Viking Night: Reservoir Dogs
By Bruce Hall
January 25, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
Some people love Quentin Tarantino, and some people hate him. I try to be one of the few guys on the planet who thinks that he’s not good, not evil, but just necessary. In my view, he’s not quite the godlike creative genius his fans claim him to be, and I really don’t see him as the threat to Western civilization his detractors do. The fact that the man is immensely talented is beyond question – there’s no other way a self-taught director puts together such professional looking material right from the start of his career. Tarantino is an avid student of cinema who is theoretically well versed in a wide variety of techniques for making good looking movies.
But at the heart of cinema is storytelling, and this is primarily where his critics have a point. Learning on your own is a great way to maximize your resources, but it can also insulate you from constructive creative input. Pulp Fiction is probably Tarantino’s best known film and I know a lot of people who are big fans of it despite the fact they hate the guy who created it. But how many people do you know who can recite the basic plot? A pro boxer makes a pact with a gangster to take a fall, goes back on the deal and tries to leave town with the money. Forget the hit men, forget Uma Thurman, and forget all about Zed being dead. All of it is just window dressing – Pulp Fiction spends 130 minutes on what is mostly distracting (but undeniably witty) exposition and maybe 20 on the main idea.
Before QT Nation has my car set on fire let me say that I consider Tarantino’s trademark non-linear storytelling to be both his greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness. But in my opinion, its use in Pulp Fiction serves mainly to obscure the fact that there’s really not that much going on. It was used to far greater effect in his first major release, Reservoir Dogs. If you’re a regular visitor to Box Office Prophets, you’re probably a fan of film in general and therefore already familiar with the movie, whether you actually liked it or not. But if your only exposure to Tarantino has been Pulp Fiction or his material since then, you really owe it to yourself to take a look at Reservoir Dogs. Here, he establishes his technique and stamps the project with a hallmark style that for better or worse, will forever imprint his career.