Cinema Studies Student Union flips genders in live read of Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the César Awards ceremony / Image Source: Georges Biard
Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the César Awards ceremony / Image Source: Georges Biard

Quentin Tarantino has a special place as a filmmaker among those of us born in the ’90s. The combination of long, enticing dialogue with gritty physical violence has captivated many a teenager, from Vincent Vega accidentally shooting Marvin in the face to when Adolf Hitler’s face is literally shot off in a splenetic slew of machine gun fire.

The Cinema Studies Student Union (CINSSU) put on a live read of Tarantino’s first major blockbuster, Reservoir Dogs, at the Innis Town Hall to a packed house. While the gory scenes did not play out physically on the stage, the riveting script was read aloud by nine accomplished female actors playing all the male leads in the film.

Current CINSSU President Erin Ray spent over a month organizing the event with the help of Chandler Levack, who came to Ray with the idea of reading Reservoir Dogs because “it’s a great one to be read out loud. It gives you a lot of room for improvisation and voice manipulation.”

The read included actors such as Sook Yin-Lee, a current CBC Radio One host whose career spans from MuchMusic to cult classics such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Lee contributed her dry, deep voice for a memorable rendition of Mr. White (Harvey Keitel). While all the actors gave excellent performances, Mia Kirshner specifically gave new life to the positively psychotic Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) during the iconic ear amputation scene. Ray explained that, “From a personal perspective, I think it’s amazing to have a female empowered voice, because these are very strong characters. It’s great to show that [female] representation for the strength.”

Right from the very first line of the movie, the gender reversal sparked roaring laughs from the crowd. For those who haven’t seen it, Reservoir Dogs starts with a passionate argument about the pop star Madonna: “Let me tell you what 'Like a Virgin' is about. It's all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It's a metaphor for big dicks.… It's all about this cooze who's a regular fuck machine, I'm talking morning, day, night, afternoon, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.”

Clearly, while the language would typically be considered very masculine, the further into the script the women went, the more their voices embodied the male-constructed roles. “I think you can see how transparent it is,” said Ray. “Because of that transparency you can fit them in and they still do an incredible job and they’re still as powerful within your mind and your imagination as it is to have men.”

Levack played the would-be role of Tarantino, narrating all the actions in each scene from the mundane to the gruesome. The script, of course, is filled with slurs directed at people of colour, homosexuals and women. CINSSU discussed the possibility of removing the offending language from the script, but sided with presenting the script as it was written for the audience.

Citing Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, Ray said, “You can take so many of Tarantino’s films and put them in the context of the time.” She also recalled fond feelings for the film as a teenager, saying, “Reservoir Dogs was the first Tarantino film that I saw and I fell in love with it.... Your opinion and your maturity I would hope grows with time and then you can critique it in terms of today. It’s definitely part of the time, but we can for sure look at it as a critique.”

Although Ray says that there aren’t any live reads scheduled at the moment, she is interested in doing another one based on one of the Monty Python movies, in which female characters are frequently played by the all-male cast. Meanwhile, Levack is planning to head east and take the live read concept to The Maritimes.

The live read for a film about six anonymous criminals raised over $2,000 for a very appropriate local charity known as Elizabeth Fry Toronto, which provides “transitional housing and community support for women who are, have been or are at risk of being in conflict with the law.”

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