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Peckinpah's films are disturbing, but not in good way

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cinewest
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Peckinpah's films are disturbing, but not in good way

#1

Post by cinewest »

I've actually found a lot of cinema that might be described as "disturbing" pretty interesting, and at times downright brilliant. As a young man who grew up on Westerns, I think I was even smitten by The Wild Bunch when I first saw it in my late teens because it seemed to expand as much as shatter the archetypal heroes in Westerns, from John Wayne through the Spaghetti’s, into a time of social unrest in the U.S., where traditional values, laws, and beliefs were mired in questions, corruption, and hypocrisy, and “man” looked for meaning, purpose, and righteousness where he could find it.

Peckinpah, an ex-marine in WW2 (who ironically never fought a battle), made movies in the Civil Rights era, during the Vietnam war years, and his films featured characters that embodied a kind of hyper-masculinity that seemed to be searching for something true to stand by, even as they were ultimately unable to trust anyone (including their best buddies) or anything other than their own two hands and their capacity for violence.

I thought about going through the Peckinpah movies I have seen and tracing the core repetitive themes and qualities that disturb me about his films, but as Stray Dogs is the only film of his fully present in my mind (because I just watched it for the 1971 poll), I have decided to stick to that one.

First and foremost, Dustin Hoffman was a very strange choice for Peckinpah protagonist, and in a way it seemed like “The Graduate” had grown up and was then gradually turned into a Peckinpah antihero by all the untrustworthy evildoers (including his disloyal wife) who try to take advantage of him, and violently invade his home.

It is the righteous defense of his home and a Frankenstein like man-child who has just accidentally snapped the neck of a wanton hussy that sanctifies Peckinpah’s climax in yet another violent ballet, complete with slow motion kill shots.

Along the way, he makes sure to thoroughly mistreat and disparage the only real female character (apart from the idyllic wife of a pastor), who is Hoffman’s wife. She is judged early on in the film for not wearing a bra, being provocative (baring her breasts in her own house before she gets in the shower), and accused of being both “a child” (mentally and psychologically), as well as “an animal” (sexually) by her husband, a characterization I might have been willing to forgive as an prevalent attitude from that time and place if I hadn’t seen a few other Peckinpah movies where women were treated much the same (basically bitches who need to be forcibly put in their place).

But Straw Dogs ends up taking the cake as evidence of Peckinpah’s misogynistic philosophy. Hoffman’s wife not only let’s an ex-boyfriend (who has been at the very least rude to both her and her husband) into her house when her husband is away, but does very little to spurn his sexual advances- allowing him to touch and kiss her (even kissing him back), before slapping him and telling him to leave (unconvincingly), and earning a more physically aggressive response from her ex (how many times can I remember Peckinpah protagonists slapping uppity women around to put them in their place) which eventually leads to a kind of consentual rape she appears to finally enjoy (and deserve).

This even seems to be part of her “education” according to Peckinpah, which culminates when she finally realizes her survival is dependent on doing what her husband tells her to do and stops disagreeing or being disloyal.* At the same time, Peckinpah succeeds in transforming the likable “Graduate” into violent man that we root for because he is only defending his home.

*Peckinpah women are either fun loving whores who spread their legs and ask for nothing more than what they are given by the manly drunkards who come to them, or they are bitches who need to be tamed.

Disturbing stuff not only because the philosophy is so warped, but because the imagery is so viscerally arresting and convincing.
Last edited by cinewest on August 4th, 2022, 6:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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#2

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I don't remember Straw Dogs all that well but what you write seems to mirror what I did think at the time, and it's probably a big part of why it's my lowest-rated Peckinpah. And while I think the film does still have a fairly high rep, I think it's one that is probably starting to fade as more people actually become concerned with his attitudes as expressed there in particular - I've definitely seen the misogyny issue raised WRT that film quite a bit, much more than with any other Peckinpah film. Interesting that it comes out the same year as A Clockwork Orange, which is seen by many (including me) as Kubrick's most morally problematic film.

The last Peckinpah film I saw was Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a couple of years ago, and while that has plenty of the same problems - it's nihilistic and seems at times to outright celebrate it's violence - it's got a better lead female role than usual, and seems a little less misogynistic. I do really love The Wild Bunch - maybe because it seems in some ways more self-critical than many of his other works - and I think his films made before that are closer to classic Hollywood and don't have quite the same obvious meanness or hatreds, certainly not expressed in such an obvious manner as in the later films.
It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion..
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#3

Post by blocho »

It's been a long time since I saw Straw Dogs, but I remember being underwhelmed when I did see it. I remember sensing that it had a very good reputation, but what I saw felt crude and simplistic, lacking most of the visual brilliance and narrative complexity of The Wild Bunch.
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#4

Post by matthewscott8 »

Disturbing in a bad way is maybe a definition of tragic? My take would have him more of a tragic poet than a philosopher. Straw Dogs I haven't seen in 25 years and remember little of. I do find it interesting that he's almost always referred to in the context of misogyny, when he so obviously also loathes men. He's rather pitiless towards the animal kingdom as well, whilst the violence towards humans in The Wild Bunch is simulated, the violence towards animals is real. He casually abuses a lizard in Hogue, literally paints it and attaches bits to it if I recall; and of course pretty much any western film involves the abuse of horses.

A coke fiend and a paranoid schizophrenic, his contribution to art is probably a sonorous yelp of confused anguish.
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#5

Post by matthewscott8 »

I had a look around to see if anyone had written anything particularly about Peckinpah and real violence to animals. His name is pretty recurrent in articles about it. Even judging him by the standards of the time he comes up in a 1974 New York Times article "They Kill Animals And They Call It Art". I had forgotten this due to the 20 years since I last saw this but he had chickens buried and their heads shot off in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Horses are downed with trip wires in the same movie.

Reading up more on the Hogue Lizard, it was killed and desecrated for the movie against the objections of a crew member. Every shot of it in the actual movie is of it already dead.
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#6

Post by cinewest »

matthewscott8 wrote: August 5th, 2022, 4:24 am Disturbing in a bad way is maybe a definition of tragic? My take would have him more of a tragic poet than a philosopher. Straw Dogs I haven't seen in 25 years and remember little of. I do find it interesting that he's almost always referred to in the context of misogyny, when he so obviously also loathes men. He's rather pitiless towards the animal kingdom as well, whilst the violence towards humans in The Wild Bunch is simulated, the violence towards animals is real. He casually abuses a lizard in Hogue, literally paints it and attaches bits to it if I recall; and of course pretty much any western film involves the abuse of horses.

A coke fiend and a paranoid schizophrenic, his contribution to art is probably a sonorous yelp of confused anguish.
Peckinpah's films are tragic in every sense, as you suggest, and they definitely embody various ugly truths that were present in American society at the time, almost the same way Trumpers, and all the crazed, righteous gun freaks do today.. America was fractured in the 1960's, much the same way that it is today. No wonder Peckinpah identified with the post Civil War West, where a lot of ex confederates went after the South had fallen. Too many changes that left things broken in their wake and sent certain men out into the wilderness (at least metaphorically) or to alcohol.
Yes, he Peckinpah was brutal with everyone and everything in his movies, and his "heroes" only seemed happy when they were drunk, groping satisfied whores, or when they were carrying out mass murder / suicide sprees, not unlike the crazed gunmen who seem to flip every month or so in the U.S. and start blowing people away to satisfy their own "tragic" anguish.
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#7

Post by St. Gloede »

Very good read Cinewest and the last line is particularly haunting.

Like everyone who has commented so far, I don't remember Straw Dogs that well. In my recollection, I did not get the feeling that the notorious rape was consensual or deserved - though I do remember that there were signs she enjoyed it, and the debates concerning that has always loomed over the film.

I'm inclined to agree with Matthew that Peckinpah is a mutual opportunity hater and torturer, though as opposed to many misanthropic filmmakers it would possibly be accurate to describe him as a misogynist and misandrist as well, as much of his hatred can seem to be based on the characters' gender rather than just humanity being terrible.

