Why The First Screening Of Reservoir Dogs At Sundance Was A Disaster

Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs

It has been 25 years since Reservoir Dogs exploded into theaters and immediately changed the cinematic landscape thanks to its rough-and-tumble aesthetic, chic style, pop culture literate dialogue, rollicking violence, and non-linear plotting and approach to the crime genre. But while it is impossible to imagine a world where Reservoir Dogs isn't regarded as a seminal piece of cinema, Quentin Tarantino has now revealed that things were almost very, very different. That's because the first ever screening for Reservoir Dogs at the Sundance Film Festival, which took place on January 21, 1992, was an unmitigated disaster. Quentin Tarantino made this admission himself, recalling:

That was a disaster. That's kind of famous actually. There's so many things about this movie that I didn't know anything so if I could do it all over again, I'd do things slightly differently, but one of the main ones is at our very first public screening they didn't have a scope lens for the projector, and it's a scope movie. And I let them show it anyway because I didn't know that you couldn't. So it looks like caca all the way through. That would be bad enough, but then it gets to the final climax, where everyone is yelling at each other in the final chapter, and all of a sudden the lights come up. And somebody realizes, 'Oh shit what's going on.' So they bring the lights down. Then finally everyone has their guns pointed on everybody else and almost, as if on purpose, as far as suspense is concerned, right at the height of that scene there's a power outage, and all the power goes out. So I was like, 'OK this is what it is like to watch your movie in public.' It was a fucking disaster.

Quentin Tarantino went into such detail about Reservoir Dogs' debut at the 25th anniversary screening for the iconic crime thriller held in accordance with the Tribeca Film Festival. Luckily I was able to attend the celebration, which was followed by a question and answer panel with Quentin Tarantino, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, and Tim Roth, each of whom took glee in recollecting the film.

It was the opening question of this discussion that provoked Quentin Tarantino to recall Reservoir Dogs' disastrous debut, with Steve Buscemi chiming in and admitting he was in attendance at the debacle, too. After Buscemi revealed his presence, as well as the fact that Quentin Tarantino had warned him it was bad luck for an actor to attend a film's first screening, the director then joked that it was all Mr. Pink's fault.

Fortunately for Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs had a second screening just a week later at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, which was held for the Creative Artists Agency, arguably the leading talent agency company in Hollywood. This huge industry screening saw all of the film's cast in attendance, as well as some of the industry's most prestigious agents and executives, while Tarantino revealed that even Faye Dunaway was present, who asked him a question in the subsequent Q-and-A. That was obviously just the beginning. Because while Reservoir Dogs introduced Quentin Tarantino to the cinematic world, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight have since secured his place in the cinematic pantheon.

Gregory Wakeman