So far in this blog I have chosen songs which I believe mark an impressive directorial decision due to their ability to mirror the onscreen content of the particular film they have been attached to using musical nuances. However, with the use of Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 crime classic ‘Reservoir Dogs’ I think the brilliance comes purely from having balls.
What do you mean Dan? Well, by placing a naff and light-hearted song over a pivotal, iconic, and, most importantly, incredible gritty scene, wherein the psychopath Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, sheers off the ear of a policeman purely for fun, I believe Tarantino displayed some serious stones.
Tarantino’s catalogue is awash with classics which have been endlessly discussed, and even Reservoir Dogs itself features some serious competition in the “best use of music” stakes in the form of George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’ and Harry Nillson’s ‘Coconut’, but it is this scene which always sticks out like a sore ear, even upon repeat viewing.
Form the offset, lethargic American comic Steven Wright’s introduction of the song adds to its effectiveness, providing a realistic, non-diegetic feel to the scenario which emphasises the fact the song that would provide to your morning drive to work is also being used to soundtrack the torture of a policeman.
This effect continues as the song temporarily stops as Mr. Blonde leaves to get the petrol to cover the policeman with only to continue on his return, echoing the way in which a song continues to play on the radio as you temporarily leave a room to get something, or whatever you do with your time.
As mentioned, the genius of this song comes from the fact that it cant be analysed; Tarantino’s expertise comes in his ability to clothe a terrible situation with an everyday situation through his use of music.
Choosing not to use something dramatic in this scene maintained the light tone the film possesses throughout, and, at the same time, marked a revolution in the way music was used in films, as Tarantino showed that songs can be used in more creative ways than simply as the key tools in the art of dramatic emphasis.