Michael W. Johnson
Stuck in the Middle
Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealers Wheel when they recorded a Dylanesque pop hit, “Stuck in the Middle With You”, in April of 1974. The single reached number five on the charts – little did they know that eighteen years later it would become a cult favorite.
In 1992 Quentin Tarantino, a little known writer/director, took the Cannes film festival and the world by surprise with his motion picture Reservoir Dogs. The movie is about the difficulties that occur when five “master” criminals are hired by a crime king pin named Joe to pull off the biggest diamond heist of the century.
I’ll set-up the scene in the movie where it is being played, try and follow me… The five criminals hired go by color-coded names . During the heist the cops show and things got out of control. Two of the robbers were shot and killed after Mr. Blonde, the “on the edge” gangster started shooting up the place when an employee triggered the alarm. Mr. White and Mr. Orange (an undercover cop) escaped the scene and headed for the hideout where all the men were supposed to meet. On the way to the hideout Mr. Orange was shot, he was bleeding severely but the injury was not life threatening. Shortly after their arrival, Mr. Pink met with them and they all anxiousley waited for Mr. Blonde.
Mr. Blonde, acting cool and unaffected by the mornings events, made his entrance. After being questioned by Mr. White about why he went psycho in the store, Mr. Blonde called them out to see a “surprise” he had in his trunk. Mr. Blonde in an effort to find out how the police heard about the robbery in advance had kidnapped a police officer. They carried the man into the warehouse and after tying him to a chair Mr. White and Mr. Pink commenced beating the hell out of him. They Asked him to tell how the police knew of the heist, he said he knew nothing and after beating on him some more, Nice Guy Eddie came in. He was Joe’s son and told Mr. White and Mr. Pink that they would have to come with him to ditch the cars. Mr. Blonde was told to stay and keep an eye on the cop and the injured Mr. Orange.
My idea is that the following scene was written by Director Tarantino choreographed to the song by Stealers Wheel. Rather than the norm where a scene is written and the music is picked thereafter. As I describe the scene I will give the lyrics to the song and show how they correspond to the characters actions in the scene.
Well I don’t know why I came here tonight.
and I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs.
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right…
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.
The words being sung tell us that the cop is wondering how he got into this situation, he knows something is up, and he is scared that he may not be able to make it through the rest of this torturous interrogation alive. The clowns are his fellow officers who allowed the situation to get so out of control, and the jokers are Mr. White and Mr. Pink. And now he is stuck in the middle of this whole ordeal with the most cynical, evil, and hardest criminal of the bunch….Mr. Blonde.
Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you
and I’m wondering what it is I should do
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face
cause I’m and I’m all over the place
These are the lines that justify what I am saying the most. He is wondering what he should do, he knows that Mr. Orange is a cop and if he were to mention it to Mr. Blonde it may save his life. It is an internal conflict in which he heroically decides to keep quiet. He can’t keep the smile off his face because he knows the cops are outside just waiting for Joe to come to the warehouse so they can bust the whole operation, and when he comes the torture will be over.
Well you started out with nothin’ and your proud that your a self -made man.
Tryin’ to make some sense of it all
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
’till I think that I can’t take anymore.
Here, the officer is bringing out the fact that Mr. Blonde is proud of his life as a criminal, and proud that his friends, Joe and Nice Guy Eddie come callin’ -begging Mr. Blonde to work for them right after he got out of prison. The cop tries to understand the situation that he is in but he realizes it is a lost cause. The last two lines show what the officer is asking himself. Should he spill his guts or should he keep quiet until Joe shows up.
The music stops. The cop is a bloody mess, Mr. Blonde had not only beat him, he had cut off his ear, and doused him with gasoline. He was just about ready to set him on fire when six gunshots rang out– Mr. Orange, the undercover cop had shot Mr. Blonde to death.
Joe, Nice Guy Eddie, Mr. Pink and Mr. White all return shortly thereafter. They find Mr. Blonde, the cop, and Mr. Orange all covered in blood and question Mr. Orange about what happened. Mr. Orange tried to explain that Mr. Blonde was going to burn the cop, and split with the diamonds. Joe called him a traitor and would not believe him. Joe shot the police officer and was ready to kill Mr. Orange when Mr. White turns his gun on Joe to protect his friend. Intern Nice Guy Eddie turns his gun on Mr. White. Sirens could be heard as the movie hit its climax – the cops bust in and three shots are heard, and three bodies drop to the floor.
Quentin Tarintino is a acumen in the the field music, I believe he truly wrote the seen I described – the torture seen – to coincide with the Stealers Wheel song. In the research of my opinion I luckily stumbled on a quote from Tarentino taken from the compact disc booklet of “Truth and Fiction.”
“Personnally, I don’t know if Jerry Rafferty neccessarily appreciated the connotations that I brought to “Stuck in the Middle With You”. There’s a good chance he didn’t. But that’s one of the things about using music in movies that’s so cool: the fact that if you do it right, it’s about as cinematic a thing as you can do. You’re really doing what movies do better than any other art form. It works in this visceral, emotional, cinematic way that’s special. And when you do it right and you hit it right, then you can never really hear that song again without thinking about that image from the movie. That’s what comercials are counting on, but it never quite works with commercials.
The thing is, once a movie has done that with a song, as far as I’m concerned that movie owns it. I mean, they’ve used “Stand By Me” so many times, but to me the one that used “Stand By Me” that way was The Wanderers. They play “Stand By Me” as the lead character, Ken Wahl, realizes that JFK has been shot. And it’s perfect.”
I couldn’t agree more with what Tarentino is saying. His movies especially draw upon music to make the scenes flow together in a surreal, inspiring style. What more can a movie connoisseur like myself ask for in a movie? As Tarentino says “Stand By Me” is perfect in The Wanderers, I say “Stuck in the Middle With You” is perfect in Resovoir Dogs.