Eye For Film >> Movies >> Straw Dogs (1971) DVD Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe MurrayRead Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of Straw Dogs
The picture and sound quality of this DVD is exemplary.
The on location documentary is a 1971 black-and-white TV news magazine spot, in which a reporter goes around the Trencher's Farm set, talking to actors and being generally ineffectual. Dustin Hoffman, who was 33 then, is amused by and polite with him. The journalist is obviously out of his depth. The weather looks miserable, too.
The interviews are much longer than you might expect and, for that reason, better for it. Susan George remembers Peckinpah as a man who thrived on confrontation. "He created drama all the time to get the best out of people." He would not talk about the rape. Even when she asked, he told her nothing. In the script it just said, "a rape scene", and in the end she walked out, "because he wouldn't tell me." She came back, she says, "on my terms." She loved working with Hoffman and talked of their "magical chemistry." He's a Method actor. "I'm not. I'm instinctive. It's an extremely different way of working."
The producer Dan Melnick says, "Sam was embarrassed by his intelligence. He comes from a family of judges." He was also a drinker. "I threatened to sack him." Melnick explains the meaning of Straw Dogs, but it still doesn't make any sense. "We never found a title we liked," he says. "We had a contest amongst the cast and crew and brought in the waiters at the hotel." Peckinpah found a location in Scotland that he really liked, but in the end Melnick chose a village near St Ives, which proved logistically neater.
Garner Simmons wrote a biography of Peckinpah. He calls him "an extremely difficult human being" and "one of the most misunderstood filmmakers that ever lived." He died aged 59, but looked 89. Cocaine killed him, not alcohol: "He lived himself to death." Simmons goes into considerable detail about how the rape scene was shot. He calls Straw Dogs "a very ironic film."
The Commentary with Simmons and two other Peckinpah biographers, David Weddle and Paul Seydor, is one of the best you're likely to hear, because these men are insiders who talk intelligently about what they know. The anecdotes are about work, rather than personality, although they mention how ill Peckinpah became during the filming. He suffered walking pneumonia and was hospitalised, during which time Melnick was thinking of replacing him. Their scutiny of every shot, every scene, is fascinating.
Katy Haber was Sam's PA and friend. She is English and Straw Dogs was the first movie they worked on together. She had not seen his other films or even heard of him when she applied for the job. Her commentary is an interview with Nick Redmond. You could listen to it without reference to what is on the screen. It is personal and full of interest.
Peckinpah wanted Jack Nicholson and Carol White originally, but couldn't get them. David Warner played the simpleton with a limp because he had fallen out of a window in Rome a few months earlier and T P McKenna played the GP with his arm in a sling because he had fallen off a table while dancing with hookers at a pre-shoot party, arranged by Sam for the cast and crew. "The way he treated Susan was sometimes cruel," she remembers.
Her stories are illuminating. For instance, she stole the original print of Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid and hid it in her fridge because she was certain the studio would take it away from Peckinpah and re-edit it, which is what happened.
Only recently, when the Director's Cut came out, using the print from the fridge, did anyone realise what a magnificent film it was. She is running a homeless shelter in L.A. now. This commentary perfectly compliments that of the biographers. "I never worked in any film with Sam when he felt confident," she says. Hey, this is the man who changed the face of Western violence in The Wild Bunch. Surely, he planned it all, down to the last pratfall, this crown prince of macho moviemaking. Haber says no. "Sam got the feel of what he wanted to do at eight o'clock when he walked onto the set."Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2002