Diegetic ‘vs’ Non-Diegetic?
The scene related to the movie
Analysis of the song ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ (Stealers Wheel) in Tarantino’s debut film ‘Reservoir Dogs’
Looking for the song ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ (written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Eagan; performed by their group ‘Stealers Wheel’) on YouTube (2016), displays the immense popularity of this song; more than 40 years after it was published on the 1972 Stealers Wheel debut album. The number of clicks is considerably impressive: the most popular video on the website counts more than 44 million views since July 2010. The original music video shows the band with Joe Eagan alternately performing in a big, empty building and him being at a banquet table, surrounded by odd guises, unsuccessfully trying to get some food from the table. Comparing the top comments to the video shown, some incoherence becomes visible. For instance, user ‘nosferotica’ writes: ‘Last time I listened to this song I cut someone’s ear off.’ (YouTube, 2016). Another user asks if anyone could listen to the song, ‘without thinking of torture anymore’ (YouTube, 2016). Without knowing the linkage of the song to one of the most iconic scenes in later film history, these comments make no sense at all. Moreover, we must agree with Quentin Tarantino, who said ‘that certain pop songs have been used so successfully in certain movies that in a sense the movie blots out all other associations and ‘owns’ the song. In the case of ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ and the ‘infamous’ torture scene in Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992), this statement does fully apply, as the song originally is about an annoying record biz dinner that Eagan and Rafferty had to attend. Tarantino’s debut became cult over the years, considered to have notably inspired further independent cinema. The quintessence of Tarantino’s idea of film making is already identifiable in his rough debut: cool characters and violence combined with deadpan humour plus a fantastic soundtrack.
The story of Reservoir Dogs is mainly set in a warehouse in an American city. It starts with a group of six well suited men (all using aliases) and their two bosses (Joe and his son Eddie), having breakfast at an American Diner. They chit-chat about Madonna’s hit ‘Like a Virgin’, before their planned armed robbery of a jewellery store. The story is not narrated stringently, e.g. the robbery itself is not shown in the whole film. Instead, the narrative jumps back and forth in time, introducing the character’s background and version of the happenings at the jewellery store, since the diamond heist ends in a massacre with shot civilians, policemen and two of the criminals (Mr Blue and Mr Brown) dead. Mr Orange, severely wounded by a shot in the belly, and Mr White escape to the said warehouse, where they meet with Mr Pink who escaped as well, with the diamonds transported to a secure location. Apparently, when the alarm went off, the police was at the store much earlier than to be expected, thus, they must have been informed about the heist. White and Pink discuss who could be ‘the rat’ in the team, while Orange lost his consciousness because of his blood loss. White is angry at his old friend Joe for employing the ‘psychopathic’ Mr Blonde, who is responsible for the murdered civilians at the store. Said Blonde arrives at the warehouse with an enchained police officer in his trunk. Together, they pummel the young officer to get information on the potential betrayer. Eddie arrives and asks White and Pink to come with him to get the diamonds. Alone with the unconscious Orange, Blonde tortures the officer for his own amusement and cuts off his ear with a razor. He plans to burn the officer alive. Before Blonde can ignite the gasoline-soaked officer, Orange shoots him down, revealing he is an undercover cop. As Eddie, White and Pink return, Orange claims that Blonde was going to kill them and elope with the diamonds. Eddie shoots the officer and accuses Orange that the story can’t be true as Blonde is an old friend. Joe arrives and wants to shoot Orange, whom he suspects to be the informant. White pulls the gun at Joe, because he is convinced of Orange’s integrity. Thereupon, Eddie pulls his gun at White and all men start shooting. Joe and Eddie die and White crawls to Orange, who confesses him to be a cop. Pink flees with the diamonds, while White is devastated by the news. The police kill Pink and storm the warehouse. White shoots Orange before getting shot himself by the police.
In an interview with the Rolling Stone magazine Tarantino revealed that from the very beginning of the auditions for Mr Blonde, he was sure that ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ as the song for the torture scene would ‘work really well’. In the following we will analyze the song and its importance for the scene. But first, let us take a deeper look into the songs quality.
‘Stuck in the middle with you’ is a classic 70s pop-rock-song, with a measure of 4/4 and 126 bpm. It has a pleasant easy-going groove. The structure is very simple and clear: Four verses with 8 bars each are followed by four 4 bar Choruses, with the last Chorus being double length. Two bridges with 10 bars each and two musical Interludes (one with 4 bars, the other one with 12 bars in form of a lap-steel guitar solo) complete the structural framework. The instrumentation contains the typical folk-rock elements as a drum set, bass guitar(jolly marching character), acoustic guitar, electric guitar (slightly crunchy playing staccato like triads on the upper strings, with stressing crotchet 2 and the 3+ of the bar), lap steel guitar (playing fills into the gaps of the melody; acts as a solo instrument), vocals, a tambourine and a cowbell in the bridge plus handclaps (stressing crotchet 2, crotchet 4 and the 4+) throughout the whole song. The harmonic structure of the song is as well basic and catchy: The song consists of four chords (step chords I-IV-V and flat VII). The verse contains a progression of the steps I and , but mainly staying on the keynote-chord. The chorus consists of the chord progression IV- flat VII--I. The bridge goes: - I - - I - IV. Hence, the song comes up with only major chords in a kind of blues standard 12 bar (Verse + Chorus) scheme. The melody of the vocals is characterized through small intervals, a lot of syncopation (has the effect of making the melody line fluffy and easy-going, as no heavy crotchet is stressed) and a dylanesk, mumbling shape of tone. All these parts considered, the song comes out to be easy to listen, groovy, jolly, carefree, catchy and cool. In short, the song makes you want to dance, tap your feet and move your head with its rhythm.
The relevant scene lasts from minute 50:08 to 57:15 when Blonde gets shot by Orange. The song is played at full length and goes from 53:27 to 56:35.
50:08 The scene starts with Blonde being left alone with the bounded and pummelled officer and the unconscious Orange.
50:20 Blonde says ‘Alone at last’, gets rid of his jacket and moves towards the officer who is tied to a stool.
50:37 Blonde jokes: ‘Guess what; I think I am parked in the red zone.’ (smokes and laughs)
50:55 Officer claims he doesn’t know anything about a setup.
51: 30 Blonde slaps the officer in the face.
51:50 Blonde gets a roll of tape to put it over the officer’s mouth. Blonde says that he is going to torture him for a while, because he finds torturing a cop amusing.
52:33 Blonde pulls his gun at the officer; is amused by the cop fishtailing on the stool unsuccessfully. Blonde laughs at him.
52:50 Blonde pulls out a large knife from his left cowboy boot. He asks the cop if he ever listens to ‘K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70s’.
53:00 Blonde turns on the radio, searches the right channel and finds it. The radio moderator announces the next song ‘Stuck in the middle with you’. Blonde walks to the other side of the room with the open knife in his hands, checking if Orange shows signs of consciousness.
53:23 Song starts with the intro.
53:34 As the groove section comes in, Blonde starts to dance around and to sing along to the lyrics. While Blonde is dancing, the officer is shown in close ups; moaning in pain and looking frightened by the actions of his torturer.
 YouTube, (2016). Stuck In The Middle With You - Stealers Wheel. Retrieved 14 January 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DohRa9lsx0Q
 Lack, R. (1997). Twenty four frames under. London: Quartet Books. (p.70)
 Lyrics can be found in the appendix.
 Shirley, H., & Tarantino, Q. (2009). Quentin Tarantino on Five Key Soundtrack Picks, From "Reservoir Dogs" to "Inglourious Basterds". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 15 January 2016, from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/quentin-tarantino-on-five-key-soundtrack-picks-from-reservoir-dogs-to-inglourious-basterds-20090821
 Screenshots from the DVD can be found in the appendix. They are annotated with the time designation of the shot in respective.