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Jameson Cult Film Club: Reservoir Dogs & A Talk With Michael Madsen (JDIFF 2012)

This event was held as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012.

Last year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival served as the launch of the Jameson Cult Film Club, with a screening of The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey in attendance. To celebrate the first anniversary of that launch, the guys organised a special treat for movie fans in the capital – a screening of Reservoir Dogs, with Michael Madsen in attendance. It goes almost without saying that the Jameson folks threw one hell of a shindig, converting Dublin’s CHQ into the warehouse from Tarantino’s iconic debut – a film that had hosted its Irish premiere as part of the festival twenty years ago, a screening that host Rick O’Shea remembered fondly. It was a great evening, organised with the same impeccable style as ever.

Note: This is just an article about the wonderful screening held by the Jameson Cult Film Club, including an interview with the man himself, Michael Madsen. I’ll be running a review of Tarantino’s masterpiece sometime next week, when I’ve had a bit more sleep.

For those unfamiliar with the Jameson Cult Film Club, the idea is to arrange screenings of classic films in an innovative way, creating an immersive movie-going experience. For example, for their screening of Snatch, the guys converted the back of the Tivoli Theatre into a Traveller Camp and treated us to a staged bare-knuckling boxing match as pre-movie entertainment. During their ambitious staging of Ridley Scott’s Alien, facehuggers dropped from the rafters at the appropriate moment. The idea is to extend the film beyond the fourth wall, while being careful to enhance (rather than detract from) the movie experience.

Tarantino’s debut, to be honest, seems perfectly suited to this approach. After all, the film unfolds almost entirely in a warehouse, and could actually be adapted quite nicely into a play. Though well-known for its violence, Tarantino’s script sparkles with its witty dialogue and well-formed character, and so it was well suited to the format. Announcements were, of course, done in the style of K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies. The bar included helpful diagrams of the quays, rather than careful plans for a diamond heist.

And, while enjoying the pre-movie atmosphere, the iconic scene involving Mister Blonde and the captured police offer enfolded on-stage, and Tarantino’s wry discussion of the politics of tipping and the deeper meaning of Like a Virgin unfolded in the eating area, with well-chosen actors reading the lines in a style that seemed as natural as Tarantino at his best. Of course, once the time came to take our seats, these sharp-suited gentlemen were among the first out, strutting in that oh-so-recognisable fashion. All that was missing was Little Green Bag blasting on the speaker system.

I especially enjoyed the mandatory “pre-movie” announcements, delivered in the style of Buscemi and Keitel by two solid impersonators. In particular, the guy’s Buscemi accent was spot on. Viewers were informed to turn off their mobiles, and of where they could find the nearest commode. Also, that Michael Madsen would be in attendance for a post-screening Q & A.”The guy’s a psycho,” Mr. Pink lamented as the lights went dim.

The moments breaking the fourth wall were remarkably understated, but wisely so. Tarantino’s dialogue is the main attraction, and so it’s best not to distract too much. Still, when the actors stepped into the fray – for the arrival at the warehouse, the final showdown, or even the spectacular reveal of the mole (which I had my jump in my seat even though I knew who it was) – it worked. It really worked. The only (admittedly minor) complaint to make concerns the acoustics of the location. While the movie’s surround-sound mix was beautiful (hearing every shot and passing car) the dialogue occasionally got a bit drowned out, reflecting the fact that the establishment wasn’t built for screening movies.

That said, prehaps the highlight of the night was an appearance by Mister Blonde himself, Michael Madsen. It’s always interesting to watch an actor in conversation, because you can often tell how guarded they are – how carefully prepared their answers are, how much they’re holding back, that sort of thing. Madsen, speaking with DJ Rick O’Shea, was remarkably candid in discussing his life and career, with a great sense of humour and a wonderful knack for storytelling.

For example, I never knew that Madsen had originally sought the role of Mr. Pink in the film, and had in fact been the last member of the cast to sign on, even if he was one of the first to secure the role. It’ almost funny to imagine that Michael Madsen could be anybody except Mr. Blonde, but he claims to have found Mr. Pink quite enticing as a character. “He had more scenes with Mr. White,” he explains, recalling that he had wanted to work with Keitel again since they both appeared in Thelma & Louise together. “And he gets away in the end.” Of course, Madsen was quick to concede that the character of Mr. Blonde had his own appeal. “Yeah,” he acknowledges, “but he gets shot by Tim Roth!”

