From Cornwall with Controversy
What similarities can you draw up between our Cornwall and the dusty plains of Mississippi? Well, controversially, violence and rape are now two all thanks to a remake of the notorious Straw Dogs.
The late Sam Peckinpah’s infamous psychological thriller has been delivered to a new audience by Rod Lurie – forty years after the original – and has been critically received on both sides of the Atlantic.
Having not seen the original or indeed read the novel on which it’s based, The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams, this was completely new to me. I watched in disbelief as the film championed viciousness on a whole in graphic detail.
I followed-up the watch and came across the debate on which the original was left. Even twenty-four years after its initial release it was still being edited and cut, due to its explicit behaviour, in order for widespread re-release in 1995.
What Lurie has done is transfer the setting to that of a typical redneck Mississippi town which populates beautiful blonde haired girls and strapping football jocks. It gives the film more of a wilderness while taking the armoury from farmers to stereotypically tougher guys – Westcountry rural types aren’t perceived as too frightening these days, I mean, look at The Wurzels – the example of rednecks is more traditionally sought.
It sticks along the same lines as the original with the upper-class male moving from his successful setting out to the country where he and his newly-wedded wife are subjected to a torrent of abuse, violence and destitution. The male protagonist David Sumner (James Marsden) ends up living the film in which he is writing as it finales on those famous words: “Jesus, I got ‘em all.”
The success of the eccentric Peckinpah’s 1971 film hasn’t been matched by the remake which performed disappointingly at the Box Office and has thus far proved a loss for the studio. Nevertheless, this film made me develop a desire to watch the original and if my view is shared could see a niche market reappear for fans of Straw Dogs.
Overall, Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is feistier. The female protagonist Amy Sumner (Susan George) is portrayed as even more of a tomboy with the jogging beside the lake replaced with smoking in an armchair which reflects the difference in era. The weekend American Football rituals are juxtaposed with a community meeting in the church, the sheriff is a magistrate and dollars are a bob. The differences in that forty-year spell and between the two societies are obvious.
The hold that the paranoid mathematician David has over his wife is stronger – he physically strikes her on more than one occasion – while Lurie’s work sees them as more of an equal as does modern culture.
The original is also more explicit and obvious; there is constant swearing and one of the builders actually steals Susan’s underwear and openly talks about sex. There is also nudity in the film, prominently during the rape scene, where Susan’s breasts are revealed. Lurie’s interpretation of the scene features no breasts and this is another example of how views and respect towards women have changed.
Lurie’s remake brings the piece into the modern day with somewhat of a bang, while Peckinpah’s will forever remain a classic for the boundaries that it crossed and set in the industry.
At least those in Cornwall who were kept awake at night by fear of violence caused by Straw Dogs can sleep soundly in the knowledge that it has emigrated to Mississippi.