Back in 1994, I was probably one of the first people in the UK to own a VHS copy of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
It seems incredible to recall that this striking debut was effectively banned for a home video release (in the UK) from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for around a year or so (it had received an ‘18’ certificate for the theatrical release) and it wasn’t until 1995 (after Pulp Fiction had come out) that Reservoir Dogs was eventually issued on VHS.
Although the BBFC are always at pains to point out that they never ‘ban’ a film (they simply deny it a classification, which of course happens to mean it cannot be released), there was, in the UK in the early to mid-nineties, a rather feverish, moralistic backlash against film ‘violence’ and an uncertainty about the affects of unchecked gratuitous violent scenes on the great British Public. The ear-cutting torture sequence was the problematic scene in Reservoir Dogs.
The feeling that the BBFC were uncertain as to what to do about film violence was underlined by the fact that a rather poor British Film called Beyond Bedlam (starring a certain Elizabeth Hurley) joined Dogs by being refused a classification at around the same time. Unlike Tarantino’s debut this ban was the only thing notable about Beyond Bedlam.
Back to Reservoir Dogs… I happened to be working in a video duplication facility at that time, and one of our clients was Polygram Filmed Entertainment who were distributing Reservoir Dogs in the UK. We held a master tape of the film at that point and yours truly was the video tape librarian! Polygram would regularly request timecode-stamped VHS copies of Reservoir Dogs either for ‘internal use’, or sometimes to submit the film to the BBFC.
Having friends, literally, on the ‘factory floor’ where the video duplication took place, was always handy as it was regular procedure to run off a few extra copies where only one was requested, in case the VHS failed a quality control (QC) check.
One of these extra Reservoir Dogs VHS tapes ‘fell’ into my hands in 1994 and for a year or so I’d impress my friends by casually asking if they fancied watching the film at my house.
Of course Reservoir Dogs was eventually released on VHS (in 1995), then Laserdisc, DVD and more recently Blu-ray, but all this fuss and controversy simply added to the feeling that there was something rather special about this movie.
The excellent UK TV film programme of this era was the BBC’s Moving Pictures (criminally axed) and I remember vividly their pre-release report on Reservoir Dogs. From the few clips they showed (which included the scenes of a blood-soaked Tim Roth lying in that warehouse) it was clearly going to be something – at the very minimum – rather interesting and the fact that Harvey Keitel played a key role lent it a massive amount of credibility, given his pedigree .
One interesting point about Reservoir Dogs is that it wasn’t until it was positively received in Europe, and the UK in particular, that the US sat up and really took notice. The fact is, that much of the States would only see Reservoir Dogs AFTER follow-up Pulp Fiction came out, which inevitably would have removed much of the excitement and the ‘who-is-this-guy?’ reaction toward’s the debut feature and its director, who had seemingly emerged from nowhere. It is, after all, hard to be surprised by great talent when you know it exists.
Pulp Fiction earned over $100 million dollars in the US alone, and Tarantino an Oscar. The kid-who-worked-in-a-video-store was at that point part of the mainstream and while his talents were undiminished, the buzz, electricity and rookie impact of Reservoir Dogs would never be matched again.
- • UK Order: Tarantino XX Blu-ray
- • USA Order: Tarantino XX Blu-ray
- • CANADA Order: Tarantino XX Blu-ray
- • GERMANY Order: Tarantino XX Blu-ray