Years ago, in an era lost to the mists of time, violence was taken seriously by mass entertainment. Before the mindless and consequence-free fireworks shows given to us by recent films, before the MTV-style editing of Messrs. Bay and Scott, before a rubber shark caused studios to aim their fare each summer at fourteen-year-olds, American movies every now and again would tackle some pretty heady subjects. They would treat violence with the gravity that any thinking person knows it should receive. In the year 1971, for example, movies such as DIRTY HARRY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and THE FRENCH CONNECTION explored society’s willingness to accept violent impulses, in all these cases highlighted by white male protagonists shooting or beating up minorities, foreigners, and the homeless. Naturally, this made it the perfect year for my birth.
Words fail us too.
Also making its arrival on the scene in that glorious, glorious year was Sam Peckinpah’s original STRAW DOGS, which has now been remade by the fools over at Screen Gems. In Peckinpah’s version, Dustin Hoffman plays a math teacher who tires of all the hippies and their anti-war nonsense, so he and his limey wife move to her hometown back in Cotsfuck-upon-Shitswold, or whatever backwater hick town it was supposed to be.
I say, guv’nor, care for a spot’o’tea?
I got the sense in that movie that Hoffman was assuming every single redcoat is a tea-sipping Hugh-Grant-esque charming and sophisticated individual. That by joining them in England, his days would be filled with conversation about the great works of art, and his nights spent by the fire listening to Brahms. This is a misestimation most Americans labor under. I’ve been to England twice now, and I can say firsthand that instead of Simon Le Bon, mostly they resemble Toby Jones. They’re all piss drunk by 8PM and only seventeen of them have chins. Many of them are terribly racist, and the vast majority of their TV is shit. But we Yanks only see their movie stars and the programs that do well, so we go on thinking it’s a nation of savoir faire. Meanwhile it’s pretty much just like America, only without so many bibles or guns.
And even more retarded sports fans.
What I didn’t know was that outside the cities they have redneck hillbillies, just as we. Poor, rural trash, with the only difference being that sometimes American hicks bother to pronounce the letter “R.” In 1971’s STRAW DOGS, this lesson is learned by Hoffman when he hires a bunch of them to work as repairmen on his country home. It turns out that his wife used to date one of these handymen, before she wised up and moved out of the fucking boonies. Hoffman is intrigued by the locals - uneducated manual laborers who fix things and hunt and shit like that. He tries to buddy up to them, which would be White Guilt if they were Mexican or black, but is only Class Guilt since there never were any non-whites in this particular town. If there had been, they’d have long ago been sacrificed to the Old Gods, whom I’ve been told a number of times that rural Englanders worship in the form of giant wicker men.
It’s the bees’ knees.
Hoffman’s Class Guilt is put to the test when his wife gets gang raped by the townsfolk, who then attack his house and try to kill him. Even after he executes them one by one, he’s mildly surprised that he was able to beat them, him being an upper-middle-class intellectual, and them being lower-class carpenters and gardeners. His sense that their poverty made them superior remained even after they tried to set him on fire. He probably came to believe this commie horseshit from all the Hollywood movies working from the premise that the poorer you are, the better you are.
We laugh because it’s funny, and we laugh because it’s true.
As I write this, that movie THE HELP has been in the top five earners for six goddamned weeks. Movie after movie has the boss as the bad guy, and the working man as inherently noble. Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS was not one of these films, portraying the underclass as the unwashed rabble we all really know them to be. I was expecting this new liberal Hollywood version to change this up a bit, and maybe show the blue-collar workers as possessing some form of decency. Nope.
Wrong and myself met in front of some bizarre statue of an elephant in the middle of the street near Union Square Park. Little Town, the bar from where where prior Martini Movie expeditions had been launched, was jam-packed with yahoos wearing football jerseys, rooting for whatever team was playing that day. As there was not enough room, my faithful Asian manservant and I were turned away - much like Mary and Joseph, forced to find more meager accommodations.
No room for drunks, Dr. Jones!
We ended up at Old Town, not because it’s another park-adjacent watering hole with “town” in the name, but because it’s a classic NYC spot, written about by no less a wordsmith than Pete Hamill and featured in movies like STATE OF GRACE. Also, the top-shelf martinis at Old Town are made by an aging Mick bartender and are only ten bucks each, which in Manhattan is about as affordable as you’re going to find.
It also sports bathtub-sized, century-old Hinsdale urinals.
Wrong conducted himself like a gentleman and didn’t try to start a fight with anyone, but this is probably only because the place was near-deserted. Had there been anyone else in there, he no doubt would have tried that kung-fu shit to push them around. While I’ve never seen him perform any eastern martial arts, I assume he knows kung-fu because he’s Chinese, or Japanese, or something like that. I’m sure he’s told me which, and I’m sure he thinks there’s a difference.