I have probably not seen a Peckinpah in more than 10 years. He was pivotal in my early years for similar reasons to those you mentioned - a dirtier, uglier, often non-heroic, greedy, amoral, immoral or otherwise deeply flawed protagonists striking a great contrast to both most classic Hollywood films, but also the films I had grown up with - as mainstream cinema did get re-sanitized in the post-70s years - and misanthropic cinema did (and still to an extent does) have a pull on me. I recall being less impressed by The Wild Bunch than I was the first time when I rewatched it in the late 00s or early 10s, but still found it great then. Straw Dogs was never a film that meant that much to me - my favourite was Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - which also created or expanded my interest in Warren Oates (such an underrated lead). Don't think any of his films would stand out with me as much today as they did then - though I would be surprised if they didn't hold up to one point or another. Would definitely be an exciting binge-watching opportunity.
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#8

Post by matthewscott8 »

St. Gloede wrote: August 5th, 2022, 7:25 amas opposed to many misanthropic filmmakers it would possibly be accurate to describe him as a misogynist and misandrist as well, as much of his hatred can seem to be based on the characters' gender rather than just humanity being terrible.
I agree with this, I had thought of spelling that out, and may have done so if I wasn't so tired, and it's why I didn't refer to him as a misanthrope.

I should also say that Major Dundee (1965) and The Osterman Weekend (1983) are both fresh in my memory and on my top list. The iconic image of The Osterman Weekend is of a powerful woman, and so it's possible that Peckinpah was responding to critics. Nonetheless it's very clearly the work of someone who has a screw loose, it's a hyper-paranoid movie. Though just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there not out to get you. From the get go of Dundee, it's clear that the antagonistic leads are both failures and lunatics, both looking for once last dose of insanity. I actually prefer the theatrical cut, someone involved in the soundtrack definitely understood the vibe. Peckinpah differed. Whilst I no longer support new movies where horses are ridden, this was not a well understood part of moral discussion in 1965.
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#9

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cinewest wrote: August 4th, 2022, 4:08 pm Hoffman’s wife not only let’s an ex-boyfriend (who has been at the very least rude to both her and her husband) into her house when her husband is away, but does very little to spurn his sexual advances- allowing him to touch and kiss her (even kissing him back), before slapping him and telling him to leave (unconvincingly), and earning a more physically aggressive response from her ex (how many times can I remember Peckinpah protagonists slapping uppity women around to put them in their place) which eventually leads to a kind of consentual rape she appears to finally enjoy (and deserve).
I've been thinking about this film since you posted this yesterday, cinewest. Like others it's been years since I've seen it but it's one of my favorites from Peckinpah, a director that I count among my favorites overall. I'm still not sure I have any sort of cogent response, but what I can say (both from memory of the scene described above and from an unfortunate personal experience- though not actual rape) is that the only person who truly is capable understand some of the meaning behind Amy's actions (or in-actions) is Amy herself (and even that is debatable). I focus on this because it seems to have been the most analyzed scene in the film, partly because of the ambiguity around Amy appearing to "allow" her rapist to do what he does. There is a point during a sexual assault when resistance literally seems futile and the victim may appear to "allow" themselves to succumb. This doesn't mean they condone it, enjoy it or want it to continue. This is a form of dissociative behavior that serves as self-protection for the victim.

Peckinpah, in my opinion, is a master at exposing the more loathsome qualities of humans, whether or not those despicable attributes are even acknowledged by the person/character feeling them or acting them out. Not sure this makes him a misogynist, misanthrope or just someone who is attempting to bring the darkness to the fore so it can be discussed and analyzed (or at least noted, so that it's not a forgotten human trait that can never be improved upon)... maybe I"m way off base, and I'm not good at expressing my thoughts in writing, but I'm still thinking about this film... my thoughts are still forming on this.
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#10

Post by cinewest »

peeptoad wrote: August 5th, 2022, 12:14 pm
cinewest wrote: August 4th, 2022, 4:08 pm Hoffman’s wife not only let’s an ex-boyfriend (who has been at the very least rude to both her and her husband) into her house when her husband is away, but does very little to spurn his sexual advances- allowing him to touch and kiss her (even kissing him back), before slapping him and telling him to leave (unconvincingly), and earning a more physically aggressive response from her ex (how many times can I remember Peckinpah protagonists slapping uppity women around to put them in their place) which eventually leads to a kind of consentual rape she appears to finally enjoy (and deserve).
I've been thinking about this film since you posted this yesterday, cinewest. Like others it's been years since I've seen it but it's one of my favorites from Peckinpah, a director that I count among my favorites overall. I'm still not sure I have any sort of cogent response, but what I can say (both from memory of the scene described above and from an unfortunate personal experience- though not actual rape) is that the only person who truly is capable understand some of the meaning behind Amy's actions (or in-actions) is Amy herself (and even that is debatable). I focus on this because it seems to have been the most analyzed scene in the film, partly because of the ambiguity around Amy appearing to "allow" her rapist to do what he does. There is a point during a sexual assault when resistance literally seems futile and the victim may appear to "allow" themselves to succumb. This doesn't mean they condone it, enjoy it or want it to continue. This is a form of dissociative behavior that serves as self-protection for the victim.

Peckinpah, in my opinion, is a master at exposing the more loathsome qualities of humans, whether or not those despicable attributes are even acknowledged by the person/character feeling them or acting them out. Not sure this makes him a misogynist, misanthrope or just someone who is attempting to bring the darkness to the fore so it can be discussed and analyzed (or at least noted, so that it's not a forgotten human trait that can never be improved upon)... maybe I"m way off base, and I'm not good at expressing my thoughts in writing, but I'm still thinking about this film... my thoughts are still forming on this.
I can see what you are saying, peeptoad, and considered that point of view (both in terms of the rape and Peckinpah), but there is enough there, and in his filmography, that speaks otherwise about the messages in his films, which I believe have a lot to do with how he sees life on our planet, as well as men and women. If I were to contrast him with a filmmaker like Haneke, for example, who also dives into dark, troubling aspects of human nature, one of the differences I make out is that while Haneke seems to be warning us with his critical imagination, Peckinpah seems to be in collusion with some of the very attitudes and behaviors he portrays.
Last edited by cinewest on August 8th, 2022, 5:39 am, edited 3 times in total.
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#11

Post by cinewest »

I will post an excerpt from a 350 page Graduate thesis on his work for those who are interested. It is entitled, Masculinity, Melancholia and Misogyny in the Films of Sam Peckinpah.

VIII- Misogyny in the films of Sam Peckinpah: of men’s distrust of women
“I like directing women. I’m not Sam Peckinpah, you know, down in Mexico screwing the whores”.
Brian De Palma, as quoted by Bill Mesce Jr52

In one of the earliest scenes in The Killer Elite, Robert Duvall’s George tells James Caan’s Mike that he had been “snooping around” the purse which belonged to the young woman Mike had spent the night with. In an outburst of laughter, he tells Mike that he had come across a doctor’s letter stating the woman suffered from “vaginal infection”. George’s revelation is a prank pulled on Mike and they both laugh it off in a blithe mood of male camaraderie. However, George is shown to be a misogynist and the scene is redolent of misogyny, suggesting that women are defiled and dirty and that they might contaminate men with their bodily fluids. Women become object of jeering remarks, the sexualized Other which threatens male territory, the butt of men’s jokes, prompting an adolescent expression of homo-social bonding. Later on when Mike asks George why he had not killed him, the latter replies “I liked you”. This sort of male love is always placed within the safe ground of companionship and any hints at homosexual love are deflected into the affirmation of male camaraderie. And yet, it traverses Peckinpah’s work as an open possibility which, titillating underneath the boisterous banter of his all-male gangs or the erotic repartee between male partners, is constantly disavowed by the asseveration of his protagonists’ heterosexuality.

