Like the current French shocker Irr鶥rsible, Sam Peckinpah's 1971 shocker turns on an ugly rape that leads to even uglier consequences. Reaching DVD March 25 on a two-disc set with many extras, the film is just as problematic and disturbing today as it was during the Vietnam-era debate about cinematic violence, when Peckinpah was both lauded and reviled for The Wild Bunch. In a documentary made about Dustin Hoffman while Dogs was shooting in Cornwall, Peckinpah avows, "I'm trying to take another look at violence in this film."
STRAW DOGS Criterion Collection, $39.95
As with Bunch, however, Dogs is ambivalent about the decisive, clarifying, and cathartic effects of bloodshed. Hoffman plays a milquetoast academic married to a British tart (Susan George) who gets raped by her old boyfriend, who, with his hooligan friends, later lays siege to the terrified couple in their remote cottage. It's pure D.W. Griffith as the two fend off the drunken, angry mobonly the household isn't really worth preserving: Their marriage is flawed; the wife enjoys (!) the rape (or at least the first part of it); and Hoffman emerges a completely different man after the carnagea better man, Peckinpah implies.
"This is where I live. I will not allow violence against this house," says Hoffman before he laces up his sneakers and begins beating out brains with a fire poker. He's like one of Halberstam's The Best and the Brightesta man who starts out wanting to preserve civilization, which leads him to uncivilized acts. In truth, both the rape and the gore in Dogs are tame by today's standards, but the movie remains a benchmark for what the film world and the real world have since become.
A benchmark of a different sort are the late-'60s Swedish I Am Curious films (Yellow and Blue, on disc last month), once banned for their depiction of the sexual revolutionagain, tame by today's standards. My Life as a Dog (March 11) is less revolutionary but still charming. On DVD March 25, Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale is a lot of fun; the Spanish Sex and Luc???/I> is moderately steamy; while Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy is more funny-sad than titillating. Maid in Manhattan? Only if you must. Two strong picks: the transgender doc Southern Comfort and an expanded, restored Who Framed Roger Rabbit.