With Quentin Tarantino under fire for marching in an anti-police rally in New York last month, Breitbart News flashes back to another moment from the director’s career that had both law enforcement and movie critics up in arms — the brutal onscreen torture of a police officer in Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs.
In the scene, the sadistic jewel thief Mr. Blonde — played to unnerving perfection by a young Michael Madsen — flips on “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70s” and dances along to Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” while gleefully taunting police officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), whom he had previously abducted during a botched jewelry heist.
(Warning: Graphic Content)
While a bound Nash looks on in horror, Mr. Blonde calmly walks over and hacks the officer’s ear off with a switchblade.
“Was that as good for you as it was for me? Hey, what’s going on? Can you hear that?” he tauntingly asks the officer as he talks into the severed ear.
Then, in one of the most famous long-take scenes in modern film history, Mr. Blonde calmly walks out of the warehouse to his parked car and retrieves a gallon of gasoline with which to burn the officer alive. After dousing the officer… Well, it doesn’t make much sense to ruin it. Check out the clip above.
The scene was highly controversial when Reservoir Dogs was first released. According to the director himself, at one of the early screenings of the film at a horror festival in Spain, legendary horror director Wes Craven walked out of the theater along with 15 other people when the ear-slicing began.
“It never bothered me when people walked out,” Tarantino told Rolling Stone in a 1994 feature story. “It just meant that scene worked. Go to a video store and nine out of 10 films in the action-adventure section are more graphic than mine. But I’m not interested in making a cartoon. I’m interested in making the violence real.”
In a 1994 interview with screen legend Dennis Hopper for Grand Street magazine, shortly before the release of the groundbreaking Pulp Fiction, Tarantino elaborated on the nature of violence in typical action films:
I’ve never gotten that analytical about it myself, but, in a way—and this might be too pretentious—what we’re reacting to in our movies is the fact that we see a lot of action films and we like them and we respond to them, but more often than not we’re disappointed by them. They stop too short. And when I say they stop too short, I don’t mean in terms of gore. I could care less about that—and they’re pretty sufficient when it comes to that. But they stop too short in terms of balls, or even brutality, when the characters would in truth be brutal.
Tarantino later elaborated on the violence in his own films, describing the connection between the violence and the black humor within which that violence is often found.
“So when I see extreme violence in movies—or like, forget violence, brutality, all right, in movies—when it’s done the way we’re doing it, I tend to find it funny,” Tarantino told Hopper. “I think it’s humorous, but it’s not all one big joke. I want the work to have complexity. So it’s hah-hah-hah, hah-hah-hah, hah-hah-hah, until I don’t want you to laugh at all.”
The thing that I am really proud of in the torture scene in Dogs with Mr. Blonde, Michael Madsen, is the fact that it’s truly funny up until the point that he cuts the cop’s ear off. While he’s up there doing that little dance to “Stuck in the Middle With You,” I pretty much defy anybody to watch and not enjoy it. He’s enjoyable at it, you know?
He’s cool. And then when he starts cutting the ear off, that’s not played for laughs. The cop’s pain is not played like one big joke, it’s played for real. And then after that when he makes a joke, when he starts talking in the ear, that gets you laughing again. So now you’ve got his coolness and his dance, the joke of talking into the ear and the cop’s pain, they’re all tied up together. And that’s why I think that scene caused such a sensation, because you don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you see it.
Now, Tarantino is dealing with a sensation of a decidedly different tone; after participating in an anti-police march in New York City last month, the director finds himself in the crosshairs of police units and associations nationwide, including the NYPD, LAPD, Chicago PD, and Philadelphia PD. Law enforcement unions are urging their officers, family, and friends to boycott Tarantino’s upcoming film, The Hateful Eight, currently set for release on Christmas Day.
Check out the scene from Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, above.