walked out? That’s the s—!”
So divisive was the torture scene that Tarantino started keeping track of how many people walked out of each screening as he took the film on the festival circuit. During one screening, the director counted 33 audience members who got up and left.
When he took the film to the Stiges Horror Film Festival, Tarantino thought he had finally found an audience that would sit through it. Alas, five audience members left once Michael Madsen started his shuffle, including the king of horror himself: Wes Craven.
“The f—ing guy who did ‘The Last House on the left’ walked out?! My movie was too tough for him,” Tarantino said.
Michael Madsen, who stole the show as the psychopathic Mr. Blonde, initially had his eyes on a different role.
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Madsen explained to the audience that he originally wanted to play the role of Mr. Pink, due mainly to the fact that Mr. Pink shared a great amount of screen time with Keitel’s Mr. White.
“I did all the big scenes and Quentin just stood there watching me,” Madsen said.
Tarantino, however, wasn’t having it.
“You’re Mr. Blonde or you’re not in the movie,” he told Madsen.
Mr. Blonde’s signature dance was shot on the first take.
The torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs” is perhaps one of the most recognizable scenes in any of Tarantino’s movies. In it, Michael Madsen dances to “Stuck in the Middle with You” while preparing to maim and murder the police officer he is holding prisoner.
Madsen revealed that the script only called for Mr. Blonde to dance around “maniacally.”
“I kept thinking, ‘What the f— does that mean?!'” Madsen said.
When the music played on set, it was the first time Madsen would be attempting the dance.
“I didn’t know what the hell to do. I heard that music and I said, ‘Oh f—, I better do something,'” he said. “I remember thinking about Jimmy Cagney… He did this crazy little dance thing and it just popped into my head at the last second.”
It ended up being enough, because Tarantino used the first take in the final cut of the film.