One of the most unpalatable traits associated with Peckinpah’s persona as a director is the aura of misogyny which surfaces in many of his cinematic narratives and which he helped substantiate by the careless and provocative remarks he often voiced to the press. His work reveals a disquieting tendency to misogyny registered in the conflict and aggression which he places at the heart of heterosexual relations. As Weddle states: “Don’t look to his films for a portrait of a healthy, mutually nurturing marriage. He was much more convincing when dramatizing the failure of love than depicting its triumph” (1996: 11). My aim is to disclose exactly how this misogyny is dramatized. Taking into account opinions which have attempted to disavow it, I will confront them with counter arguments which confirm Peckinpah’s misogynistic inclinations. Not all heterosexual relations portrayed in his films are based on aggression: Kit and Yellowleg, Cable Hogue and Hildy, Ace and Elvira represent the possibility of love and romance, but not surprisingly this possibility is always impaired by deep-seated differences and antagonistic personal goals. That Peckinpah’s most significant work was in the Western could be said to subsume the question of misogyny under the general dictates of the genre and perversely this has functioned as one of the main arguments which have palliated his misogynistic leanings. This has justified many critics’ dismissal of the issue (Seydor: 1997; Prince: 1998; Fulwood: 2002) but I will attempt to show that this unpalatable question comes to the fore in most of his narratives. At the same time, I will try to argue that it does not wholly disqualify his work, nor the fascination which it has exerted.

Bill Mesce Jr argues that Peckinpah’s representation of women in his Western films is embedded in a historical reality in which “the expansion of the United States west of Mississippi was male-originated, male-controlled, and male-dominated” (2001: 81). His words are worth citing at length:
The point here being that history infuses Peckinpah’s period Westerns. Consequently, one gains an insight into Peckinpah’s women when one begins to have a better grasp on our traditional ideas of women in the historic West and their mythic derivative. The historical picture may be unsettling from a feminist point of view, but it is one thing to criticize content as the product of a story-teller’s indulgence or perpetuation of macho myths and fantasies, but another to chafe over an uncomfortable truth. The harsh conditions and generally second-status of women in the historical Old West belies the popular image of the pioneer wife as partner in the Western adventure, toiling by her husband’s side and enthusiastically extending the reach of Eastern civilization. Here, one might think of the fresh-scrubbed Jean Arthur in Shane (1953), or the stoic, stolid women in any number of John Ford Westerns. The historical record is less rosy. The pioneer wife did work in the fields but more out of necessity than shared enthusiasm, and she also tended to the endless, back-breaking labor of maintaining a household under brutally primitive conditions. For all her effort, she was still never a true equal partner in the development of the West (80-81).

Mesce Jr’s account of women’s contribution to the development of the West is however no more than an opinion. It relies on a historical reality which is also not the one represented in classical Western narratives. Despite this, he attempts to ground Peckinpah’s reductive vision of women in this narrow historical projection. Thus, on the one hand we have the reality of women, carrying out “back-breaking labor in the fields under brutally primitive conditions”, on the other hand, the myth-laden cinematic representations of “fresh-scrubbed faces” which seem untouched by hardship. As I have shown in the previous chapter, quoting Pam Cook, the reality of women in the westward adventure tends to be whittled down to stereotyped visions which tend to efface the historical record, both in films and in mental reconstructions of the past.

Mesce Jr devotes an entire book to reappraising the role of women in Peckinpah’s Western films and tries to put forward a credible apologia for what he calls his “cinematic sins” which “despite the felony caliber indictments against him, seem of misdemeanor quality” (xxi). As both Prince and Seydor also argue Peckinpah’s difficult relationship with journalists, and the way he enjoyed provoking them, contributed to stirring up unhelpful controversy. In a related vein, Mesce Jr states about Peckinpah:
Often paranoid and insecure about criticism, he was not a film maker to simply roll on with a negative opinion. He could be disproportionately combative. Worse there were times when he seemed to take a childish delight in antagonizing his critics. In an environment where women were actively pushing an agenda of equality, and showing open dismay at the abuse and second-class status they suffered in the media, Peckinpah had the annoying tic of going into such a combustible situation and spouting off igniting remarks (33).

Moreover, Mesce Jr argues that Peckinpah’s work emerged at the peak of muddled, troubled historical times, in which the Women’s Liberation Movement was gaining momentum, exposing forms of discrimination and abuse. The end of the studio system and the attendant loss of grip on production and exhibition channels meant that roles for women were no longer dictated by studio imposition but followed other trends, oftentimes seeking new forms of exposition, dealing with the dark underside of sexuality and violence. More concretely, Molly Haskell has also argued that these years were the “most disheartening in screen history” (1987: 323), as far as female roles were concerned, stressing that:
Directors who in 1962 were guilty of covert misogyny (Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita) or kindly indifference (Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country) became overt in 1972 with the violent abuse and brutalization of A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs. The growing strength and demands of women in real life, spearheaded by women’s liberation, obviously provoked a backlash in commercial films: a redoubling of Godfather-like machismo to beef up men’s eroded masculinity or alternately an escape into the all-male world of the buddy movies from Easy Rider to Scarecrow (323).

By the same token, Joan Mellen expressed her outrage about The Wild Bunch by saying: “Peckinpah actually expects us to mourn the diminution of the vital force, the ‘masculine’ power of these brutish people” (1978: 272). She also states disparagingly:
The male in the films of Sam Peckinpah, of which The Wild Bunch is a virulent example, is no better than the decaying, corrupt world that is squeezing him out. Equating masculinity with sheer barbarism, Peckinpah justifies his cynicism by mythologizing the obsolescence of manliness in civilized America. For Peckinpah, a man is someone violent because he possesses male genitals (270).

Mellen reflects the radical feminist views of Andrea Dworkin who, some years later, would envision heterosexual relations as a mere projection of force and dominance exerted by men over women, always already objectified and debased in subservient positions. Dworkin writes:
Male sexual power is also expressed through an attitude or quality: virility. Defined first as manhood itself, virility in its secondary meaning is vigour, dynamism (in the patriarchal dictionary inevitably also called force). The vitality inherent in virility as a quality is held to be an exclusive masculine expression of energy, in its basic character sexual, in its origin biological, traceable to the penis itself. It is in fact, an expression of energy, strength, ambition, and assertion. Defined by men and experienced by women as a form of male sexual power, virility is a dimension of energy and self- realization forbidden to women (1981: 23).

What Haskell and Mellen do not give due credit to, while endorsing a feminist point of view coeval to Peckinpah’s work, is that his protagonists are far from assured in their possession of an unassailable phallic power and therefore the Western mold of masculinity on which he draws and from which he departs is itself problematized by his narratives of failure and powerlessness. In a cinema liberated from censorship, Kirshner argues that the “new permissiveness” (85) in representing sexuality in the 60s and 70s perversely resulted in more exploitative ways to feature women’s bodies, often imposed as a commercial strategy. Thus, Haskell or Mellen’s arguments need greater contextualization in this historical conjuncture.

Tellingly, the popularity of the auteur theory throughout the sixties and seventies, by ascribing artistic responsibility to the director and disclosing idiosyncratic traits as marks of his/her directorial intent, implied that one could unveil in a director’s work his/her vision of the world, his/her aesthetic and imaginative imprint. For Peckinpah’s detractors, this meant that his views of women were demeaning, a vision reinforced by the controversy that came to a head with Straw Dogs. The question of the historical embedding of a director’s work, and the way it may be read in a more negative light, brings to mind the polemics around Godard’s Contempt/ Le Mépris which, in its opening sequence, luxuriates in a fetishistic display of different parts of Bardot’s naked body. Defending himself against feminist criticisms which accused him of objectifying women by foregrounding their nakedness, however, Godard was far more articulate than Peckinpah in his remarks to the press. Nowell Smith describes the situation:
The famous scene in Contempt with Brigitte Bardot lying naked on a bed asking Michel Piccoli about the attractiveness of her body parts was imposed by the producers who were desperate to get their money’s worth out of Bardot’s expensively bought presence in the movie. And later, during the making of British Sounds in 1969, when feminist Sheila Rowbotham protested to him about the full- front, crotch-level shot of a naked woman in a supposedly political film, Godard is said to have replied, “Don’t you think I am able to make a cunt boring?” (59).

Godard’s words are equally provocative by reducing femininity to genital organs. Making a “cunt boring” is the rationale for his supposedly political film but underneath the intellectual mantle lurks an instrumentalisation of women insofar as he also cashed in on their beauty as box-office appeal. We only have to think about Jean Seberg in À Bout de Souffle (1960) or Ana Karina in Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Likewise, Isela Vega or Susan George are embodiments of a strong sexual allure which, in Peckinpah’s world, deserves to undergo some form of punishment.

