The first thing to notice about the deleted scenes included on the Reservoir Dogs special edition DVD is the picture quality. The picture is lined with scratches and pocks, slightly washed out, and full of Grindhouse appeal. It’s fun to think about what the film would’ve looked like with this deconstructed, self-consciously retro style. It even looks more genuinely Grind than the Uber-scratched Death Proof, and considering Res Dogs‘s explicit roots in low-budget 70s Horror and Crime flicks, this doesn’t just work–it kinda looks better than the crisp final cut.
So what about the actual scenes? 99% of the time deleted scenes aren’t especially interesting at all, and in a movie as tightly scripted as Dogs you’d figure that any deleted scenes would have been cut for a reason. While you would be right—I don’t think the inclusion of any of these would have fundamentally improved the film—against all odds, two of these actually do bring up fascinating questions about the characters and Tarantino’s stylistic choices.
First I’ll look at the scene in the video above—Background Check. This is interesting for two reasons, although there are numerous fascinating little tid-bits to examine. It’s broken up into two narrative halves. The first has that great bit of business with Mr. Orange dry firing his weapon at Mr. White’s picture. I think this is visually wonderful—very “Tarantino.” Unfortunately it confuses Orange’s characterization. Why would he make such an overtly personal gesture towards Mr. White? It may tie intothe film’s homoerotic subtext, or it may be an expression of bravado—a gesture by Mr. Orange that he’s gunning for White. Whatever its specific meaning, the scene is too ambiguous for the final cut.
The second half of the scene would have had the only speaking female role in the movie—one of the few films to avoid women entirely—much like John Carpenter‘s The Thing. This supports the film’s exploration of homosocial/sexual dynamics, bringing it more in line with Carpenter’s symbolism. Including this one scene with a female character corrupts the film’s thematic purity, and it seems like Tarantino recognized this.
The last thing I’m going to mention about this scene is the background it gives on Mr. White. In the movie’s final cut we get a throw-away line about Mr. White being fooled by an undercover cop a few jobs back. Only moments earlier he’d said, “You can’t work with a psychopath, you don’t know what those crazy motherfuckers are gonna do.”
Now in this deleted scene we hear that a man fitting Mr. White’s description emptied two .45s into the crowd at an undercover cop’s birthday party several months earlier–killing cops, wives, and girlfriends. Obviously it was Mr. White, but what does this tell us about his character and his character’s profile: professional or psychopath?
Another deleted scene features two alternate angles of the infamous “ear” scene. Now I’d actually thought this scene was a little overrated for the longest time, but in my latest viewing it was one of the most vile and gut wrenching displays of violence in the history of cinema. Of course, Tarantino doesn’t show us the mechanical action of the ear coming off, but we do get that great shot held on sign over the doorway–’watch your head’ indeed.
One of the alternate takes is just an extreme close up of the action. Its hard to judge fairly because the prosthesis is so terrible that suspension of disbelief is practically impossible. However, even if it’d been perfect this shot takes the film so deep into the grue that the scene’s subtle humor is compromised. Tarantino uses violence and humor much like Hitchcock. The jokes are so disarming that the punch of violence is more intense—to focus on the slicing would undo some of his efforts at keeping you off balance.
The other take shows the action from behind the other side of the chair. This view was pretty good–it also blocked the direct ear slice, and it even added a degree of horror, because of the intimacy of such a close camera, without slipping into truly medical territory. The take was good but it lacks the great sign above the door that QT eventually uses as the tagline for the cop’s mutilation. “Watch your head” works on so many levels. Is it a joke about Mr. Blonde’s insanity? Or, a reference to the audience’s unsatisfied masochism? It even narratively reminds Mr. Orange to “be cool”—an order he disobeys by blowing Blondie away moments later. A story is recounted by Peter Bracke in a review of the Blu Ray release:
There’s an oft-told tale about an early festival screening of ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ Uber-horror director Wes Craven was in attendance, and during the now-infamous “ear cutting” scene, Craven was said to be so disgusted by the apparent reveling in sadism that he walked out. This led Tarantino to later exclaim, “The director of ‘Last House on the Left’ walked out of my fucking movie!?”
Despite Tarantino’s incredulity I think of it as a compliment from Craven. In films like Last House on the Left he would have the camera linger on violence, zooming into the guts and holding on the contorted face of pain and degradation, but there was always a sense of profound empathy from the director. An omniscient sense of moral authority gazes upon the scene with a clear sense of “right” and “wrong.”
The torture scene in Dogs is very different. It neurotically avoids a close-up shot of the dismemberment. The film has copious blood flow, but in this scene of true horror, it turns away. Instead it asks the audience to revel in the depravity by implicitly enticing your phantasy and begging you to tap your foot and grin.
Well I don’t know why I came here tonight / I got a feeling that something ain’t right / I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair / and I’m wonderin’ how I’ll get down the stairs / Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right / here I am / Stuck in the middle with you ((Stuck in the Middle With You—Stealer’s Wheel))
Avoiding the moment of truth creates a dimension of reality that belongs to the audience alone. Tarantino sets up this entire scenario, but he himself turns away at the last moment and lets the audience take over. Mr. Blonde even says, ironically, “I can’t stand the sight of blood myself,” further suturing the audience into Mr. Blonde’s position of dominance.
QT carefully constructs this sequence to slowly transfer the audience’s identity from the cop to Mr. Blonde. By the time the ear is severed we’ve become the active imaginative agent, filling in the cinematic space that Tarantino sets aside for us to play in. Then we laugh a little and follow Mr. Blonde outside entirely in real-time. We’ve become him. This greatly increases the intensity of Mr. Orange’s frontier justice, and by the time the camera turns around and starts showing us little moments of bonding between the two cops the audience has been pushed around so much we don’t know up from down.
So much meaning can be caught in one shot, let alone an entire scene. The torture sequence in Dogs illustrates some of the far reaching implications of minor changes in shot length and placement. The Background Check scene demonstrates how reserving certain information about a character can change our perspective on them. Unlike most deleted scenes, those included in the special edition of Reservoir Dogs reveal parts of the auteur’s train of thought that are often clouded, and a close look reveals the inner-workings of a true maestro’s craft.