Yesterday I had a chance to talk one on one with Rod Lurie, director of the upcoming First Amendment drama Nothing But the Truth. I had a lot of questions to ask him about his film, which stars Kate Beckinsale as a journalist who outs a Valerie Plame-like CIA agent and then goes to jail rather than give up her source, especially because as a former journalist and film critic Lurie has an intriguing point of view on the place of the Fourth Estate. But there was something I had to get out of the way first, and that was his pending remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. I intended to just touch on it and move on to other stuff, but it ended up dominating the conversation, and Lurie had lots of interesting things to say about the original film, remakes in general and his remake in particular. I’ll have more with Lurie – including his thoughts on film critics, having been one himself – in the coming days.
Are you still doing the Straw Dogs remake?
I told somebody you were interviewing me and I said, ‘I bet we talk Straw Dogs.‘
Sell me on it. Why remake Straw Dogs? What is the upside to that?
You tell me what is the downside?
There are a couple. Potentially, in the modern climate of the studio system, you take what is a really rough picture and it gets softened. You tone it down due to producer’s notes – ‘She can’t like the rape.’ On the other side, as a filmmaker, you’re up against this film, and it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to top it. I wonder why not just make a movie heavily inspired by Straw Dogs.
Well, because to be really honest with you, the title is a strong commercial element to making this film. And you’re right – I’ve probably lost you already, Devin. I know that I’ve already lost you, and I’ve probably already lost the majority of critics before I shoot one frame of the film because there’s a certain ‘How dare you’ mentality that will spread throughout the critical community. But I think that Straw Dogs as a story is eminently remakable. It can be modernized and Americanized without a problem and without giving up any artistic integrity. And it’s not like you’re remaking Citizen Kane, which was both idiosyncratic and iconoclastic when it came out. The appeal of something like that movie, or even a Peckinpah movie like The Wild Bunch, is the innovation within it, and that’s something that cannot be replicated. Straw Dogs, to my mind, was not necessarily breaking any boundaries other than the depiction of women, and a rather seismic departure from the way any woman had been shown on screen, especially in terms of sexuality. The trick here is that doesn’t become the focus of this film. I’m remaking Straw Dogs, I’m not remaking Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. By that, Devin, I mean that I’m not necessarily trying to follow his themes. I’m not going to necessarily instill in audiences the same emotions that it instilled in audiences in 1971 when the film came out.
You talk specifically of the rape scene, and her enjoying it. And you know something? I’ve been dealing with the studio and I’ve not gotten that note. I’ve said, and maybe on your site, that you can be sure she’s not going to smile in my movie. Well, what I meant by that is that it’s not a shot for shot remake. I’m not going to put the smile in the same place. The rape is going to be unique, but in a different way than it was in Peckinpah’s. I don’t want to discuss it too much now because I want the audience to experience it when the film comes out. But I’ll tell you this: I know of the truth of what the character of Amy was going through in that film because I had a long talk with Susan George. Amy’s reaction in that film was created not by Peckinpah, and not by the screenplay, but by Susan George. It was her decision to react that way in the rape scene. She went with me through the backstory of the character, what the character was thinking, and I can’t wait to talk to my actress about it, whoever that may be, and tell her what Susan George said. It’s very interesting. There are a lot of know-it-alls who will try to tell me, but I’m just going to make my own film.
But what do you say to the contention that Hollywood is now just eating itself. In fifteen years what will be left to remake?
Yeah, the joke is that we’re not running out of new ideas, we’re running out of old ones too. I think that’s true, and I think we have to be judicious about what wells we go back to. But I think we can put enough twists and turns into Straw Dogs that people will say, ‘Yeah, that’s interesting.’ You can watch both films and, while comparisons are inevitable, they can both be seen as the different kinds of films that they are.
I’ll say something else that’s a little sacrilegious: I think Straw Dogs is a good movie that – and I bet you’ll agree, Devin – that has a lot of problems.
Well, yeah, but that’s part of the charm of the film, that it has this idiosyncratic weirdness.
Some people would call it charm, some people would call it flaws. There are elements in the film that are really bizarre. Kate Beckinsale told me recently, ‘When you remake it and they have the siege at the end, you’re not going to have that idiot with a clown nose riding around on a bike?’ I said, ‘No I am probably going to take that out.’ I thought that was very tension-deflecting.
Peckinpah was famously hospitalized during the making of Straw Dogs for alcoholism. I think some of that has leaked through into the film. In fact, I spent a lot of time speaking to Dustin Hoffman about the movie, and Susan George, and other people who worked on it, and they feel that whatever hiccups are in the movie come from his being a bit… under the weather during the movie. These charmingidiosyncrasies you refer to are, I think, flaws. But the performances of the actors are spectacular. The theme of the film as Hoffman presented it to me is the lie of the liberal, that every man has in him the capacity for this violence. Peckinpah said that it’s ultimately about the way men treat women. I’m going to take a different approach, which I don’t want to get into now Devin with all due respect, because the minute I do – I guarantee this article you’re writing on this site are going to be followed by talkbackers who say I’m a hack who doesn’t understand this movie, or that I shouldn’t be making this film. The truth is that Straw Dogs is a bit of a Rorschach test that people understand differently.
There are two things about your remake that intrigue me. First, you’re bringing it to America.
Yeah, the American South.
Secondly there’s your history dealing with women in film and women’s issues. You’re going to have a different angle, potentially.
What’s really interesting is that I don’t know if Peckinpah saw himself as a misogynist, but it’s hard not to look at this film and feel that. There are two ways to look at it – the first time we see the character of Amy in Straw Dogs, all we see is her jiggling breasts. It’s a close up on her breasts, jiggling. It’s a very weird shot. Then you look at The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and the first time we see Stella Stevens, it’s in a close up on her breasts. It’s weird and it’s certainly off-putting to women in the audience. The women are treated purely as sex objects. In Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, the women are put through humiliating paces. But they’re also the most human of the characters. The men are louts. The men can’t control their sexual drives, and the women come across as eminently more sympathetic. Maybe when he’s showing us Amy’s breasts in Straw Dogs he’s making the men in the audience complicit in the crimes that will be committed against her by saying ‘This is how you view her.’
But I don’t know that. I wish I could sit down and have a beer and smoke a cigar with Sam Peckinpah and have him tell me what was really on his mind.
Because no one sleeps at Telltale. Ever. — By Justin Clark