The film begins with a bang due to a discrepancy between sound and visual image. Although the screen is black we hear a man discussing the lyrics to ‘Like a Virgin. ‘ ‘Let me tell you what Like a Virgin is about. It’s all about a girl, who meets a guy, with a big dick. ‘ This is an appropriate method of introducing not only the film, but also the start of Tarantino’s career as a film-maker. The film starts with a medium range shot, the camera slowly panning across and focusing in on Mr Blue, played by ex-con Eddie Bunker, who infact served hard time for murder.
Ironically the line he is given as his interpretation of Madonna’s lyrics is terribly sweet, arguing that they are about a girl, who meets a guy who treats her right, and she is only a virgin in the sense that this love and respect is new to her. Tarantino, as he does frequently in his films, is playing with character stereotypes, in this case by showing them in everyday situations having ordinary conversations against an ordinary backdrop or milieu, the all American diner. Another realism device that Tarantino employs in his films, and particularly in this scene, is the way in which the shots are framed.
Whereas in most films there is a neatness and continuity within each shot, for example a clear focus on someone’s face when they are speaking, Tarantino makes sure that everyday objects and people intrude on the screen, at some points almost obliterating it entirely. We get slow panning shots that pass behind the backs of characters, and this technique serves to give the film a rough and ready, even awkward approach to the film. The conversations that occur between characters in this scene often overlap each other and sound spliced together.
For example, whilst some of the characters are talking about the song another conversation about ‘Toby Wong’ can be heard, the cameras do not focus on any one actor in particular just pan round aimlessly. Not only is this a non-conventional approach to filming, it is entirely the opposite of what is expected deepening the contrast between the fictional and the real. We also get a off camera interruptions in the conversation, and this technique really makes the audience feel as if they are sitting at the table, immersed in the interactions of all characters, not just a select few.
As the camera slowly pans around the table, we finally identify who the speaker at the very beginning of the film is, Mr Brown. Due to the earlier delay in revealing the identity of Tarantino’s character, our interest in him is heightened. As the camera continues to pan around, we become aware of the group as a whole. The camera cuts to a close up of Mr. Pink, who is half concealed by someone’s back. The normal purpose of a cut is to get a clearer view of what it is attempting to focus on; however we see Tarantino utilising this technique in order to achieve the entirely opposite affect.
In turn this method adds a naturalistic quality to the scene, and we feel as if the actors have simply been asked to sit around a table and converse with each other. In standard practise, to film such a scene wouold require intricate planning (around the script) and all the characters could not possibly be present at the same time, the filming would be a far more technical operation. We then get another cut from Mr. Pink to Mr. White and the introduction of a new conversation which has been anticipated. The screen is turned black entirely, with a certain playfulness in its refusal to identify the main speaker.
We hear Mr. Brown talking about ‘Like a Virgin’ but the camera is still studiously avoiding giving us a direct shot of him. We then get a circling focus close-up of Tarantino, saying “hence; like a virgin. ” This is followed by an immediate cut to a non responsive shot of Joe saying, “Toby Wong. ” Throughout the scene we also have a series of medium range shots which show us the typical all American setting that these gangsters have been placed in. The scene however, begins to quicken in pace and acquires a neat fluidity as shots jump from speaker to speaker in time with their contributions to the dialogue. When Mr.
White says, ‘shoot this guy’, the shot we have of him shows realistic and obvious mistakes, for example, even when the camera does focus on his face he moves quickly out of shot. Due to the roaming camera and intrusions of stray shoulders and backs when something is focused on clearly is stands out all the more. A technique used rarely in sequences as a way of dramatising a fraught exchange is that of shot-reverse-shot. In the argument between Mr. White and Mr. Pink we hear our first reference to the colour coded code names adopted by each member of the group which is our first hint that these gangsters have a scam up their sleeves.
The scene closes with a DJ spiel of K-Billy sounds of the 70’s and the next shot we get is a slow-mo of the group as a whole walking away from the diner against a backdrop of a red brick wall. Our attention is focused only on them and the slow-mo serves to accentuate the strutty, eye catching confidence of them all. Then we are shown close-ups of each individual with their name below their image, and after each shot has focused on them in turn we see a long range shot of the group from behind. Underneath this image of the group are the words, ‘are reservoir dogs.
This has an anti-realistic effect as if to say that these actors are reservoir dogs, not just pretending to be. Following this is a jump cut and again we hear the scene before we see it begin. The distressed tone of the voice we can hear makes us more anxious and excited to see what has happened to the man screaming in pain. We realise that the scene has jumped to the events after the heist and something has clearly gone very wrong. We hear the injured man however his voice is too distorted by pain for us to identify which gangster has been hit.
This is a clever technique as not only has he greatly generated interest but this intrigue is twofold. Not only do the audience want to know what the heist was and how it went wrong, and all the affects of its failure, but they are also interested to know the future of Mr. Orange and due to the revelation that there was a rat in the house, the identity of this undercover cop. This arrangement of the film foreshadows a dual emphasis which is useful to Tarantino thereafter. He is now able to move forward to the aftermath of the heist, or indeed back to the events during it.