“I’ll Have An Answer, Or I’ll Have Blood”

There’s never been any question in my mind that Straw Dogs is Sam Peckinpah‘s second-best film, The Wild Bunch being first and Ride The High Country being third. It’s a dark, creepy, ugly film, and yet wholly, primally fascinating. It certainly contains one of Dustin Hoffman‘s strongest-ever performances. The editing by Paul Davies, Tony Lawson and Roger Spottiswoode, especially during the violent finale, is flat-out brilliant. And yet John Coquillon‘s muted, grayish cinematography looks pretty good on the 2011 MGM Bluray — actually the best-looking version I’ve ever seen. The forthcoming Criterion Bluray (out on 6.27) is from a 4K scan and contains a lot of intriguing extras, and I’m presuming it’ll looks slightly better than the 2011 disc but you have to draw lines somewhere. Right now I’m disinclined.

From “Home Is No Place,” a Criterion essay by Joshua Clover: “Straw Dogs turns on a woman’s rape, and one can’t blame pictures for depicting. But the film shows the woman, after some tart resistance, seeming to enjoy it, and this approaches the apex of what a delicate soul might call “problematic representation.” It’s fucked up. What’s more, the film offers this sequence, if not for our crooked pleasure, then as a means to meditate on male violence as something like an absolute truth, beyond good and evil.”

  • Dr. New Jersey

    Why Rod Lurie thought this film was ripe for a remake is baffling, second only to the remake Psycho (another great but problematic film for modern sensibilities).

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    • Reverent and free

      Well, at least the remake of Psycho was an experiment. And call it blasphemy, but Heche, Moore, and Macey were improvements over Leigh, Miles, and Balsam. One of Heche’s better performances actually.

      • Dr. New Jersey

        But Vaughn was not, and that’s the role that really matters.

  • ALFREDO GARCIA is Sam’s masterpiece, in my opinion. Much more personal, poignant and thematically rich than STRAW DOGS. The recent Arrow release is the definite version to own.

    • BMTHOAG is severely compromised by a ridiculous ending.

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  • pmn

    I vote Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for #2. Just keeps climbing my Peckinpah list as time goes on for some reason. There’s a great book by Steve Simkin about the making of Straw Dogs published a few years back. Pretty interesting, particularly in terms of describing the evolution of the rape scene, and the negotiations and arguments involved there.

    • pjm

      Pat Garrett is his masterpiece. The soulful tone, and the constant refrain of memory and of dead companions are just heartbreaking. the Dylan soundtrack is perfect, and Kristofferson and Coburn are beautifully directed. It just all flows beautifully. And Slim PIckens’ death scene is beautifully wrenching.

      • brenkilco

        So many of the characters in Garret reminisce about a past that was just as grim, senseless and violent as the present they barely comprehend but somehow ironically softened by nostalgia. Lots of flaws but a fascinating film.

  • brenkilco

    Best is vague when it comes to Peckinpah. Bunch is his only perfect film. Pat Garrett is probably his most interesting. Garcia his most personal. Getaway his most conventionally entertaining. High Country his most emotional. Straw Dogs is frankly over edited for the most part. And I find the cinematography rather ugly. Don’t really buy or understand the relationship between Hoffman and George which isn’t that well explored. And while the tension with the locals is queasily effective, it’s a bit much. This must be the unfriendliest backwater in the entire UK. But the climax with its territorial imperative overtones works.

    Patriarch Peter Vaughn just died at ninety something and kept acting right to the end.

    • I have to admit I also have a lot of fondness for the eccentric entry that nobody seems to talk about: JUNIOR BONNER.

      • brenkilco

        Ace: If life’s all about winning, what’s for the losers?

        Junior: Somebody’s gotta hold the horses, Ace.

      • Dr. New Jersey

        The Ballad of Cable Hogue doesn’t get a lot of love either, but it’s fun.

      • Buck Swope

        a boner for bonner?

    • lazarus

      Very well-explained. Garcia is my favorite, because of what you said but also for its dark lyricism. Garrett & Billy close behind.

    • Agent Zeke Kelso

      I love “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid” (& “Junior Bonner”). Pat Garrett has a perfect soundtrack from Bob Dylan & it’s a movie that just gets better with each viewing (first time out left me a little cold).

    • Reverent and free

      I always wonder what happens to Vaughn after the boys abandon him wounded in the foot outside. I guess from the look on his face we’re supposed to assume he’s going into shock and dies unattended.

      I used to think that Vaughn was two different actors, because in my mind there was no way he could be playing old man roles for so long and still be around.

  • ghostraider72

    Worth it for the cover improvement alone, IMO. God, that MGM cover is ghastly, especially compared to the original poster art, which Crtierion wisely returned to.

    • z2knees

      Was thinking the same thing. That blu-ray cover is not only uninspired, but downright lazy. However, even CC’s cover is an odd, muddy painting of the photo used on the original poster. And as I have the opportunity, I’ll weigh in with Straw Dogs as the blood ballet master’s “best” film. It’s my favorite anyway.

  • bentrane

    Cannot believe the love for ‘Pat Garrett,’ which I have always found dull and pretentious. ‘The Wild Bunch’ is not only Peckinpah’s greatest film, it’s also one of the great American films, period.

  • Raygo

    If I’ve learned anything today it’s that I need to watch more Peckinpah. I am really in the dark about a lot of these titles.

  • alexandercoleman

    Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is my pick for #2 as well.

    Straw Dogs has always left me cold. A most interesting film, though.

  • Reverent and free

    The rape scene us still one of the most unsettling ever filmed.

  • San Diego Cinerama

    I would have gone with RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY or THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE after THE WILD BUNCH. With IRON CROSS or PAT GARRETT… after that.

  • Reverent and free

    One thing that stands out about the editing in The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs today is quick cutting of slo-mo inserts. Most films and TV today don’t combine slo-mo with quick cuts. It’s a striking way of making a single action seem like a combination of freeze-frame and flashback the very moment you first see it, which is why it is so effectively used by Peckinpah for kill shots of men dead before they hit the ground.