Straw Dogs (1971)
April 21, 2016 7:21 PM - Subscribe

A young American and his English wife come to rural England and face increasingly vicious local harassment.

Slant: In his first foray outside the western, maverick director Sam Peckinpah took to the Cornish countryside for his 1972 powder keg Straw Dogs, situating his story of unbridled primal masculinity amid a damp, harsh landscape of rolling hills, scraggly earth and overcast sky. The dreary, muted setting perfectly suits the film's bleak vision of mankind's brutal nature, even as it provides a striking contrast to the tale's incendiary sexual and physical explosiveness. Sitting through Peckinpah's controversial classic is not unlike watching a lit fuse make its slow, inexorable way toward its combustible destination—the taut build-up is as shocking and vicious as its fiery conclusion is inevitable.
NYTimes: It is an intelligent movie, but interesting only in the context of his other works. His philosophy somehow belongs out West, either in the great spaces inhabited by Cable Hogue, or in those areas where the frontier is slowly being corrupted by civilization. I can't quarrel with the point of Straw Dogs. There are times when a man must take a position and maintain it. But the manner in which Dustin Hoffman, on the Cornish coast of England, does it reminds me of someone protecting his Jaguar with a flintlock.

Roger Ebert: The most offensive thing about the movie is its hypocrisy; it is totally committed to the pornography of violence, but lays on the moral outrage with a shovel. The perfect criticism of "Straw Dogs" already has been made. It is "The Wild Bunch."

AVClub: In the "Correspondence" supplement to the superb two-disc DVD of Sam Peckinpah's polarizing 1971 masterpiece Straw Dogs, the director delivers a telling response to an irate male viewer: "I didn't want you to enjoy the film. I wanted you to look very close at your own soul." Shot through with all the technical bravado of his groundbreaking anti-Western The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs may be the purest statement on violence in Peckinpah's career, with implications so disturbing that critic Pauline Kael once famously dubbed it "a fascist classic." Stepping away from the Western genre for the first time, Peckinpah directly confronts the violence at the heart of masculinity; as his response to the letter-writer implies, he wanted men to consider the unsettling extent to which it defines their actions.

Deep Focus Review: To understand Straw Dogs, or perhaps endure is a better word than understand, a viewer must first appreciate the career-long duality behind Sam Peckinpah’s persona as an auteur director, and his use of violence as a confrontational device in film. Peckinpah himself was a quiet, grave man filled with weighty ideas, but also one subject to bouts of depression and manic alcoholic rages. This duality, the push and pull between sobriety and drunkenness, between his early career’s collaborative work and his late-career nihilism, informs his greatest pictures. The Wild Bunch, for example, was censured for its abhorrent bloodshed, but not by those who identified that film as a probe into and reaction to why audiences crave a Western hero who kills the bad guy. Peckinpah challenges an audience to sit through the final, glorious, horrifying shootout at the end of The Wild Bunch and violent acts at the end of Straw Dogs. Although he was known to laugh if audiences ran out of the theater during violent scenes at screenings of his films, he was proud when people stayed behind. He knew, of course, that those who remained undoubtedly felt no good about their choice, but they opted to stay and allow themselves to be confronted.

Peckinpah’s approach on Straw Dogs exists somewhere between two other similarly-themed films: Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Both involve a rape and violent retribution (Craven’s film was actually based on Bergman’s). The former weighs the moral implications of violence through an open dialogue, a philosophizing protagonist compelled toward revenge but beset by his religious convictions that teach him not to kill. The latter, in both its original and remake forms, follows an uninhibited outburst of vengeance by two parents after their daughter is brutally attacked. Peckinpah’s film doesn’t engage in Craven’s mindless abuse of raw violence, at least not completely; the film’s slow build and final coda indicate a more significant purpose behind the story. But he doesn’t have David pondering ethical concerns in any meaningful way prior to his own film’s eruption of violence, either. The story plays out, and it’s up to the audience to decide what it means.

As a result, Straw Dogs works better as an art piece ruminating on violence as neither “good” nor “bad” but merely a fact of “man’s” existence. Naturally, the majority of audiences won’t see it that way, and unfortunately that’s why Peckinpah’s film, though controversial and confronting and an important work of art, fails for so many viewers, myself included. There is a great difficulty that comes with watching irredeemable people do horrible things and have horrible things done to them, and then being told that “chaos reins” (to quote another divisive film, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist).Cinema is at its best when art and entertainment converge into something accessible, yet thought-provoking. Here, the entertainment component is almost nonexistent, whereas the art component meets its audience with an unforgivably aggressive confrontational purpose. So while I understand this film and welcome its message, it’s a film that I wouldn’t want to revisit, whereas The Wild Bunch redeems its violence by way of friendship or the moving nobility among its thieves and killers. The intellectual part of me knows this film deserves a four-star review, but the emotional part rejects its interpret-as-you-will structure and its refusal to offer characters to which we can attach. In other words, I admire Straw Dogs, but from a safe distance.

Screen Women: The Male Chauvinist Fantasy of 'Straw Dogs'


Full Movie on YouTube
posted by MoonOrb (1 comment total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I read the book first. It's a pretty good book. I would imagine that anyone that wants to get caught up in the controversy should maybe read the book. It's a pretty good book. Having said that....

I'm not here to apologize for Sam. Sam was a man that maybe needed some help. Anyway, his art speaks for itself. Did you know he directed some episodes of Gunsmoke? And The Rifleman?

Anyway. Yeah. This movie has problems. But it is amazing, none the less. The remake was lame, and the book is worth reading. Sam. Sam made some of the best movies ever.
posted by valkane at 8:43 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

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