A few drinks in us, it was time to head to the movie. It doesn’t bode well for this flick that it was as empty as it was on opening weekend. I think there were seven people in the theatre, including Wrong and myself (and my pal Faherty who came along).
If you’ve seen the original STRAW DOGS, there’s little reason to see this version, aside from Kate Bosworth teasing to remove her shirt at one point (this goes nowhere, so don’t get too excited). It isn’t a shot-by-shot remake, and there are one or two differences, but mostly it’s the exact same movie. Dustin Hoffman’s part is played by James Marsden, who’s spent the last decade being the guy who loses the girl to either Ryan Gosling or Superman, and I think Hugh Jackman once. In this he gets to kill the dudes who want to fuck his wife, which must have been satisfying for the guy.
Much like in the original, Marsden hires the locals to work on his barn, he tries to convince them that he isn’t an effete coastal elite, they take him on a hunting trip and ditch him in the woods while they go back and rape his wife. The village idiot then accidentally kills a girl, and the townsfolk get together to lynch the poor dope. Marsden and Bosworth protect the dullard by holing up in their house, where the workmen lay siege, trying to get in and perform any number of horrors. Marsden and Bosworth crack, and they wipe out the entire bunch.
The differences between this and the original are mostly that instead of a math professor who moves out to rural England, this one is about a Hollywood screenwriter who moves to rural Mississippi. He sits around wearing a Harvard T shirt, writing a script about the Soviet Union. I almost expected a title to appear under these scenes that read, “GET IT?!?”
Jesus, why not just write her next book for her, Hollywood?
Wrong noticed that in the original, the husband kills all the intruders as the wife pleads with him to not murder them all. This time around the film makers let the wife shoot a guy, and she pretty much helps her husband take care of another. Also, the rape scene is handled differently (and probably better, honestly) in that the ’71 version is unclear as to her feelings on the matter. A number of viewers feel that she enjoyed the experience in the older version, while in the remake there’s little to lead to that assumption.
All in all, It’s refreshing to see something like either version of this film, which justifiably hold the position that manual laborers are the enemy, and that they cannot be trusted at all. From my own experiences in life, I know this to be the truth.
Two summers ago, my family’s lake house needed a new deck in the backyard. My brother had tried by himself to install a badminton court back there, and he’d fucked up the landscaping before giving up and heading off to go sailing. It was decided that instead of replanting the grass, we’d just hire some local construction guys to come out and extend the deck so we could add a few more chairs and a grill. It took these fucking people over a week, loudly working while they built the new deck, as I was trying to litter the eastern shores of Lake Michigan with golf balls and emptied Pirate Jimmy bottles.
The house sits on a bluff from which you can drive balls off into the water. I once got one at least a quarter mile, when the wind was at my back. No, really. If your swing falls short, you can easily hit sunbathers and swimmers down below. It’s amusing to watch them scatter. If they want to call the fuzz, I’ll kindly ask them which part of “Private Beach” they didn’t understand. Although, now that I think of it, it’s probably the fact that the sign is written in English that causes the confusion. With all the Muslims in Michigan, the sign should probably be written in Farsi, or Afghani, or whatever it is those people speak.
LOOK OUT BELOW, POORS!
If you ever try to launch golf balls at immigrants while a pack of high school dropouts are hammering and sawing and generally making a racket only a few yards away, you’ll quickly learn that you miss the ball a good four times out of six. And how many summer weekends am I going to get in this life, sipping dark & stormies while attempting to send a Calloway into the deep? Not many, is the sad answer. And those workmen took one from me. Then, when I fired them and told them to get off the property immediately and without being paid, they actually had the effrontery to threaten legal action. Try as I might, I just can’t bring myself to forgive.
In a way, I’ve lived the STRAW DOGS story, myself.
The world needs ditch diggers too.
Anyway, on to the (upper) CLASS scale!
COMEDY: 2. No real jokes, but watching a dude literally being nailed to the wall got a chuckle out of me.
LADIES: 6.Willa Holland, a girl who was born while I was in college but whom I’d still totally bang, is pretty hot as a cheerleader with a fetish for the mentally retarded. Kate Bosworth runs around wearing flimsy stuff, which is certainly worth seeing. Mostly this movie is a bunch of dudes, though.
AWESOMENESS: 7. A fairly high score, but only for the last twenty minutes, which is when all the righteous violence is dished out to the lower classes.
STORY: 2. A very, very straight-forward tale. Dude gets pushed around, dude fights back. Roll credits.
SOMETHING ELSE: 1. One last difference between the two versions of this movie is the inclusion in the remake of one black guy, in the form of the local sheriff. And no, he is not the first person to die. He’s the second. Progress!