Quentin Tarantino has gone on to make many exciting films in the 21st century, including his latest project, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which received widespread critical acclaim. However, many of his fans insist that Tarantino’s work from the 1990s is still his best because it encapsulated the enigmatic sensibilities of the American cultural climate. Watching his debut movie could well be his defining moment.
There’s some truth to that claim because gems like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction represent a shift in the traditions of filmmaking in the country, presenting fleeting vignettes of a surreal America through highly stylised frameworks of subjectivity. Reservoir Dogs wasn’t just a turning point for American cinema but also a launching pad for Tarantino.
It is a well-known fact that Tarantino has been an avid cinephile ever since he was a child. In fact, his cinephilia is so popular that many even accuse him of stealing from a wide variety of filmmakers while doing his own projects. Instead of going to film school, Tarantino experimented with the medium himself while expanding his knowledge of cinema by working as a clerk at a video rental store.
His love for cinema was so infectious that film producer Lawrence Bender actually urged Tarantino to write a screenplay when they met at a party. Tarantino had never formally studied writing but he used his experiences in acting class to write dialogue for a film which he described as an exploitation action flick from the ’70s.
Eventually, Tarantino became more focused in his efforts and even directed an amateur film in 1987 called My Best Friend’s Birthday which is partially lost now but the premise helped him write the screenplay for True Romance later in his career. All these experiments paid off when Tarantino got to direct his debut feature – Reservoir Dogs.
Before he properly embarked on the project, Tarantino was confused because he had no idea how to translate his vision to the big screen. He signed up for a mentorship program at the Sundance Institute where he was paired up with none other than visionary filmmaker behind masterpieces such as Brazil – Terry Gilliam.
It was Gilliam who turned Tarantino’s life around by telling him what he needed to do. Tarantino recalled what Gilliam had told him: “He said, ‘Quentin, you don’t really have to conjure up your vision. What you have to do is to know what your vision is and then you have to hire really talented people. It’s their job to create your vision.”
Influenced by films such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing as well as the 1987 Hong Kong thriller City on Fire among other sources of inspiration, Reservoir Dogs was a fantastic creative manifestation by a filmmaker who was profoundly and deeply in love with the cinematic medium. Now cited as one of the greatest independent films ever made, Reservoir Dogs paved the way for other cultural behemoths such as Pulp Fiction.
Even after all these years, the film stands out as a fine example of a very unique filmmaking technique which seems preposterous at first. Tarantino wore his influences on his sleeve and created a collage dedicated to cinematic violence, curating an experience so impactful that it went on to have a definitive influence on American popular culture.
“One of the things I like doing is incorporating many different styles of shooting in the course of making a movie. I never shoot in one specific cinematic language. I like using as many as are appropriate,” Tarantino reflected, and that has become even more apparent as the years have gone by. Tarantino has established himself as the most prominent practitioner of cinematic collage by using Reservoir Dogs as proof of how fun it can be.
Watch Reservoir Dogs on Netflix now.