Peckinpah’s familiarity with the generic tropes of the Western and his personal obsession with homosocial bonding become significant when one considers the way women are relegated in his work. Quoted by Jim Kitses, Border Chase - a scriptwriter for many of Anthony Mann’s films - defined the relationship between two men as “the greatest love story” (1998: 229), and yet Kitses argued that in Peckinpah’s world:
That love is always threatened. A dominant theme, loyalty, provides the master code of value, loyalty to oneself, loyalty man to man, loyalty to codes, contracts and commitments. Loyalty to women is not an issue. But loyalty is an impossible deal, the films tracing the contradictions and fallibility of the characters. Indeed, the action of many of the director’s films begins under the sign of betrayal, original sin in Peckinpah (1998: 229). (my italics)

Kitses goes on in another source:
Given his obsessive focus on an unbalanced manhood defined through bloodshed and alienated from a meaningful social role, Peckinpah’s great flaw, inevitably was his inability to explore and dramatize the feminine. There are few proofs of love to balance the codes and tests of masculinity; women and the family are marginalized and often victimized. Peckinpah is sometimes seen as cinema’s tortured Van Gogh, a creative artist who could do no wrong. Thus, even the brutalization and rape that regularly threaten his heroines are advanced as proof of the director’s democratic treatment of women who have to face the same savagery that defines the male. Peckinpah did not look down on women especially, we are told, but “had a low opinion of humankind in general”. However, this stretch of logic hardly addresses the imbalances of the typical Peckinpah narrative’s emphasis and action, with its heroic structure of deep respect and intimacy between men. Complementing these damaged and alienated heroes, it is logically and inevitably woman as whore that is the director’s ideal, at the center of a warm fantasy in his only comic western, The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970). However, in the more violent films the grace notes of warmth and love Peckinpah insinuates are rarely between men and women. As in Anthony Mann’s work, the adversarial relationships of his heroes are marked by intense looks exchanged at key moments, the male gaze that is a sign of love that can only be expressed through combat (2004: 203). (my italics)

Kitses affirms that in Peckinpah’s violent world, women were peripheral and heterosexual relations were subsumed under the more pressing need to foreground male-to-male bonding. Thus, the most emotionally charged moments of his narratives happen against the backdrop of homosocial environments and, recalling Willemen’s reasoning in part two, page 62, this form of love can only be disavowed through violent combat. The mistreatment of women or their assigned narrative marginality does not merely serve “a genuine narrative purpose” (Fullwood: 151), but bespeaks an uneasiness regarding the way they can pose the threat of emasculation in his testosterone-saturated environments. This calls to mind how Major Dundee’s leg wound (with the symbolic implications of loss of potency) is precipitated by his sexual dalliance with Teresa.

Mesce Jr also underlines how rape or the threat of rape in Peckinpah’s films borders on the obsessive, and yet he downplays this evidence by arguing that rapists, or those who attempt to inflict rape on female victims, always get their comeuppance. Recalling Haskell and Pauline Kael’s critical view of this recurrent motif in Peckinpah’s oeuvre, he states:
Critics like Haskell and Pauline Kael found elements in Peckinpah’s violence-ridden film ethos they felt evidenced a repressive, brutal misogyny that both reflected Peckinpah’s own retrograde view and a general male oppressive sensibility toward women. The reaction of Haskell et al. is understandable. Consider that in the fourteen films directed by Sam Peckinpah, five feature a rape or attempted rape, five feature the murder of a woman with at least thirteen women killed onscreen, six of them in The Wild Bunch alone, men are betrayed - or feel betrayed - by their women in four films; and prominent female characters in five Peckinpah films are prostitutes, another is a coke-snorting nymphomaniac, another is so sexually aroused by violence she deserts her husband for the thug who has been tormenting him (6-7).

Mesce Jr offers an appalling tally of examples where women appear either as victims or cast in a negative light which on the surface at least would appear to make a mockery of his attempt to disavow the misogyny issue. As if the controversy ignited by the release of Straw Dogs was not enough Peckinpah, interviewed by William Murray for Playboy magazine in 1972, said the following:
Well, there are two kinds of women. There are women and then there’s pussy. A woman is a partner. If you can go a certain distance by yourself, a good woman will triple it. But Amy is the kind of girl - and we’ve seen them by the millions - they marry, they have some quality, but they’re so goddamn immature, so ignorant as far as living goes, as to what is of value in life, in this case about marriage that they destroy it. Amy is pussy under the veneer of being a woman. Maybe because of what happensto her she will eventually become a woman (...) to start out with, she was asking for the rape (Keyes 2008: 104).

These words are an absolutely indefensible, reductionist vision of women: they are either good or bad according to their level of commitment to men’s endeavors. Moreover, Peckinpah shamelessly debases women’s sexuality and demeans their emotional and intellectual capabilities. The outrageous idea that Amy, the character who is raped in Straw Dogs was “asking for it” and will eventually “become a woman”, by going through sexual abuse, seems a pure expression of Peckinpah’s misogynistic stance which indicates how he frames women’s sexuality within a phallocentric vision. He also depicts women as sexual provocateurs, capable of deception and betrayal. In this same notorious interview, Peckinpah tries to put forward a reason for David’s having married Amy by saying:
Come on, that’s beneath you. Most of us marry pussy one time or another. A smart, unscrupulous cunt can always get her looks to get some poor slob to marry her. And in marriage, so often, especially if the man is lonely, he will clothe her in the vestments of his own needs - and if she’s young, she will do the same to him. They don’t really look at what they want that person to be. All of a sudden the illusion wears off and they really see each other and they say, “Hey, what’s all this about?” Now that David can see himself too, he can begin to build his life. As for her, probably she will never change (Hayes: 105).

Peckinpah’s derogatory comments on Amy’s sexual ploys, her “unscrupulous cunt” as he mentions, and even her inability to change - while David is able to move on and build his life - express a derisive view of women’s physical and psychological natures which seems to articulate a chronic fear of losing control. If his remarks on Straw Dogs were deliberately provocative, he was also aware that his interview would address a Playboy reading audience for whom “pussy” is a marketable commodity. We should not forget that the historical moment in which he lived and worked placed him in a position where his skewed views on women and on heterosexual relations could be articulated. The synecdoche “cunt” to signify women, whether they may be “boring” as in Godard or “unscrupulous” as in Peckinpah, is an objectionable expression pointing to the reductionist cinematic representation of women which, in the late 60s and 70s, as Haskell suggests, is unashamedly exposed.

About this, Prince’s words exemplify how many critics attempt to assuage the impact of Peckinpah’s own excesses, dismissing the intentionality of his statements: “When he was not baiting his critics, Peckinpah could be candid about the design of the film” (127). He was not above changing his tune; interestingly, he even wrote letters to critics Richard Shickel and Pauline Kael explaining that David was really “the heavy” (127) and thus highlighting the flaws and inadequacies of the main protagonist. Peckinpah himself revealed contradictory feelings regarding his own film, making observations which muddle the psychology of the characters and hint at his own internal confusion about the sexual violence the film disturbingly portrays. Linda Ruth Williams, apropos of the notorious rape scene in Straw Dogs, observes in an article for Sight and Sound:
All the time she screams “No, no, no.” as her actions are saying “Yes, yes, yes”- fear is turned into arousal. It’s an image of the complicit rape victim that’s as old as misogyny, here all the more astonishing for the audacity and clarity with which it is represented. She doesn’t know what she wants, so he is going to give her what’s good for her. An act which starts as rape ends as lovemaking, and Amy’s orgasmic expressions and grateful tears are viewed and heard largely from the point of view of the rapist (1995: 26).

