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(Credit: Miramax Films / Press)

How the Coen brothers influenced Quentin Tarantino film 'Reservoir Dogs'

When the Coen brothers made their directorial debut in 1984 with Blood Simple, it was hailed as yet another example of the power of independent filmmaking. The film earned them the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and ended up receiving widespread critical acclaim.

During a retrospective interview about the production process and trouble with the investors, Blood Simple’s cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld revealed: “When we first showed the movie to our investors, they almost uniformly hated it. They didn’t understand the tone could be a thriller, a horror movie and a comedy all at once. At the major studios, who rejected it, all the creative people loved it but all the marketing ones hated it.”

Adding, “They couldn’t figure out how to sell it. Black comedy scares marketing people, as I discovered when I made Get Shorty. It was not until the New York film festival in January 1985, where critics loved it, that it became a viable movie, and Crown International Pictures, an indie distributor, bought it.”

Although the Coen brothers hated their debut and described it as “pretty damn bad“, their film inspired newer generations of filmmakers to pick up a camera and create cinematic magic. Among them was none other than Quentin Tarantino, who compared the impact of Blood Simple to Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise and Steven Soderbergh’s SexLies, and Videotape.

While presenting Blood Simple, Tarantino explained why the Coen brothers’ 1984 debut was so special: “It was a very influential movie to me before I’d ever made a movie,” he said. “Usually, some movie comes out in the independent circles that will inspire you as a filmmaker to make you want to do something like that and it makes it seem possible to do something.”

He continued, “To me, the one that really knocked it out of the park was… Blood Simple. It’s a really fun movie but the thing that I liked the most about it was the fact that when an art film came out from independent circles, it actually had a genre-base. Those were the ones I always preferred, even when it comes to the Truffaut films or the Godard movies.”

Blood Simple had a profound effect on Tarantino’s own creative process when he set out to make his own debut feature – Reservoir Dogs. Starring the likes of Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel, among others, Reservoir Dogs is an excellent exercise in postmodern filmmaking with nonlinear narrative structures and subversive violence. Tarantino used the Coen brothers as inspiration while writing the script: “I started writing a script to do, figuring I would raise the money through a limited partnership, like the Coen brothers did with Blood Simple or Sam Raimi and his guys did with The Evil Dead,” he explained. 

I worked on the script for three years while trying to get money for it, but it never happened. Scripts get to be like old girlfriends after a while, so I wrote another one and worked for a year and a half trying to get that off the ground. It still didn’t work, and at that point I wrote Reservoir Dogs out of frustration.”

The celebrated filmmaker also explained why Blood Simple was such an important part of the creative process of Reservoir Dogs. It was because Tarantino wanted to recreate what Blood Simple had already achieved, the perfect synthesis of genre-based tropes and an original vision. Tarantino said: “I didn’t want Reservoir Dogs to be a straight-to-video genre movie. I wanted it to be a genre-based art film, like Blood Simple.”

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