One fateful day, however, Mike Thompson dropped a bomb on me. It was something that I could never recover from. It turned out that our hero was not all that he appeared to be.
Certainly we knew that Tarantino was as big of a film geek as the two of us, and that his freshman film was heavily steeped in film history. We spent hours talking about where Tarantino got ideas and who influenced his work as Quentin didn't seem to hesitate in shooting off his mouth about this film or that. We tracked down every video and hungrily watched them, determined to find out what made this wunderkind tick.
Mike found out and passed the information along to me, something that he surely regrets today.
>Empire, a British movie magazine, broke the story. In a sidebar by Jeff Dawson, the horrible truth was laid out in black and white for all the world to see (but for no one to pay attention to):
"...Quentin Tarantino, has been hailed as the hip new messiah of film making. How strange, then, that the basic premise of his legendary movie bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Ringo Lam's 1989 Hong Kong movie CITY ON FIRE..." Dawson then went on to give scene by scene descriptions of actions in Lam's CITY ON FIRE that were repeated in Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS. (For all of these similarities see "The Films").
I was in shock. How could this be? I became obsessed. How could my hero, the Horatio Alger of video store clerks, be a plagiarist? Say it ain't so!
I looked in the computer system at Blockbuster Video but only found CITY ON FIRE by Alan Rakoff (ironically, this film was written by Jack Hill, director of SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, which was re-released in 1996 by Tarantino's Rolling Thunder distribution company). Luckily, John Woo was coming into his American heyday for film geeks and fanboys and a local paper, Orbit, had a great article about Woo and where gweilo could find his films. It took a little driving and a lot of patience but I found Lam's CITY ON FIRE at the Evergreen Supply Store after going through their hundreds of tapes, video by video.
CITY ON FIRE is, by no means, a good movie. In the years since my initial viewing, I've only managed to stomach the whole thing once. In fact, I've watched several other Lam films only to be equally disappointed by his tendency to build up major actions scenes and cop out on the pay-off every time. The only watchable qualities about CITY ON FIRE are the actors (Danny Lee, Chow Yun-Fat) and the third act.
Then I waited. I was going to be patient about it. I didn't want to pass judgment over Quentin before I had all the facts. Perhaps this information was in the press pack, common knowledge to movie reviewers. Perhaps a statement was going to be issued. Perhaps Quentin was planning a press conference to apologize for this oversight. I was waiting answers to all questions.
I waited for the next Entertainment Weekly - my bible. It had never let me down before, always providing me with the most up-to-date information about movies, video and music. But, the formerly infallible EW let me down. But it wasn't just them. The media was strangely mute. It wasn't that Tarantino had lost popularity and no longer appeared in magazine; quite the opposite. However, while reporters were fawning over him, no one asked the question I wanted to hear.
I decided that it was up to me to spread the word.
I showed those final precious twenty minutes to all of my house mates, who through my temerity all loved RESERVOIR DOGS. Some were angry, some were indifferent, some couldn't grasp the idea. I realized that I needed a better format with which to make my case.
I had waited six months for the media to respond before giving up hope and taking a few hours at U of M's shoddy video editing suites to make a full-motion montage of the similarities between RESERVOIR DOGS and CITY ON FIRE. My girlfriend at the time, Carol, gave me the title:WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE FOOLING? was born.
Things were quiet for a while. I really didn't know what to do with my tape other than show it to friends. It never dawned on me to send it anywhere until, months later, when Film Threat finally ran a story on the rampant similarities between RESERVOIR DOGS and CITY ON FIRE.
In order to show them they they weren't the only people who knew of the scandal, I sent them a copy of my tape. For my troubles I got a call from Chris Gore, the editor-in-chief. Gore was ranting the first time I talked to him about how great my tape was. We talked a few weeks later and he wanted me to send him the master copy. Since I wasn't pleased with the original VHS editing job (thanx to the crappy gear at U of M), I promptly put my buddy Eric to work, helping me redo it on 3/4" tape. We worked long into the night making a much more acceptable version for Gore to use on the Film Threat Video Guide's free subscription video.
Since my second conversation, I've never talked to Chris Gore again. My old buddy Chris now considered me a persona non grata. Not enough to not show my video at the '94 Chicago Underground Film Festival or to not send it to Lisa Kennedy at The Village Voice, but enough to never return my calls, letters or email.
It's interesting to see where Chris has gone since then. When we talked, Tarantino was the Ultimate Evil in the Universe but in his first editorial for the fourth incarnation of Film Threat he praised Quentin for creating a new genre of film, the Independent movie. The fascinating aspect to this article (apart from his twisted logic, considering Indie films as a new "genre") was that he ended it with the line, "let's stir up some shit," when, only three years before he told me that we were going to "tear shit up." Maybe it's his obsession with fecal matter that's hurting his magazine.
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