About the second sexual attack, she writes:
The second scene is incredibly disturbing, not only because of what it is in itself, but also because of what it implies about the earlier act. If this is “bad rape” then the first rape must have been “good”. In Straw Dogs discourse, rape is not merely negative - it all depends on who is doing it to you (26). Thus, irrespective of Peckinpah’s arguments and his recognition of David’s repressed violence, the unsavory quality of the scene and the way it equivocates on Amy’s response hints at a pornographic fantasy that “women’s sexual pleasure is elicited involuntarily” (Williams 1999: 50). Dworkin then generalizes from this proposition:
The essence of rape, then is the conviction that no woman, however clearly degraded by what she does, is a victim. If the harlot nature of the female is her true nature, then nothing that signifies or reveals that nature is either violating or victimizing (138).

She underlines strongly that rape, in a world dominated by phallocentric power, is embedded in a twisted pornographic projection where women comply with their attackers and willingly submit to virile power. She expands on this distorted vision which she deems deeply pornographic and misogynistic:
The woman is acted on; the man acts and through action expresses sexual power, the power of masculinity. Fucking requires that the male act on one who has less power and this valuation is so deep, so completely implicit in the act, that the one who is fucked is stigmatized during the act even when not anatomically female. In the male system, sex is the penis, the penis is sexual power, its use in fucking is manhood (23). She also adds:
The values are the standard values of pornography: the excitement of humiliation, the joy of pain, the pleasure of abuse, the magnificence of cock, the woman who resists only to discover that she loves it and wants more (215).

Peckinpah himself went so far as to emphasise that any heterosexual relation is based on physical aggression, unwittingly confirming Dworkin’s views. In fact he said in his Playboy interview:
The basic male act, by its very nature, starts out as an act of physical aggression, no matter how much love it eventually expresses, and the woman’s begins as one of passivity, of submission. It’s a physical act. Except to a bull dyke. Not that I’m knocking Lesbianism. I consider myself one of the foremost male Lesbians in the world (Hayes: 106).
This final remark shows just how enmeshed in ignorance and facetiousness Peckinpah is. Trying to justify what happens in Straw Dogs, and Peckinpah’s defense of it, leaves his apologists with a mountain to climb.

Peckinpah later made attempts to recant his Playboy interview. The ideas he projects with his undue remarks seem to collude with what T. Walter Herbert defines as rapists’ delusional fantasies. This delusion becomes even more alarming when taking up residence in the minds of men who are not rapists. He writes:
Rapists sometimes claim that the assault exposes a woman’s hypocrisy, that she assumes a false mantle of innocence and virtue, but that her conduct during the rape reveals that she yearns for it, and that she is actually “very experienced”. The rapists sometimes imagine that his victim discovered desires she had kept secret from herself, and that his attack struck home to her inner truth (35). He continues: Rape fantasies are produced by an imaginative activity that conceals its own traces: men chronically inhabit a delusional subjective reality in which they are teased by sexually provocative women who pretend to lack sexual desire, only to reveal it once assaulted (36).

The contemporaneous Hitchcock film Frenzy (1972) illustrates uneasily how the hatred of women can be grounded in masculine insecurity, inasmuch as sexual violence springs, among other things, from anxiety regarding women’s newly refashioned social roles marked by economic independence and their escape from the domestic sphere. The way the killer rapes and strangles his victims reflects the sadistic desire to impose domination which has been imperiled by women’s liberation from domesticity and passivity. This is dramatized in the film by one of the victim’s successful career and her economic superiority regarding her ex-husband and other men in general. The scene where the rapist’s comments regarding her body shift from “lovely” to “bitch” is a remarkable dramatization of sexual desire transmuted into sexual violence, since this seems to become the only way to vindicate an imperiled domination. Significantly, Herbert also states:
Sexual desire is among the subversive experiences that disconcert masculine self- command and thus menace masculine self-respect. Sexual yearnings place a man at another person’s disposal, subject to that person’s impulses and decisions (42).

The seventies witnessed a surge in rape-revenge movies which, while seeming to pay lip service to women’s concerns and apparently exposing their sexual objectification, in fact indulged in graphically twisted forms of revenge. Hannie Caulder (Burt Kennedy, 1971) is an example of how the Western also attempted to accommodate this trend by foregrounding a female heroine played by Raquel Welch who, teaming up with a bounty hunter (Robert Culp), exacts revenge on the three rapists who sexually assaulted her and killed her husband. The film brings into focus Welch’s sexual allure in many scenes where her body is objectified for the male gaze, undermining any serious intention to tackle the subject from women’s point of view. As Peter Lehman observed, in his compelling analysis of representations of male bodies in the cinema, rape revenge movies are less concerned with the question of rape than with the male masochistic pleasure of witnessing beautiful, sensual women taking revenge on the men who had attacked them; the protracted graphic details and the eroticized scenarios in which the vengeful acts take place heighten the underlying masochistic pleasure of the male gaze. Lehman comments thus:
Men in these films are victims of violent women. This reverses the usual pattern of suspense and horror films in which a dangerous man systematically terrorizes and victimizes women. Moreover, these films which are nearly always made by and for men, revel in the spectacle of a woman killing men in a gruesome and protracted fashion. Sometimes the contexts are even overly erotic, as in I Spit on your Grave, when the avenging woman leads a victim to believe that she is about to make love to him but instead slips a noose around his neck and hangs him, or, in a similar scene, when she cuts off her victim’s penis (1993: 124).

Rape has often been posited as a threat in Westerns, as in Anthony Man’s Winchester 73 where the character played by Shelley Winters is constantly abused and pushed around by burly, boorish men or in The Man of the West where this sexual threat acquires a disquieting dimension when Link Jones eventually finds his female companion in a bedraggled state, having been raped by the character’s own uncle, his erstwhile crime partner. In Three Mules for Sister Sara (Don Siegel, 1970) Eastwood’s Hogan saves Sara (Shirley MacLaine) from being raped by a group of roughnecks. The film plays upon the long-held dichotomy between unsoiled schoolmarms and sexually dubious saloon girls by exploring MacLaine’s mixed identity, her sexual brazenness constantly clashing with her attempts to project a demure stance which gives rise to moments of comedy. Her fierce political commitment justifies her acts although her character holds a morality as questionable and muddied as the one endorsed by the self-sufficient male hero. Interestingly, Eastwood’s macho persona seems to finesse the question of misogyny in his films, as he oftentimes aligns himself with the marginalized and the disenfranchised. And yet, in High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood, 1973) he punishes the town’s “broad” for bumping into him on purpose by dragging her, caveman-like style, to the nearby barn and, despite her seemingly dramatized rejection, she submits willingly to his sexual advances. That this unsavoury scene passed muster as a narrative ploy that vindicates the protagonist’s escalating scheme of revenge, bears out how Eastwood’s masculinity licensed what could be read as a sexual form of aggression.

As explored in the previous chapter, powerful masculine images often entail emotional restraint in many film narratives. Herbert writes about this:
Students of contemporary masculinity have noted the prevalence of a “non- relational” sexuality in which sexual intimacy is divorced from emotional intimacy. The “centerfold syndrome” is an example of this: men caught up in a persistent fantasy life that feeds on images of women with whom they will never exchange a word, while they feel sexually awkward with actual women who love them (...). The “male role” is not merely a list of traits, but takes meaning from its dynamic interplay with other roles. Men and women are not free-standing statuary, but are always inter-defining. The dominant American tradition of manhood visualizes a lone figure against a vast horizon, on horseback in the Wild West version, a myth that denies the interactive dramas that make us who we are and sustain us in the selfhoods by which we know each other and ourselves (42-43).

If the Western, as Tompkins suggests, developed as a reaction to the popularity of women’s fiction in the mid-19th century, “striving to cast out everything that is feminine” (127), it is thus a genre where misogyny may surface in many guises. Needless to say, it tends to foreground an image of manhood which is deeply suspicious of femininity. As Tompkins observes:
In the effort to free itself from the suffocating restrictions of Victorian social mores - temperance, sexual repression, elaborate dress codes, Anglophile gentility, evangelical piety, and the worship of domesticity and highbrow culture for their own sake - the Western paints itself into another kind of corner. Striving to be the opposite of women, the male heroes restrict themselves to a pitiably narrow range of activities. They can’t read or dance or look at pictures. They can’t play. They can’t rest. They can’t look at the flowers. They can’t cook or sew or keep house, or carry a conversation for more than a couple of sentences. They can’t not know something, or ask someone else the way. They can’t dream or fantasize or play the fool. They can’t make mistakes (127). I would contend, however, that Peckinpah’s protagonists do make egregious mistakes; they break from the mold which Tompkins describes expressively.

