For one last night — tonight — The Belcourt screens one of the most controversial movies ever made, Sam Peckinpah's 1971 Straw Dogs (the subject of the Rod Lurie remake currently in theaters). Below, a Scene write-up:
Depicting mankind at the end of its tether, the most disturbing of Sam Peckinpah's films has Dustin Hoffman as David, a meek American mathematician who returns to the hometown of his British wife Amy (Susan George). David is introduced carrying a massive iron-jawed bear trap, and Amy arrives onscreen as a pair of erect nipples: The movie isn't two minutes old, and already Peckinpah has prepared us for the worst. It comes when the sinister villagers, who resent David and covet Amy, begin a campaign of terror that escalates from macho taunts to rape and then a full-on siege of their isolated farmhouse. How far will they push the egghead before he fights?
When released in 1971, Straw Dogs eclipsed even A Clockwork Orange as the media's screen-violence abuse magnet; no less a Peckinpah admirer than Pauline Kael dismissed it as fascist, and the label stuck. But the film isn't quite the unambiguous celebration of blood ritual and awakened manhood that its reputation would have you believe. Essentially a rabid reworking of The Quiet Man, with sodden menace replacing Gaelic charm, the script (by David Zelag Goodman and Peckinpah) layers the thinnest of civilized veneers over a powder keg of primordial savagery. David's eventual conversion into a killing machine may win him some manly cred with his contemptuous tease of a wife, but it also makes him something less than a man — an animal. That Peckinpah gets us to cheer his cathartic revenge doesn't make the director's attitude toward the violence — or ours — any less conflicted.
The movie is repugnant in many ways, most of them involving women: The eroticized, emotionally complex rape scene is less troubling than the wife's characterization as a mean little hottie who's ready to toss her husband to the wolves. Regardless, this is a devastatingly effective piece of filmmaking, with some of the strongest montage since the Soviet silents. The scene in which Amy attends the same church social as her rapists, whose leering faces puncture the merriment in near-subliminal flashbacks, is about as powerful as film editing gets.