Straw Dogs


Straw Dogs

Infobox Film
name = Straw Dogs



caption = U.S. theatrical poster for "Straw Dogs".
director = Sam Peckinpah
producer = Daniel Melnick
writer = Novel:
Gordon Williams
Screenplay:
David Zelag Goodman
Sam Peckinpah
starring = Dustin Hoffman
Susan George
music = Jerry Fielding
cinematography = John Coquillon
editing = Paul Davies
Tony Lawson
Roger Spottiswoode
distributor = Cinerama Releasing Corporation
released = flagicon|USA December 29, 1971
runtime = R-rated Version:
113 min.
Uncut Version:
118 min.
country = USA
language = English
budget =
amg_id = 1:47254
imdb_id = 0067800

"Straw Dogs" is a 1971 film directed by Sam Peckinpah which stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George. A dark, psychological domestic drama, the screenplay by Peckinpah and David Zelag Goodman is based on the novel "The Siege of Trencher's Farm" by Gordon Williams. [cite web |title=Internet Movie Database, "Straw Dogs" |work=imdb.com |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067800/ |accessdate=2007-10-23] Controversial to this day, the film is noted for its violent concluding sequences and a complicated rape scene that critics point to as an example of Peckinpah's (and Hollywood's) debasing of women. [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=399-400. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] Released theatrically the same year as "A Clockwork Orange", "The French Connection" and "Dirty Harry", the film sparked heated controversy over the perceived escalation of violence in cinema. [cite book |first=Garner |last=Simmons|authorlink= Garner Simmons| title=Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage| publisher=University of Texas Press |year = 1982|pages=137-138. ISBN 0-292-76493-6] [cite web |title=Salon.com article, "Eyes Opening Up" by Michael Sragow |work=salon.com |url=http://www.salon.com/ent/col/srag/1999/07/29/straw/index.html |accessdate=2007-10-24] It is considered one of Peckinpah's greatest films.cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=12. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8]

Plot

David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a timid American mathematician, leaves the chaos of college anti-war protests to live with his young wife Amy (Susan George) in her native village in Cornwall, England. Almost immediately, there is tension between the couple as David becomes immersed in his academic work while ignoring Amy. Craving attention, Amy begins to flirt with several of the burly town locals (Jim Norton, Peter Vaughan, Ken Hutchison, Donald Webster) doing repair work on the couple's isolated farmhouse. One of these locals is Amy's former lover Charlie Venner (Del Henney).

Amy's flirtations and David's intellectual reserve create resentment, and the workmen begin to subtly taunt and harass them. David discovers their pet cat strangled and hanging by a light chain in their bedroom closet. Amy claims the workmen did it to prove they could get into their bedroom and to intimidate David. She presses him to confront the villagers, but he refuses. David tries to win their friendship, and they invite him to go hunting in the woods the next day. During the hunting trip, the workmen take him to a remote forest meadow and leave him there with the promise they will drive the birds towards him. Having ditched David, Charlie Venner returns to the couple's farmhouse where he confronts Amy. He starts to force himself on her, but her protests cease and she fully embraces him. A second villager arrives and forces Venner by shotgun to hold Amy down while he rapes her.

After several hours, David realizes he's been tricked and returns home to find a disheveled and withdrawn Amy. She does not tell him about the gang rape. Later that week, they attend a church social where Amy becomes distraught after seeing the men who raped her. David and Amy leave the social early and while driving home accidentally hit the village idiot Henry Niles (David Warner). They take the injured Niles to their home and David calls the town pub about the accident. Unbeknownst to him, earlier that evening Niles strangled a young girl from the village, and now the workmen are looking for Niles.

The phone call alerts them to Niles' whereabouts. Soon the drunken locals, including the men who raped Amy, are pounding on the door of the Sumner's home. David refuses to hand Niles over to the mob and they attempt to break in to the house. Forced into action in defense of his home, David embarks on an uncharacteristic spree of violence, descending into a murderous rage, violently murdering some of the attackers (the ones he doesn't kill are killed by each other).

Production

Sam Peckinpah's two previous films, "The Wild Bunch" (1969) and "The Ballad of Cable Hogue" (1970), had been made at Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. [cite web |title=Internet Movie Database, Sam Peckinpah |work=imdb.com |url=http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001603/ |accessdate=2007-10-23] He was effectively terminated from the company after the chaotic filming of "Cable Hogue" wrapped 19 days over schedule and $3 million over budget. Left with a limited number of directing jobs, Peckinpah was forced to travel to England to direct "Straw Dogs". Produced by Daniel Melnick, who had previously worked with Peckinpah on his 1966 television film "Noon Wine", the screenplay was based on the novel "The Siege at Trencher's Farm" by Gordon Williams. [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=391-393. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] .

Peckinpah changed the title to "Straw Dogs", drawn from a common translation of the "Tao Te Ching", an ancient Chinese philosophical treatise. Taken from a passage in "The Book of 5,000 Characters" by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, it read, "Heaven and Earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad of creatures as straw dogs: the sage is ruthless, and treat the myriad of creatures as straw dogs...Is not the space between Heaven and Earth like a bellows?" [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=402-403. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] Peckinpah entirely rewrote the existing screenplay, inspired by the books "African Genesis" and "The Territorial Imperative" by Robert Ardrey, which argued that man was essentially a carnivore who instinctively battled over control of territory. A significant difference between the novel and the movie is the Sumner couple have a daughter who is also trapped in the farmhouse. Peckinpah removed the daughter and rewrote the character of Amy Sumner as a younger and more liberated woman. [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=396-397. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] The movie was filmed on location at St Buryan in Cornwall. [cite web |title=Internet Movie Database, Filming locations for "Straw Dogs" |work=imdb.com |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067800/locations |accessdate=2007-10-23]

