The end of Straw Dogs has Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner driving an uncredited David Warner’s Henry Niles back to town after the climatic showdown in the Sumner house. Henry tells David, “I don’t know my way home.” To which David responds, “That’s okay. I don’t either.” This final exchange sums up the entirety of what Straw Dogs conveys. At the end of the day, just what are we?
There will be spoilers here.
Prior to my viewing of Straw Dogs, the only film by Sam Peckinpah I’ve seen was The Wild Bunch. I took that film as a more visceral version of a Leone western. However having only seen it once, I didn’t get the themes that are prevalent with Peckinpah’s work. This film is rife with controversy and complications and interpretations. It is not an easy watch. Things do not resolve themselves. People are not good and don’t nescesarily become better people by the end of this.
This film is certainly one that earned its controversial status. It raises questions. Even if you answer one question, you may not answer the next question the same way. Is Straw Dogs a condemnation of violent masculinity? One may interpret it that way. Or is it a celebration of that? It may be as well. Is Peckinpah blaming women for the violence that occurs against them? It seems that way, at least to me it did. Early on David asks his wife Amy (a heartbreaking performance by Susan George) why doesn’t she wear a bra if she doesn’t want the leering eyes of her ex-boyfriend and his cohorts focused on her chest. This moment is actually one of many that show her husband is not only meek, but part of the overall problem. He disrespects his wife at times and belittles her. He blames her sexual freedom for the attention she did not ask for. By time we reach the climax, you’ll see David is no better than the brutes who invade their home. It just took him a little longer to get there.
The controversial rape of Amy is still a discussion point to this day. Becuase of how Peckinpah filmed the scene, there are indicators that Amy at first refuses but then acquiesces. Now I do not see it that way. I saw a woman trying to cope with the violation being committed against her. The scene is brutal and uncomfortable and I actually feel uncomfortable trying to discuss it. Yet this is film criticism and I’d be remiss to not mention it at all despite its notorious reputation.
This is a very complicated film, directed by a very complicated man. Did Peckinpah hate the violence within himself? Did he allow that to manifest in this film? Does he think David is a hero or antihero? So many questions. It’s fitting that this film came out in 1971, the same year as fellow controversial director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Straw Dogs, like that film are not easily watched. Yet both films hold a mirror to the ghastly primal nature of humanity and at the very least, make you look inside and question just what are you. Straw Dogs, structurally is a time bomb, ticking away during its runtime until it explodes in the climax.
Is it just a matter of time for any of us? Just another of the many questions it forever brings. Endless questions and endless discussion.
This is the first of 3 Quick Shames that I’m writing to get back into the mix of CinemaShame.
Ace in the Hole has proven to be an almost prophetic film for me. It is an examination of the media and its relationship with the people who consume it.
Kirk Douglas is Chuck Tatum. Tatum is a newspaper reporter who stumbles upon the story of Leo Minosa. Minosa is trapped underground while gathering Native American artifacts. Tatum manages to manipulate the rescue operation in order to better sell his story until it snowballs into a sideshow that does everything but focus on the task at hand. Tatum even goes as far as convincing the contractor to take a method that’s even longer than needed just to prolong the story.
Douglas is superb as the self-centered Tatum. I find him really good at playing these sort of slimy roles as he is also fantastic as an alienating film producer in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. He clearly is adept at that type of role. You can see the effect he has on the characters around him including Leo’s wife Lorraine and Herbie Cook, a young photographer who loses his idealism over the course of the film.
Ace in the Hole was Wilder’s first foray as writer, producer and director. He did not have his longtime writing partner Charles Brackett. This film would also prove to be his first failure both commercially and critically. I can see why. In his previous film Sunset Boulevard we see the effects of an industry on an individual who was a part of it. In this film we see how news spreads and what people will do to appease a gullible public. I oils imagine no one as ready for this in 1951.
Ace in the Hole is totally relevant in 2016. The tools may have changed. We now have smartphones and social media platforms that keep us connected 24/7, but the game has remained the same. Ace in the Hole is an prime minister example of why Billy Wilder is one of the greats of cinema by giving us in 2016 a mirror to look at ourselves, yet he gave it to us over 60 years prior.
Year Released: 1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
That opening shot. That standard Kubrick tracking shot. I’d seen it before many times. It always makes me crack a style to see one of this director’s signatures. Yet this time, that shot that I had seen many times in the past, gave me a sense of uneasiness. That long stare of a young man with a glass of milk wearing white with a black hat. The images all around the milk bar, from the tables shaped like naked women to the words that appear to be Russian on the wall coupled with a haunting electronic piece by Wendy Carlos. The film is A Clockwork Orange. And for the first time ever, I had seen a film that truly has me conflicted.
Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange stars Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, a juvenile delinquent who partakes in drinking milk-plus and engaging in rape, and ultraviolence. Within the first 45 minutes of the film, Alex and his droogs beat up a homeless man on the street, get into a fight with another gang and assault a writer and rape his wife. I’ve always heard about the use of “Singing in the Rain” in regards to this rape scene and now I understand. Usually when a movie know for its violence ages it tends be a little tamer when viewed. Not at all here. This isn’t the type of stylized violence we see from Tarantino or Verhoeven. These are despicable actions by despicable people. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. Yet Kubrick makes it hard to turn away. I don’t know what he did with his films of the 70s, but this and Barry Lyndon, which I felt was extremely boring but I couldn’t take my eyes off it, but he managed the same here.
Alex is incarcerate for murder and is released after going through an experimental treatment designed to “cure” him of his criminal nature. By time it’s all over he gets physically ill when faced with a violent or sexual situation. The state declares him cured and releases him back into society. However when he comes across the people who he has wronged in the past, he can not fight back as the prospect of violence makes him sick.
This is where the film makes me question myself. Normally I’d would want to see a person like Alex get what he deserves and he does once he returns home. Yet it’s doesn’t seem balanced since he is conditioned to not fight back. I want him to get his when he is at full strength. A minister while he was in prison says the state has taken away his free will. He has choice but to behave because he can’t choose the opposite. Should I have sympathy for Alex? Even at the end of the picture I was unsure of what to feel.
I love Stanley Kubrick’s work and this is the only one of his films I had not seen. I put it off for years because of the subject matter. This is quite a disturbing film. Will I ever watch it again? Perhaps. I need to clear my head after watching this. Do I feel this film is classic? Absolutely. It does what a film is supposed to do, open your eyes to new ideas and ideals and sometimes challenge your mind. I still feel Kubrick’s a master of the craft. This film cements that opinion.
Year Released: 1957
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Directed by Delmer Daves and based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, “3:10 to Yuma” is the second feature for my 2015 list of Shame. This one is actually a holdover from last year but I still really wanted to watch this.
Van Heflin and Glenn Ford play Dan Evans and Ben Wade respectively. Evans is a rancher who agrees to escort outlaw Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma to get him out of town before his gang arrives to get him.
I love movies with constrained scenarios and limited settings. While the setting here is certainly no Rear Window, the taut nature of the plot mainly involving two men as they make their way across the desert intrigued me. I loved the manner in which Wade antagonizes Evans throughout. I had seen the 2008 remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale and this sort of banter I expected in a modern western, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it in a film from the 50s. This definitely is not the standard Hollywood western from that era.
I love how this movie was shot. It sort of has a feel that borders on film, yet also 1950s style television. The black and white cinematography is very sharp here. And when I say sharp I mean it as if there are edges you could cut yourself on. It’s almost as if it was something you would see on television then, but that’s not to deride it in anyway. I think that is due to the camerawork and very tight script.
Both the lead actors are fantastic in their roles. Ford plays Wade with a balanced menace to become a pure antagonist without slipping into villainy. Heflin is the dedicated family man who even though he may not say much, you can tell in his body language that he has no issue with handling Wade despite his seemingly meek nature. He is not easily intimidated by either Wade nor the situation they are in.
One thing I was surprised by with this film is its director Delmer Daves. I initially thought after viewing that this is a guy who should have gotten more opportunities. Then I saw he was involved with other classics that I had seen such as Jubal, An Affair to Remember and Demetrius and the Gladiators. It makes me wonder why Daves isn’t talked about as much in film circles, or was he an early example of a gun for hire director? I’ll have to do some more research on him.
It’s cold here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in February so I’m glad I got to spend a 90 minutes in sunny Arizona watching a very good chase feature. Great acting, directing and writing will always make a great film. 3:10 to Yuma is a classic western that is not like some of the cookie cutter westerns of its era and one that should not be missed.
2015 is here and I must admit I did not complete my penance for 2014 nor did I even watch a movie a month. For 2015 however I am making all attempts to rectify that. Behold my 2015 CinemaShame with some holdovers from last year.
1. Blade Runner
2. Do The Right Thing
4. 3:10 To Yuma (carryover from 2014)
5. A Clockwork Orange
6. Lethal Weapon (seen 2-4 but never the original)
7. Ace in the Hole
8. Friday The 13th. (Another 2014 carryover)
10. The Hustler
11. Marathon Man
12. The French Connection
This year I’ll be 30 years old. I haven’t completed a whole lot of things but I am determined to finish this list. I wish myself luck!