In an interview with Dan Yergin, Peckinpah described himself as a “good whore”, adding “I go where I’m kicked” (Hayes: 84). Although his words appear to criticise the economic imperatives of the film industry, in which he had to ply his trade by “whoring” himself to the system, they also suggest Peckinpah’s fondness for prostitutes, registered by many accounts and given great emphasis by David Weddle, who also elaborates on his philandering and his abusive treatment of women. Katherine Haber, Peckinpah’s production assistant and his companion for most of the 1970s53, bore the brunt of his psychic instability and even endured his violent spells. Marshall Fine quotes Bobby Visciglia, Peckinpah’s prop assistant, who describes how Katy was the victim of battering: “But Sam could be vicious with women: he’d hit them. This time he punched Katy and knocked her down the stairs” (220). To Max Evans, in a long interview, she describes the masochist sense of loyalty she had for Peckinpah - which made her endure years of his constant boozing, drug abuse and mood swings - Haber remarks: “He was like an infection; he was like a disease. Once you caught the Peckinpah disease, you couldn’t get rid of him (2014: 140). His often aggressive behavior with women, his compulsive womanizing and contrarian manner, which moved easily from the chivalric to the brutal, goes some way towards explaining the mixed feelings he expressed for his female characters and the unreliability they often suggest.

Since prostitutes often appear in Peckinpah’s films and have been construed as evidence of his reductive view of women, Mesce Jr attempts to challenge this argument by stating that prostitution was a common means of survival in the West as women plied this trade around the male-populated mining camps and settlements. In his view Peckinpah once again is only being truthful to the history of pioneer adventure. He states:
With all these circumstances in mind, one can posit the rise of prostitution in the West as inevitable. It matched a largely unskilled population and the poor financialTimes.

Even Mesce Jr is not blind to the fact that the cinematic representation of prostitutes does not mirror the degrading conditions in which they lived. The exception to the euphemistically portrayed saloon girl might be found in Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller where the despair of a prostitute leads her to attack a client with a knife. He observes:
The profession could be harsh. The light-hearted, healthy and unfailingly attractive nymphs that populate bordellos in movies about the old West like the Cheyenne Social Club (1970) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have few real counterparts. “Most [prostitutes]... were ignorant, raucous women who died early. Crude abortions, alcoholism and other diseases took an appalling toll. Suicide rates were common place.” There was drug addiction, with the expected resultant cases of overdose, and assault by customers. Whether by choice, or good or bad fortune, the girls, often young, rarely continued on in the trade into their thirties. Only a few managed some sort of success and some found husbands (84).

From the bawdy, garish Kate in Ride the High Country, to Peggy Lee in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, the many Mexican girls who seem to be always available to satisfy sexually the Kid’s gang members in Old Fort Sumner or even the female devotees who surround Mapache and his minions - having escaped from the squalid life in Angel’s village - prostitutes populate Peckinpah’s films and are often positioned at the receiving end of male violence. One might recall the way Garrett slaps Peggy Lee, trying to elicit from her the Kid’s whereabouts. This moment of gratuitous violence, which seems to be downplayed as erotic foreplay, invokes a fantasy scenario whereby Garrett is offered the service of an entourage of prostitutes who bathe him and satisfy his sexual needs. The ethnic variety heightens the fantasy element and underscores the objectification of women. The scene helps bolster the character’s ageing anxiety - even hinting at his impotency - and his competition with the Kid but, for all its exuberance and debauchery, it surpasses diegetic needs and can be read as Peckinpah’s indulging in a generic variant of the Playboy-philosophy of the time.

Hogue first sets eye on Stella Stevens’s Hildy. Peckinpah endows the character with a playful gaudiness and liberated sexuality. Like John Ford’s Dallas in Stagecoach, Hildy is also the outcast victim of the hypocrisy of the town’s “decent” folks. In her romantic interlude with the “desert rat” Cable Hogue (Jason Robards), she is treated like a lady because as he says she is: “The damn ladiest lady that has ever been”. Although she represents the familiar Western’s saloon girl/prostitute, Stella Stevens’s character, in her sexual openness, can be inscribed in the more liberated social context of the 60s and 70s. This era seems to have discovered and invested in the “whore with the heart of gold”. Shirley MacLaine or Shelley Winters were often cast in this kind of masochist “door-mat” submission.

She is first held by Hogue’s gaze as she walks down the street and the close-up on her cleavage, lingering onscreen even after she is out of his sight, emphasizes his subjective point of view, reinforcing her position as the object of male desire. This is further enhanced in their first meeting in her bedroom: her body is fetishized by the close-up on her décolletage, the attention paid to her skimpy attire is comically sustained by the way she reveals an embroidered heart on her panties showing her stitched name in her crotch. These details render her looked-at-ness conspicuously and confirm to Mulvey’s view that the fetishistic look tends to freeze the narrative. She pleads with him, suggestively protruding her behind as she leans over the bed railing: “Undo me!” Linda Williams argues how female desire and sexual fulfilment is so hard to capture in its visibility and in classical narratives fetishism often operates as a means to mitigate castration anxiety (1999). Hildy’s plea is inflected with humour, whereby her “undoing” draws on the male fetishistic gaze and yet, the playfulness of the whole scene, the touch of humor achieved through Hogue’s enraptured awkwardness, border on candid naiveté which contrasts with Garrett’s sexualized scenario, and his coterie of prostitutes. About the glimpses of her naked rear and her “nipples bobbing above the water” (2004: 228) in the scene where Hildy bathes, Kitses observes:
The bomb-thrower, the anarchist, the provocateur, Peckinpah clearly relished the use of crude and distancing strategies such as this aggressive indulgence of the male gaze to offend a spectatorship his films often seem to envisage as piously liberal and - in a phrase more recently coined - politically correct. Even in milder comic register, shock tactics were always a favourite strategy of Peckinpah’s. In many ways his freest film, Cable Hogue reveals a director clearly interested in extending his stylistic range and playing with the audience on a variety of levels (229).

But the sentimental chivalry in the Ballad of Cable Hogue seems to be at odds with other unsettling moments in Peckinpah’s work. His last film The Osterman Weekend dramatizes the links between voyeurism, female sexuality and violence in a much more disturbing way. The film begins with Fassett (John Hurt) and his wife in bed after love making. As he gets out of bed for a shower, the camera dwells on her naked body and the way she caresses her breasts and starts to masturbate. This moment of privacy is abruptly interrupted when she is murdered by several black-clad hooded figures, entering the room and, holding her down, they inject her lethally. The script, written by Alan Sharp and based on “a mediocre novel by Robert Ludlum”, as argued by Tony Williams (Bliss 2012: 147), offers an insight into the mechanisms of power and manipulation carried out by the media as a tool of political and corporate structures. Above all, Peckinpah critiques television, the medium which launched his career through his Western-TV series phase. As Tony Williams observes apropos of the film’s initial striking scene:
Shot in video imagery resembling a 1970s or 1980s low budget pornographic movie, The Osterman Weekend’s opening scenes evoke voyeuristic tendencies that seem to echo Laura Mulvey’s classical thesis whereby the male is the bearer of the gaze while the female is the object. Male viewers would supposedly enjoy gazing at a sexual encounter before the brutally sadistic attack on the female body. Such a scene may evoke the familiar charge of “gratuitous violence” usually brought against the director. But what appears initially to be a porno movie soon turns into a snuff film evoking Fassett’s later line “Just another episode in this whole snuff opera we’re all in” (150).

In a rather Mulvey-esque way, Peckinpah gets around to berating society’s voyeurism, and the pleasures implied in peeping into private affairs. By shifting the mood of the whole scene he turns a moment of sexual satisfaction into a brutal and unexpected attack. Williams highlights how the video imagery displays a grainy, low-budget aesthetic which colludes with the vicarious pleasures induced by television. Moreover, as in The Getaway and Straw Dogs, The Osterman Weekend is also memorable for its dramatization of marriage under pressure in Peckinpah’s oeuvre. The view it articulates emphasizes imbalance; the various relationships are perceived as fragile and damaged by years of weary tolerance: whilst Tanner (Rutger Hauer)’s wife, Ali (Meg Foster) is endowed with strength and agency as a bow-and-arrow-wielding warrior, fighting for her survival, their relationship is also marked by disagreement and resentment. The invited couples spending the weekend at the Tanner’s villa, who are victims of Fassett’s manipulative gaze, expose the wounds in their fractured relations, as represented by the boredom of marital intimacy - a scene where a gum-chewing wife submits to love making out of habit - or by the erotic taunting of disaffected female characters like coke-snorting Virginia (Helen Shaver). Fulwood observes: “And there’s plenty of gratuitous nudity. This last is perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of The Osterman Weekend, lending credence to those who seek to label Peckinpah a misogynist” (146). Fulwood, for some reason, picks on gratuitous nudity as the “unfortunate aspect”, as if casual and unintentional, forgetting that female nudity had already been more blatantly displayed in Straw Dogs or Alfredo Garcia. Moreover, recalling the scene with the Russian women in Cross of Iron we might wonder whether the gratuitousness of their presence in the narrative is no more than an excuse to bring into focus how men’s response to women is, in Peckinpah’s world, always shrouded in sexual threat.

Michael Sragow argues that Peckinpah was one of the rare Western directors who could “sympathize with women as deeply as with men” (Bliss 1994: 179), suggesting that many scenes where women are victimized only result from Peckinpah’s “democratic” treatment of women and his belief in “gender equality”, the same argument which has been wielded by so many critics who seem blind to the objectionable strand of misogyny in Peckinpah’s narratives. For Sragow, Ida Lupino’s character in Junior Bonner is a determined character whose complicit, weary, reaction to her husband’s delusional dreams point to her mature acceptance of his flaws and her own disenchantment. As he stresses:
He (Peckinpah) gave Ida Lupino one of the fullest roles of her career as the mother of Junior Bonner, and there is interplay between her and her estranged husband, Ace (Robert Preston) that says more about male-female relationships (and with the slightest means) than people thought him capable of imagining (1994: 179).

Despite these sympathetic remarks, Peckinpah’s women are many a time objectified: Elita’s conspicuous nakedness in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia or Fassett’s wife masturbating before being brutally killed in The Osterman Weekend are strong instances of this. At other times they display the same will and gall as men but they are no more than functional embodiments of a nostalgic West (like Katy Jurado in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Recalling Kitses’s description of how Peckinpah failed to dramatize the feminine, Peckinpah’s misogyny is grounded in a recurrent context where male bonding is construed as essential in defining his vision of manhood. Rape or the threat of it, conflicting heterosexual relations, women’s portrayal as wayward beings and the constant brooding over men’s travails confirm his discomfort with femininity, echoing his real life “infectious” relations with the female sex, to use Katherine Haber’s words. For those who appreciate his work, and I include myself in this group, his misogyny is so problematic that it is difficult to face it squarely. Gabrielle Murray, the only female critic to write at length about Peckinpah, prefers to dwell on the “intensity, resonance and aesthetic expressiveness of his films” (5) although she recognizes that his “sometimes aberrant treatment of the representation of women and his excessive use of violence was noted and condemned” (5). Murray does not go further in exploring what she calls “aberrant treatment” of women and concentrates on Peckinpah’s rendition of the “paradoxical nature of the human condition” (7), emphasizing the lyricism and life-affirming rituals that underlie his work.

Peckinpah’s misogyny reflects the instability of his fiery personality, which fed mostly on conflict, the haunting feeling of betrayal caused by his difficult relation with his mother and his progressive lapses into emotional chaos brought on by alcohol and drug abuse. Both David Weddle and Marshall Fine wrote extensively about the pathological relations he established with his different wives and lovers and his constant need to assert “a macho posturing” (Weddle 1996: 37) inculcated in his childhood by the strong influence of his grandfather and father.

The following sections will explore two films in which misogyny is a central strand. The fact that The Getaway will be explored first, although it was released one year after Straw Dogs, can be explained by the controversy around the latter film and the fact that it was the furthest Peckinpah took his dealings with problematic sexual relations. Suffice it to say, both dwell on masculine anxiety and the threat that women pose to men’s phallic power, rendering fragile their authority and agency. As Peter Lehman observes: “The important point is precisely that all penises are inadequate to the phallus, that none of them can measure up to it” (1993: 10). This angst-ridden, recessive recognition seems to lie at the heart of both The Getaway and Straw Dogs, two compelling but flawed films.
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Part Two of section 4 of the Thesis:


ii- Misogyny in Straw Dogs: masculinity under siege
“Every chair is my daddy’s chair”

Based on the short novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, by Gordon M. Williams, Straw Dogs is perhaps only surpassed by Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), in its bitter portrayal of the human proclivity for violence, as Peckinpah’s darkest films. The title itself, Straw Dogs, bears no resemblance to that of the novel on which it was based. It is explained thus by Weddle:
Peckinpah came up with a new title based on an enigmatic passage from The Book of 5000 Characters by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Heaven and Earth are ruthless and treat the myriad of creatures as straw dogs: the sage is ruthless and treats the people as straw dogs. Is not the space between Heaven and Earth like a bellows?” Peckinpah explained in a memo to Baum: “In the Tien Yun in the Chuang Tzu it is said that straw dogs were treated with greatest deference before they were used as an offering, only to be discarded and trampled upon as soon as they served their purpose. The studio head couldn’t make head nor tail of this Chinese mumbo-jumbo, but the new title had an intriguing ring to it and he approved it (1995: 23).

At the time of its release, it drew down upon itself massive controversy. Pauline Kael accused Peckinpah of giving full vent to a fascist representation of manhood, while Joan Mellen reviled the film’s deploying of vigilante violence to restore a besieged masculinity. As Stephen Prince argues, quoting these two critics, Kael concluded that the film was “Neanderthal” whereas Joan Mellen “believed that the film says that only violence against other men can prepare a male to be a lover skillful enough to satisfy a sexually alive woman” (126).

I would contend, however that Straw Dogs traces the disintegration of a marriage and muses over the insurmountable differences between men and women, their differences surfacing in the midst of an escalating journey into violence. In fact, it can be argued that the film is the purest distillation of Peckinpah’s troubled vision of heterosexual relations, where passion is synonymous with conflict. Bearing in mind his troubled home life (see Weddle: 1996; Fine: 1991), Straw Dogs can be said to project his own personal misgivings regarding heterosexual commitments and the possibility of enduring love. Moreover, through the representation of opposing male images, Straw Dogs offers a disquieting reflection on the legitimacy of violence in a hostile environment, reasserting in the darkest possible manner the necessity of both social and sexual self-affirmation.

Seeking a quiet place to devote time to his academic studies, David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), an American mathematician and his English wife Amy (Susan George) return to the Cornish village where she was brought up and where they aim to live in the secluded country house she has inherited from her father. The opening images of the film point to the couple’s glamour as contrasted with the village’s constricting, staid milieu. The local children who play in a graveyard look leeringly and curiously as Amy and David stroll along the road followed by Janice Hedden (Sally Thomsett), the sexually precocious teenager who is attracted to the couple’s youth and David’s cultural difference. The first shot we get of Amy is of her braless breasts protruding within her woolen jumper. By positing right from the outset Amy’s tangible sexual attractiveness, turning her into an object of scopic pleasure, Peckinpah foregrounds her unsettling effect on the scenario of her native village. As Michael Sragow states “she’s putting herself on parade, not merely as a sexual object but also as a small town girl made good” (Bliss 2012: 73). Significantly, she has just bought a man trap, an antique for her collection. Simultaneously, David’s human figure seems diminished when pitted against the thuggish village types epitomized by Amy’s former boyfriend Charles Venner (Del Henney).