Beau Bridges, Stacy Keach, Sidney Poitier, Jack Nicholson and Donald Sutherland were considered for the lead role of David Sumner before Dustin Hoffman was hired. [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=403. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] Hoffman agreed to do the film because he was intrigued by the character, a pacifist unaware of his feelings and potential for violence that were the very same feelings he abhorred in society. [cite book |first=Garner |last=Simmons|authorlink= Garner Simmons| title=Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage| publisher=University of Texas Press |year = 1982|pages=125. ISBN 0-292-76493-6] In the role of Amy, Judy Geeson, Jacqueline Bisset, Diana Rigg, Helen Mirren, Carol White, Charlotte Rampling and Hayley Mills were considered before the eventual casting of Susan George. [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=410. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] Hoffman disagreed with the casting, as he felt his character would never marry such a "Lolita-ish" kind of girl. Peckinpah insisted on George, an unknown actress at that time. [cite book |first=Garner |last=Simmons|authorlink= Garner Simmons| title=Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage| publisher=University of Texas Press |year = 1982|pages=126. ISBN 0-292-76493-6]

Reception

"Straw Dogs" was controversial on its release in 1971, and remains so today, mostly because of the prolonged rape scene that is the film's centerpiece. Feminist cinema critics accused director Peckinpah of glamourising rape and of engaging in misogynistic sadism, [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=399-400. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=426-428. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8] especially disturbed by the scene's ambiguity — Amy appears to ask for and enjoy the rape. Peckinpah's defenders claim the scene was unambiguously horrifying, that Amy's trauma was truthfully portrayed. [cite book |first=David |last=Weddle|authorlink= David Weddle| title="If They Move...Kill 'Em!"| publisher=Grove Press |year = 1994|pages=399-400. ISBN 0-8021-3776-8]

The violence of "Straw Dogs" aroused strong reactions, many critics seeing an endorsement of violence as redemption, and the film as fascist celebration of violence and vigilantism, while others see it as anti-violence, noting the bleak ending consequent to the violence. [cite book |first=Garner |last=Simmons|authorlink= Garner Simmons| title=Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage| publisher=University of Texas Press |year = 1982|pages=137-138. ISBN 0-292-76493-6] Director Peckinpah defended "Straw Dogs" as an exploration, not an endorsement, of violence, that was purging him of obsessions with violence resulting from human inability to communicate; that David is the story's true villain — deliberately, yet subconsciously, provoking the violence, his concluding homicidal rampage is his true self. [cite book |first=Garner |last=Simmons|authorlink= Garner Simmons| title=Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage| publisher=University of Texas Press |year = 1982|pages=137-138. ISBN 0-292-76493-6]

"Straw Dogs" remains a critic- and audience-dividing film, though detractors have admitted that its importance and artistry make it modern classic American film, one of director Sam Peckinpah's greatest works.

Censorship

The studio edited the first rape scene before releasing the film in the U.S., to earn R rating from the MPAA. [cite book |first=Garner |last=Simmons|authorlink= Garner Simmons| title=Peckinpah, A Portrait in Montage| publisher=University of Texas Press |year = 1982|pages=137. ISBN 0-292-76493-6]

In 1984, "Straw Dogs" gained more notoriety in the UK after the British Board of Film Classification banned it per the newly-introduced Video Recordings Act, because of Amy Sumner's violent rape. [cite web |title=Internet Movie Database, Trivia for "Straw Dogs" |work=imdb.com |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067800/trivia |accessdate=2007-10-23] The film had been released theatrically in the United Kingdom, gaining an 'X' rating in 1971, and an 18 rating for the cut version in 1995.

In 1999, a partially cut version of "Straw Dogs" again was refused a licence, the BBFC objecting to what it considered the "the clear indication that Amy comes to enjoy being raped". [cite news|url=http://www.bbfc.co.uk/news/press/19990602.html|title=The BBFC has refused a certificate for a video version of this 1971 film|date=1999-06-02]

On 1st of July of 2002, "Straw Dogs" finally was certified unedited for video tape and DVD. [cite web |title=Internet Movie Database, "Straw Dogs" |work=imdb.com |url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067800/ |accessdate=2007-10-23] This version was uncut, and therefore included the second rape scene, in which the BBFC's opinion "Amy is clearly demonstrated not to enjoy the act of violation". [cite news|url=http://www.bbfc.co.uk/news/press/20020701.html|title=BBFC passes STRAW DOGS uncut on video|date=2002-07-01] The BBFC noted that

cquote|The cuts made for American distribution, which were made to reduce the duration of the sequence, therefore tended paradoxically to compound the difficulty with the first rape, leaving the audience with the impression that Amy enjoyed the experience. The Board took the view in 1999 that the pre-cut version eroticised the rape and therefore conflicted with the concerns expressed in the Video Recordings Act about promoting harmful activity.

The version considered in 2002 is substantially the original uncut version of the film, restoring much of the unambiguously unpleasant second rape. The ambiguity of the first rape is given context by the second rape, which now makes it quite clear that sexual assault is not something that Amy ultimately welcomes.

References

External links

*
* [http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=182&eid=282&section=essay Criterion Collection essay by Joshua Clover]
* [http://www.salon.com/ent/col/srag/1999/07/29/straw/index.html Salon.com essay by Michael Sragow]
* [http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/search/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1948274 DVD review by Doug Pratt]
* [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19711227/REVIEWS/112270301/1023 Review by Roger Ebert]
* [http://www.dvdmg.com/strawdogs.shtml Review by Colin Jacobson]


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