Straw Dogs’ Art Legacy

Pekinpah As Pop, Peckinpah As Classic

Think of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 Straw Dogs as a pop myth, not some vulgar expiation of unruly, anti-feminist temper—or Hollywood exploitation of same. Its story, by now a notorious legend, digs into a primal event: a modern, civilized man forced to use brute cunning to protect his home and property. Peckinpah’s dismantling of social custom comes from an era unlike today when popular filmmakers, through personal intelligence and experience, believed art had a serious purpose. The new remake of Straw Dogs trashes that precept and the disaster should resound throughout the art world. Anyone who cares about art in any form should rise up against this foul remake.

Let’s give Peckinpah’s most controversial work its due by relating its most startling scene—a sexual assault on the hero’s flirtatious wife that is more than she or casual moviegoers bargained for—with an equally provocative work of classical art, Titian’s 1559 painting “The Rape of Europa.” This isn’t a wild stretch but a reminder of the depth and vision serious filmmaking ought to share with other artifacts of our cultural heritage.

Consider how art scholar Susan Benford’s description of Titian fits Straw Dogs’ hotly contentious scene: “This grand painting portrays the abduction of Europa by a determined Jupiter, disguised as a bull. Europa is a reclining nude both submissive and resistant, appearing both abandoned with desire and frightened, beneath a calm blue sky with threatening storms. The Putti, or Cupids, in the sky and atop the dolphin, are mesmerized watching the tension between the lovers, while the nymphs vague on the distant shore, watch and wave helplessly. Both her generous, billowing flesh and Jupiter’s tail seem to quiver with excitement at the pending sexual act…Each time I visit it, I feel that Titian‘s bull’s eye—inescapably leering, impossible to avoid—is the most intensely painted of any eye in Western art, human or animal. It’s riveting, dares you not to stare back and is not to be missed.”

Read the full review on City Arts Forums: