This Months Screening

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Straw Dogs 1971

straw dogs cinema poster

Straw Dogs must go down as one of the most controversial films of the 1970’s. What could easily be dismissed as a simple nuts and bolts thriller with an obligatory finale, is actually a far more complex and ambiguous piece which still has the power to fuel debate 43 years after its initial release. 

What made it stand out as a sore thumb for the moral majority was a prolonged rape scene, which many still believe crosses the line between what you could and should show on screen, but we’ll get to that later…

Much like Michael Winners similarly controversial Death Wish, which appeared three years later, the film centres around a liberal who, when pushed to limits, is portrayed as equally lethal and cunning with violence to defend themselves as any conservative might be. David (Dustin Hoffman) and Amy (Susan George) settle in a rural English village with plans to make it their home. Tension immediately builds between David and some leery-eyed locals hired to renovate the couple’s farmhouse. Ultimately this leads to the savage rape of Amy and a siege by the locals on the farmhouse.

Unlike the recent 2011 remake of Straw Dogs, which was a bland retread neutered of any value, the original film is still as incendiary and thought provoking as it was back in 1971. Ugly, uncompromising and brutal, but with a superbly twisted point of view, Straw Dogs is a film which easily manipulates its audience to its whim. We have class conflict, which deepens as we learn about each characters motivation and this reaches boiling point with the films most controversial scene…

I have to confess having mixed feelings about the film, having always been at odds with the rape-scene. It’s completely repugnant and, questionably, seems to re-enforce the myth that women enjoy being violated in such a fashion. But here’s the trick. It’s played so ambiguously, it’s really difficult to come to any concrete conclusions as to whether or not the director is trying to comment on the horror of the scene or titillate for shock value. Art should be dangerous, should show scenes like this, and this film does, much to the ire of some. After this segment, the film ratchets up another notch, culminating in a tense showdown, which is both atmospheric and horrific.

Straw Dogs has something for everyone, those looking for visceral thrills will find a hugely satisfying and intense action thriller. Anyone with an arthouse sensibility will find a film which will endlessly provoke debate. At the end of the day, whatever your opinion of Straw Dogs, it will always remain a must see.

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay by: David Zelag Goodman and Sam Peckinpah
Date released: UK November 3rd 1971
Genre: Action, thriller
Duration: 119 min
Official URL: N/A
Reviewed by: Conor Flynn

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