By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com October 23, 2012 at 1:47PM
Prepare to feel very, very old indeed -- twenty years ago today, on October 23rd 1992, "Reservoir Dogs" was released in theaters, introducing the world to a 29-year-old video store clerk turned filmmaker with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film named Quentin Tarantino. But even in the months beforehand, his feature directorial debut, "Reservoir Dogs" had already started to upend the American independent film movement but with tremendously well received screenings at Sundance, Cannes and Toronto.
One of, if not the most influential films of the 1990s (not necessarily for the better, as anyone who's sat through the many copycats and knock-offs can attest), Tarantino's thriller -- which follows the preamble to, and aftermath of, a diamond heist that turns disastrous -- was a breath of fresh air, and remains a taut, hilarious and curiously moving crime classic. To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, we've rounded up five facts that even the most dedicated Tarantinophile may not know about his debut. Check them out below. And if you want to see it on the big screen again, it hits cinemas for one night only in December.
It's inarguable that "Reservoir Dogs" was the script and film that exploded Tarantino onto the world scene. But it's not quite the first film with the Tarantino touch. Relatively well-known is the fact that Tarantino co-wrote and directed "My Best Friend's Birthday" in the late 1980s, while still working at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach. Working from a short script by co-worker Craig Hamann (and with "Pulp Fiction" collaborator, and fellow video shop employee Roger Avary also assisting), Tarantino helped to expand it into a full 80 page script, as well as acting in it alongside Hamann, and directing the micro-budgeted feature. Mostly free of genre tropes (Tarantino told Charlie Rose in 2010 that it was a "Martin and Lewis" sort of thing), the black-and-white picture sees Tarantino as Clarence, who's looking to do something for his best friend's birthday. Tarantino has confessed that he thinks the film was badly directed, but fortunately for him it's barely been seen -- almost half of it was destroyed in a lab fire, and it's only seen the light of day in incomplete form at film festivals, although elements of the story were recycled in other scripts, most notably "True Romance." Much less well known is "Past Midnight," a potboiler of a thriller starring Rutger Hauer, Natasha Richardson, Clancy Brown and a young Paul Giamatti. Tarantino worked at the company CineTel for a time, who specialized in cheapo direct-to-video type pictures ("976-Evil" might be their most well-known work, which say something about the rest of it), and on the DVD commentary for "True Romance," Tarantino says that part of his job involved "page-one rewrites" on their scripts. His contribution was significant enough to "Past Midnight" (which involves Hauer as a man released from prison after being framed for the murder of his wife, with Richardson as his social worker) that associate producer Catalaine Knell offered to split her credit with him, giving Tarantino his first screen credit outside of Dolph Lundgren's workout video, on which he was a production assistant. The film actually screened at the American Film Market and the Vancouver International Film Festival in October 1991, a few months before "Reservoir Dogs" premiered at Sundance, although it ultimately skipped theaters, and aired on the USA Network in December 1992, before making it to video in 1993.
Tarantino's original plan was to make "Reservoir Dogs" on a minimal budget on 16mm film, using friends in the cast, with himself playing Mr. Pink and regular producer Lawrence Bender as Nice Guy Eddie. Tarantino was introduced to the late Tony Scott in 1990 by a mutual friend, one of the director's employees, and Scott read both "True Romance" and "Reservoir Dogs." Originally, Scott wanted to make "Reservoir Dogs," but was told by Tarantino that he'd earmarked it for his own full directorial debut. Scott ended up buying the "True Romance" script for $50,000, which Tarantino planned to use to make "Reservoir Dogs." However, Bender's acting teacher's wife was a friend of Harvey Keitel, and gave him the script. Keitel became interested, and ended up attaching himself to produce and star as Mr. White, enabling Tarantino and Bender to raise as much as $1.5 million for the budget. As a result, the young writer-director was accepted into the Sundance Institute in 1991 (see photo), and travelled there with actors including Steve Buscemi to perform scenes from the script in front of advisers including Terry Gilliam and "Two-Lane Blacktop" helmer Monte Hellman. Gilliam is, as a result, thanked in the credits, while Hellman was so impressed that he attached himself as an executive-producer to the film.