“Was That as Good for You as It Was for Me?”
An analysis of the use of “Stuck in the Middle with You” as displayed in Reservoir Dogs
“Alone at last” utters Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen)as he nestles his cigarette between his lips. The cop, Marvin Nash (Kirk Balz), bobs his head around, avoiding eye contact with Mr. Blonde. “…No one tells me shit, you can torture me if you want,” Nash pleads. “Don’t mind if I do,” Blonde retorts. Easily one of the most memorable scenes in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is the torture scene, in which Mr. Blonde mutilates a cop to the ironic tune of K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies. The song is “Stuck in the Middle with You”, the 1972 classic performed by Stealer’s Wheel. The setting is an unassuming warehouse in which a young police officer sits tied to a chair. He had been taken from the scene of the heist and knew too much. All he could do was pray: pray to die.
Mr. Blonde makes a conscience decision to play K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies, a sense of false comfort towards Nash. “Stuck in the Middle with You” is played on this broadcast. However, K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies was first introduced to the audience in the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs. Although that snippet is iconic for it’s discussion of the meaning of “Like a Virgin”, the opening scene also discusses “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”. Both being released in 1973, the two songs seem as a reprieve of Madonna. The soundtrack is diegetic one. “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” is a bubble gum song about puppy love. However, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” portrays a woman that murdered the man she loved for cheating on her, while her brother was wrongfully committed and hanged for the crime. The songs mold together to tell a story of their own. First a story of undoubted love followed by being stuck and finishing with death. All of these songs were released during the “golden age” of the mob. While the team mimics a mob-like style, Tarantino could not have done this on accident.
Throughout the film, but seen particularly with the use of “Stuck in the Middle with You”, Tarantino chooses songs in order to supplement the meaning behind a scene, rather than to fill space. Tarantino is unique in that he writes to music instead of adding it to the film in a later stage. He lets the music be telling of the scene itself, dusting across the audiences’ ears. In a 1994 interview, Tarantino said
“What I don’t want to do, and I’ve seen it done in a lot of movies, is they turn up the soundtrack to create a false energy. Or in particular, to create a sense of period, okay, it’s the 60s. We’ll play a lot of 60s songs and that will create the period. To me that’s cheap, it’s annoying, and like listening to the radio and watching a movie at the same time. They don’t really go together… I try to avoid that.”
His repeated choice of songs from the early seventies makes the atmosphere almost nostalgic and light in contrast with the horrific acts that are actually occurring. There is a moment in “Stuck in the Middle with You” in which the singer cries a drawn out “please,” echoing Nash’s pleading. The music becomes the focus of the scene, specifically when the camera pans to a dull wall while Nash’s ear is being sliced off. We hear very few other sounds throughout the whole scene in order for the audience to focus on the song and it’s meaning to the scene as well as the short dialogue. We also hear Mr. Blonde’s feet shuffling as he dances and swirls around Nash holding his straight edge razor.
Bizarre torturous acts like this were not uncommon among mobster. Famed mafia torturer Richard Kuklinski, ‘The Iceman’, is known to have brought cruel and unnecessary torture among his victims. He tied one man to a tree, pulled off his genitals, sliced pieces of flesh off of him and finally poured salt on all of the wounds. He also killed 13 people by mutilating their lower back with a screwdriver. Most mobster torture techniques have no rhyme or reason. They are meant to elicit pure pain and fear- just to be torture. There is little regulation of techniques. Therefore, Mr. Blonde shaving off Nash’s ear wouldn’t be unheard of or unique to Mr. Blonde.
Mr. Blonde’s ability to inflict such torture on an innocent individual, especially after Nash begs and explains that he has a family at home, shows Blonde’s true psychopathy. Mr. White describes Mr. Blonde as a ‘psychopath’ for shooting civilians. White is right; Blonde’s lack of loyalty as well as a lack of remorse are qualities of a psychopath.