Talking about the movie’s iconic and brutal torture sequence, in which Mister Blonde tortures a police officer just for the sake of torturing a police office, Madsen had quite a few stories to tell. The scene was originally much more graphic than the one that appears in the final cut, which pans away from the act itself – a creative decision that Madsen wholeheartedly supports, because it leaves the gore to the viewer’s imagination. “It blames you for thinking about it,” he observes, explaining why he thought it worked so well.

In fact, the actor was keen to point out how much improvisation went into that sequence, and pointed out that Quentin Tarantino was actually whispering at him to toss the ear after he’d taken it off. The character’s momentary hesitation actually reflects Madsen’s uncertainty. “I thought it was a bit cruel,” he admits. “It was a bit too much to toss it…” He pauses, flashing that wry grin, as if momentarily both proud and ashamed of his own moment of improvisation. “… So I spoke into it.” He laughs, and the audience laughs with him.

Madsen spoke a lot about the film, but he was also remarkably candid about his life growing up, the number of jobs that he worked to support himself as a young man, and how he happened to get an acting job by chance. “The odds were about a billion to one,” he confesses, recognising Humphrey Bogart and Lee Marvin as his two favourite actors. Talking about his somewhat daunting working schedule, Madsen joked about how not every project he attached comes to fruition, but still sounding like a man who really enjoyed his work. “Anybody who is doing something they love is lucky,” he suggests, a smile crossing his features for moment.

Talking about his career before his big break, he reflects on a chance encounter with Sergio Leone. “I met Sergio Leone,” he tells the audience at one point. “He said, ‘Look, you should be a movie actor!’ I asked if he’d put me in a movie, and he said yeah.” For those of use wondering why Madsen would have to wait until Kill Bill for his brush with a Leone-esque Western, he seems amused to finish the anecdote, “And then he died.” Still active, Madsen conceded that he’d love a chance to star in a good-old-fashioned Western.

However, for me, perhaps the best part of the evening saw Madsen reflect on co-star Lawrence Tierney. Tierney is somewhat infamous in film circles. He’s one of those iconic actors who everybody will concede was difficult to work with. The urban myth is that he only appeared in Seinfield once because the cast were so afraid of him. Madsen relates a story about how Tierney quit the production, only for Tarantino to have to chase his actor down the street, reconciling with a hug in the middle of the road. There’s a lot of affection in Madsen’s voice as he talks about the actor, willing to admit that he was tough to share a set with, but still remaining respectful.

“Lawrence was a bit touchy,” Madsen admits, relating a story about the famous “colours” scene, where Tierney and the rest of the cast are very clearly separated, in a scene composed of cuts back-and forth. “But he was great for the part.” It seems that Tierney’s rages were directed at everybody, including Madsen. “He took a swing at me. And I leaned back and I felt the breeze pass my face. I was glad that didn’t connect.” The two would stay in touch after filming wrapped, with Madsen sharing an anecdote about how Lawrence sought to unload a large amount of lawn furniture on Madsen. When Madsen refused, the wily old actor dropped the stuff off with Chris Penn, and asked him to get Madsen to pick it up.

Unfortunately, the Q & A didn’t last long enough to get too many questions from the floor. I’ve noticed that you’re lucky to get two questions from the audience before the show wraps up. Here, however, it was very much value for money. Madsen is a great storyteller, and he has a wealth of anecdotes and experiences that he is more than willing to share – and they’re all fascinating. I get the sense that it would be amazing just to pick the guy’s brain, to spend an evening with him. He genuinely seems like a guy who loves what he’s doing.

One final note, for any Madsen fans out there. Asked to name his favourite film appearance, he cited the movie Vice, which I haven’t seen yet. He did suggest that you need to watch it at least twice to figure out what exactly is going on. Anyway, thanks again to Madsen for being such a good sport, and thanks to the Cult Film crowd for throwing together such a lovely evening. I think it’s wonderful to celebrate film in this manner – and it’s really awesome that all the tickets for their events are given away entirely free. I appreciate the opportunity to enjoy and recognise and bring to life these sorts of films.

If you are not a member all ready, and if you’re a fan of movies who lives in Dublin, you really should be, you can join at jamesoncultfilmclub.ie. Thanks to the always wonderful Rebecca Lawless for the photos at the start of the article.

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