Wednesday, October 04, 2006

MOOM PITCHER OF THE YEAR (even if it was made in 1971)...STRAW DOGS!

I think I may have seen this one on the tube long ago, or maybe not. Whether or not I did is a moot point anyway because like I said they used to edit these things to heck when they hit tee-vee but whatever, I do have a recollection of STRAW DOGS perhaps from what I've heard about it all these years. Oh yeah, I remember the big hubbub even in 1971, y'know, how STRAW DOGS hadda go and spoil all of the good timey peacenlove jive that was being passed off on us imbecile kids who were so stupid as to eat up everything our teachers fed us not having the brains to know we were guinea pigs all the while (I go into a lotta this in my T. Rex review in the latest issue, but it sure feels good mulling it over here!) but anyway, even though I can't recall anybody going out to see STRAW DOGS back then or talking about it or even mentioning its existence (heck, I can't even remember it playing at any theatres around here for that matter), it sure cast a dark shadow across the cinematic landscape. And if you can remember three-plus decades back perhaps you too will recall that STRAW DOGS had even the usual dignified critics all aghast...por ejemplo the usually too Metropolitan to be allowed to live Pauline Kael (or was it Judith Crist??? Always got those bitch crits mixed up) even branded STRAW DOGS as "the first American film that is a fascist work of art" which seems to be way off the mark...wasn't BIRTH OF A NATION s'posed to be just that, though considering just how much the final half hour or so of each of these films do have a striking similarity I can see just how Miz Kael could be forgiven for a momentary lapse of memory along with the usual taste.

But since I am so angered by the current state of affairs myself to be about "this close" (forefinger and thumb spread one mm. apart or at the most the average penis size of your typical rock blogger [not me!] for that matter) to joining the Falange, maybe I would be more suited to seeing a "fascist work of art" in any form than I would the usual neo-communist dribble so in vogue. And believe-it-or-leave-it, but STRAW DOGS is just "thee" film to sate my raging soul...in fact, I would call STRAW DOGS the feel good movie of this or any year because it's such a torrential downpour of great and pure Amerigan violence that always sent the Werthams of this world running away faster than waving an EC comic at 'em. And given the sad sack state of entertainment affairs (films/television as a tool of the know-betters) maybe more people should be exposed to this sort of "fascism" lest we all turn into a nation of feelgoods whose only choices in life are mind-numbing panacea on one hand and dulloid decadence on the other.

What else can I say but this film is a pure "masterpiece" and given that it has an exemplary cast (Dustin Hoffman smack dab in the middle of his "New Hollywood" stardom, the eye-popping Susan George [nice looking gal and she ain't even Japanese!] and a buncha English locos who seem to have been cast at the nearby pub) and of course director Sam Peckinpah at the height of his pow'rs who could deny that STRAW DOGS bravely railed against all of that humanist ca-ca that was being forced down our throats at the time! For the uninitiated, Hoffman stars as David Sumner, a milksoppish mathematician who is taking a sabbatical from some college (during the height of "student unrest" as they used to say) in order to write an undoubtedly brainy and boring textbook. Tired of the violence that has torn apart late-sixties/early-seventies Ameriga he and his girlish/braless hot potato of a wife Amy (Susan George) show up in her old Cornish hometown expecting the peace and quiet they certainly couldn't get in the US of Whoa unless they were living in Sharon or something, only instead of a harmonious existence straight outta some PBS britcom they get harassed by the local workmen who are supposed to be fixing up their ancient abode but spend their time goofing off at the local pub. Of course it doesn't help things out with little girl tease Amy going around topless in plain view of the workers (a scene which prompted none other than Handsome Dick Manitoba in the pages of TEENAGE WASTELAND GAZETTE to exclaim that he'd "like to pop [his] tart in her toaster") but before long David and Amy start finding things like their cat hanging in the closet by the light cord while Amy gets a particularly heavy-handed come on from her old flame who she gave some to long ago and now he wants seconds.

OK, I gotta admit that the first half of this film does drag a bit, but the slow-burn dragginess of the thing helps build up to the can-you-take-it climax. David the ever-pacifist acts more like the patented early-seventies Dustin Hoffman did in all of those other "Youth Films" he was doing at the time being hip and sincere trying to coddle the local toughs who invite him out for a day of quail hunting while the old boyfriend and later on the psycho gang leader sneak back to the abode to rape Amy...and the fact that the old boyfriend's "encounter" is eventually accepted as consensual (talk about "He Hit Me and it Felt Like a Kiss"!) still rankles a lotta ire amongst feminists out there! Even that doesn't seem to get to the spiritual weakling David (who reminds me more of the guy in that Charles Atlas ad who gets sand kicked in his face), but only after a good hour-and-a-half of indignations upon intimidations does the proverbial worm of a man finally turn (leading to one of the best raging orgasmic frenzies of violence seen in a long time) when the thugs demand that David hand over the village idiot he has been harboring. Y'see, said idiot had just strangled the local teen tease (Amy ten years earlier?) and when the badskis advance upon David's property to demand that said idiot (who had earlier been hit by David's car) be turned over to them for a right royal whipping does Sumner suddenly change from Dagwood Bumstead to Mr. A defending home and property (while roughing up Amy herself when she starts losing her own nerve) and killing all the potential lynchers in the process. And you can bet that for a pacifist he sure kills 'em in a particularly bloody way, perhaps getting rid of years of pent-up frustration no doubt! The inner tension the first 90 minutes of this film sorta squirts out like a festering pimple onto the bathroom mirror not only with a foot shot off (which I assume is fatal since we don't see the foot's owner for the rest of the film!), but a pan of hot acid in the face, a poker to the skull, gunshot blasts and even a bear trap neck scrunch not only paying back for the previous few years of ALICE'S RESTAURANT-styled fare but the entire sixties hippie trip! No wonder the flower child leftovers avoided this one like the plague, but for me this only seems like the logical conclusion.

I dunno how much STRAW DOGS took in at the box office...I assume it did some respectable business, but one thing's for certain and that is the heavy duty violent aspect of this film (along with DIRTY HARRY and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) sure helped wean Amerigan moviegoers off the sexual moosh that was overtaking the cinematic arts during those "now film" days. In a few years, once people wanted to forget about the Vietnam War for good and the peace "vibes" of the early-seventies began leading the way towards the healthy suspicion of the middle portion of that decade, violence and cynicism would be the wave at least until the Carter era put wholesome bung back on the map. Films like TAXI DRIVER, ROLLING THUNDER, MACON COUNTY LINE and especially THE DAY OF THE LOCUST made up for the previous hip complacency in Hollywood with some mighty fine hard-edged sourness that sure stood for better cinema than the entire STAR WARS brouhaha, and if only the place would forget its narcissic self-centered candycoat and get back to the bared-wire intensity of flicks like STRAW DOGS will we have a fine future of heavy-duty cinematic madness to look forward to 'stead of the hideous blanditude that's covered the clime for seemingly eons on end awlready.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Straw Dogs did moderately well at the box office, although it wasn't a huge hit. Did you know that in response to Pauline Kael referring to "Straw Dogs" as fascist and Judith Crist also slagging it, in Peckinpah's subsequent film, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" there are two prostitutes named Judith and Pauline?

Every Peckinpah directed film is great except for "The Osterman Weekend", his last (I've never seen "The Killer Elite" so I can't vouch for it). It's a shame that he was never able to get his Doc Savage project off the ground (in 1966!)

Aaron Goldberg said...

Peckinpah is one of my heroes. I still have my Criterion of STRAW DOGS selaed in plastic for posterity.

PAT GARRET is a masterwork. Way better than that terrible Nick Cave Western. EVERY Peckinpah Western is great. That DVD boxset is so good it makes me cry with joy!

'Convoy' is pretty bad tho'.