Throughout the entire scene, Mr. Orange is laying unconscious, dying across the room from where the cruel events were taking place. Marvin Nash could have blown the whistle on Mr. Orange. He knew that Mr. Orange was an undercover cop that he had briefly met five months prior. If he had told Mr. Blonde this fact then he might have turned his attention towards Mr. Orange, possibly saving Nash’s life. Nash not doing so shows the virtuous moral person he is. With “Stuck in the Middle with You” playing, Tarantino suggests that Nash feels stuck in the middle of this situation. “Clowns to the left on me, jokers to the right- Here I am, stuck in the middle with you” This line helps depict Nash’s situation: the police are outside waiting to bust in and other members of this mob-like group are inside with him while he and Mr. Blonde have a moment. Nash is truly ‘stuck’ with Blonde.
In the music video for “Stuck in the Middle with You,” Stealer’s Wheel feels stuck in the middle as the cop in Reservoir Dogs feels. The band is stuck between silly dinner guests at a table while Nash is stuck between Mr. Blonde and the cops waiting for Joe to arrive at the scene. Nash and Stealer’s Wheel are similarly portrayed as virtuous while the individuals surrounding are rule breakers and sinners. The folks in the “Stuck in the Middle with You” music video are gluttonous; they over indulge themselves with éclairs are grapes. They push the band members out of the way, preventing them from eating and surrounding them with jokers and clowns eating in a vicious, trance-like state. Similarly, in Reservoir Dogs Mr. Blonde and the rest of the mobster-like crew surround Nash with violence: with almost a gluttonous violence from Mr. Blonde. Nash is literally stuck- tied down to his chair with duct tape across his face. His situation is the physical manifestation of the proverbial situation of being stuck in the middle.
Mr. Blonde playfully dances to “Stuck in the Middle with You” and brings the same childish enthusiasm to torturing Nash. This gruesome scene is broken up by Mr. Blonde venturing to his car. He strolls outside to pick up a gallon of gasoline from his trunk. The music fades away. This gives the audience time to reflect on the horrific scene shown prior. Blonde strolls back into the warehouse, the music begins abruptly, almost violently, like Mr. Blonde so abruptly begins to torture Nash. Blonde begins to douse him in gasoline, about to ignite his slow, painful death. The playful song in the background and the switch to a hand held camera style of filming further solidifies Mr. Blonde’s identity as a psychopath. This filming technique makes the audience feel as though they are witnessing these events first hand. As the scene progresses the camera moves through 360 degrees. Showing the audience the full room and different angles and perspectives of which to view the activities. Through this filming technique, Mr. Blonde can be seen laughing and smiling from various angles, playing a lighthearted song that he loves. He makes jokes about the disembodied ear and tosses it nonchalantly onto the ground. He knows that Nash has nothing to offer him but instead tortures him in almost a lustful passion for the acts. We hear him say from off screen “was that as good for you as it was for me?” highlighting how much Mr. Blonde enjoys watching pain.
“Stuck in the Middle with You” is a device used to intensify this torture scene and make the frightening acts seem much more romantic. The camera angles and small amounts of background sounds and dialogue make the audience focus on what is indeed happening between Nash and Mr. Blonde. The scene deepens the thoughts of Mr. Blonde and his full blown psychopathy. Tarantino’s decision to use of this song is not random. But instead, the song (and its music video) is a much more significant comparison to what is occurring for Nash. Tarantino’s stylistic music choices change the dynamics of all of his movies. The soundtrack can be just as influential on the outcome of a film as the actors or the director. Song choices do not always have meaning, but Tarantino’s analytic song choices add to his stories as a whole.
“Mafia Torturer — The Story of Richard Kuklinski, The Iceman.” HubPages. HubPages, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
Pizzo, DJ. “The Music Of Pulp Fiction — Cuepoint.” Medium. N.p., 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
“”Stuck In The Middle With You” Lyrics.” STEALERS WHEEL LYRICS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.