Getting indignant over remakes of our favorite movies may be old hat, but it’s not always unwarranted. Remember "The Case of The Film-Going Fuck Chassis Who Mistook Mel Brooks’s To Be Or Not to Be for an Original"? Though this is hardly epidemic, the rise of the amateur critic via the internet is endangering the relevance of certain films that should always be in style. At risk to this encroaching dilettantism are the classics in the margins, the pictures that haven’t been immortalized by Oscars and AFI lists.
And today I believe Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is one such movie, especially after reading Rod Lurie’s rationale for his remake. Here are his comments to Coming Soon:
"It’s an interesting film, isn’t it?" he continued, "but it was pretty much killed by a two-second moment on screen where his wife is being raped and she smiles. That was the end of that movie. You can be certain that she’s not going to be smiling in the rape in my film."
And that, Mr. Lurie, is why your movie should not be called Straw Dogs.
The sight of Amy Sumner (Susan George) smiling whilst being raped by her ex-boyfriend is undoubtedly disturbing. It is a transgressive moment, and it threatens to turn the viewer against the film. Pauline Kael, who considered Straw Dogs one of the key movies of the 1970s, had this to say about the sequence: "When the wife is raped, the rape has heat to it and what goes into that heat is the old male barroom attitude: she’s asking for it."
And enjoying it (until the ex-boyfriend’s buddy joins in). What starts as a rape turns into an undersexed woman being fucked by a guy who knows how to fuck her. No more cruel, bullshit mind games (to which she’s been subjected by her timid mathematician husband, David, since the outset of the film); this is just pure, animalistic sex. And it further undercuts David’s manhood, which has figuratively been under siege since they moved into this inhospitable English village.
Peckinpah keeps throwing out objectionable turns of events all the way to the end of the movie, where David’s defense of his home is rousing and wrong at the same time (David is, after all, protecting a guilty man). Everything about Straw Dogs is designed to agitate; our convenient ideals of heroism and morals are punctured until we’ve nothing left but disgust. It may not be a fair movie, or a completely coherent one in terms of theme (not that this is always a bad thing), but it is a singular one. Even though it is based on a novel, it has earned the title Straw Dogs in the medium of film. And unless you’re willing to push as hard as Peckinpah did, I believe you are duty bound as a lover of film to select another moniker. (Besides, I can’t imagine this title is that marketable.)
In the interest of fairness, I will let Lurie’s further thoughts on his remake close out this piece. Hopefully, he’ll give a write and explain what it is about the rape scene that is a deal breaker for him.
was a critic for years, and very often our reviews will say, ‘Well, if
he had done this, it would have been a better film.’ I look at Straw
Dogs as a very imperfect movie. It’s a little bit slow and it’s themes
are a little bit murky. There are some amazing moments and it’s a very
satisfying movie, but you sort of look at what can be improved upon
now. It may seem very arrogant to say, ‘We can improve upon Peckinpah.’
I can never improve upon the best of Peckinpah. I would never remake The Wild Bunch but this is a film that I think he was a little lazy
on, and it’s a fascinating story. What I really want to do is make a
movie about what it means to be a bully, how easy it is to become a
bully, and how decency is defined I think by not being a bully when you
have the opportunity to be one."
Okay, I can’t resist. If your version is about "what it means to be a bully" and "not being a bully when you have the opportunity to be one", I have to wonder if you’ve completely changed the third act. If so, I implore you to drop the title.