The bespectacled Dustin Hoffman is an American intellectual who seems displaced in a village where brawn supersedes rationality. Interestingly, David cannot fall back on any male bunch which featured in other Peckinpah films, offering solace and reassurance to his characters. He has thus to rely on his wife and that will prove problematic. David’s “aloness” becomes relevant here evincing his exclusion. His displacement is nowhere more suggestive than at the moment he enters the pub to buy any “kind of American cigarettes”, his request already positioning him as an outsider: the camera lingers on his short stature, capturing in a low angle shot his discomfited figure. Neil Fulwood argues that Peckinpah transposed Western imagery to the Cornish village where the pub represents the saloon, echoing the genre’s scenarios of brawling, fast drawing and one-upmanship. Fulwood argues: “Straw dogs is the first of the contemporary Westerns, David Sumner is the first loner to appear in Peckinpah’s world” (77). Here Fulwood seems to forget other loners in Peckinpah’s oeuvre, like Cable Hogue or even Junior Bonner, who insist on getting down “their own road”. The scene might recall Shane’s memorable entrance of the saloon, asking for a soda and being subject to ridicule. However, whereas Shane is never stripped of his self-assurance, David’s awkwardness signals his sense of inadequacy. Moreover, his bookish demeanor is visually reflected in his glasses, woolen jumpers and loafers, constantly played off against the villagers’ menacing physicality. If the return to Amy’s village seems to represent the hope of an auspicious beginning and a safe haven for the couple’s marriage, it soon appears that their relationship is already seriously damaged. David staves off Amy’s attempts at emotional contact and regards her efforts as interruptions hampering his work. She exacts revenge for his constant rebukes by indulging in petty retribution, such as when she changes one of his plus signs in his equation to a minus or when she glues gum on his blackboard, topping it off with an angrily-drawn chalk line over his calculations. David’s condescending view of Amy’s intellect is clearly perceived when, as she attempts to explain the logic of binary numbers, he remarks in an encouraging tone but betraying his sense of superiority “See, you’re not so dumb after all”. Linda Ruth Williams writes in Sight and Sound:
She is the coquettish child who married her teacher, and though it is not explicitly stated, David, the college professor is positioned in loco parentis to Amy the nubile student: not so very unusual in itself perhaps, but here pushed to the point of aberration (as is so much in this film) (1995: 27).

David Weddle confirms this view in the same journal:
The young professor, David Sumner, tries to contain the relationship emotionally. To keep it within a safe compartment that will fit neatly into his labelled and filed life. Yet, subconsciously he senses the shallowness of his marriage and resents it, even though he is the one who set it up. Again and again he sticks blades of sarcasm into Amy, subtly ridiculing her for her lack of intellect (1995: 22). Weddle’s description of David as someone who strives to keep everything safely compartmentalized in “his labelled and filed life”, is borne out in the scene where, before getting into bed, and prior to love making, he skips rope, takes off his watch and sets the alarm clock even after Amy is already aroused and trying to embrace him. The need to organize everything and to follow ritualized procedures hints at the boredom underlying their intimacy and his inadequacy as a lover. In Terence Butler’s words: “Their sex life appears to be one long arousal without orgasm” (71).

The reason why David and Amy are a couple seems bewildering,57 their differences being deep and manifest. Peckinpah makes us aware of this chasm by foregrounding the way Amy and David indulge in regressive childish behavior. The way she sits with her feet up on the chair, chewing gum and taunting him like a young girl seems to set off a sexual ritual which places him in a parental role. Moreover, when he asks her if she is sitting on her daddy’s chair, she replies defiantly “every chair is my daddy’s chair”. This suggests Amy’s emotional bond with an absent domineering patriarch, for whom Sumner’s weaker, impaired masculinity is no match, as evidenced by his inability to hammer a nail or fix a toaster. Moreover, the idea that David sought refuge in Amy’s native village to devote time to his studies is exposed as a ruse, as his true motives lie in his attempt to escape the social unrest buffeting American society at the time, according to Amy. His inability to “take a stand, to commit” are construed as an indictment of his own weakness. When asked by the locals he has hired to fix the garage roof if he has seen “anybody being killed”, Sumner replies “only between commercials”. This relocates the long-standing Western trope whereby the softness of the Easterner is set against the physical strength, the capacity to act and the display of self-control of the Westerner. Intellectuality is rarely cast in a positive light in American cinema; this trait often precludes the ability to take a physical stand. The constant disparagement and derision of David’s otherness by the boisterous all-male group of builders is inflected by a horror-genre-derived threat, throwing into question David’s control over his physical and emotional space, imperiled by the yokels.58 The latters’ protracted neglect of the task they should be carrying out renders David’s authority increasingly fragile. The dangers of these invasions into the couple’s private space culminate in the killing of Amy’s cat, which intensifies her revulsion at David’s gutlessness and unleashes his subsequent self-loathing and his engagement in alienating violence. Peckinpah portrays, through David’s self-driven isolation (“I love you Amy but I want you to leave me alone”, he says at one point in the narrative) - a fractured self whose only pathway to wholeness is through violent self-affirmation.

The notorious rape scene is destabilizing not only for its violence but also for the questions it has raised regarding Amy as a victim. Amy’s subjective perception of her attackers is intercut with images of David through an unsettling montage that posits both husband and rapists as possessing the same proclivity for aggressive behavior. While agreeing to go on a hunting trip with the labourers, led by Venner and Scutt (Ken Hutchison), David is duped and left on the moor by the men with whom he has desperately striven to ingratiate himself. Venner returns to Amy’s place and when she lets him in, he begins his physical assault. The ambiguity of the scene is what has made it so controversial, garnering from critics and viewers a stream of outrage. Thus, while cringing at Venner’s touch at the beginning of his attack, Amy seems to forsake her resistance, giving in to a mixture of pain and sexual pleasure, thus pandering to the male fantasy in which women really “want it rough”. This recalls a previous scene where David, after hearing Amy’s complaints that Venner and Scutt were practically “licking her body”, remarks that her “walking around without a bra” is inviting that kind of salacious stare, giving credence to the idea that women are often really “asking for it”. Stephen Prince in his reading of the scene underlines how Amy’s acquiescence can be put down to her former relationship with Venner: the fact that he was her boyfriend in the past seems to provide some sort of justification for her surrender to the sexual act and even for her climax into orgasm, as Peckinpah unabashedly suggests by focusing on Amy’s facial expression. Her muffled, compliant admonition “easy” seems to downplay the crudity of rape and subversively undermines the attribution to Amy of the victim role. In fact, as Anthony Barker points out “The encouragement was indeed so controversial that the British censor insisted on adding more violence to the rape to confirm it was indeed a rape” (2013: 24). Moreover, David Weddle stresses how Susan George was distraught by the fierce intensity and ambivalence of the scene (“I dreaded that rape scene” said George, as quoted by Weddle 1996: 421), even considering walking off the picture.

The moment Norman Scutt, the second rapist, enters the scene and Venner viciously holds Amy down so that his associate might sodomize her steps up a gear in violence, absent from the first sequence with Venner. Peckinpah intercuts the scene with shots of David, alone in the woods, wielding a loaded gun that seems heavier than himself, a mocking phallic reminder of his cuckolded condition and his inability to defend his own home and wife. Prince argues that Amy’s traumatic memories of rape are clearly played out in the church social gathering, to which she and David are later invited. As he mentions: “The rape has altered Amy’s relationship with her village and its denizens, whose presence for her is now unwelcome, oppressive and fraught with tension” (85). In fact, Peckinpah, through careful montage, focuses on Amy’s painful facial expression, as she bears the presence of her attackers. This is clearly perceived from the way Peckinpah explores Amy’s subjective point of view, intercutting in disjointed, jolting frames memories of her sexual abuse, painfully set off by the grotesquerie of the children’s grating, and suggestive whistles, the gang’s sniggering remarks and the laughing audience.

Janice’s death at the hands of the village idiot, Henry Niles (David Wraner),60 who inadvertently breaks her neck, sets off the final confrontation between David and the all- male gang, led by Tom Hedden (Janice’s father) and the labourers including the two rapists Venner and Scutt. The violence of Janice’s killing is downplayed by Niles’s mental derangement, making the act perversely “innocent” in that it results from the simpleton’s inability to control his instincts. Mullaney’s study on women’s batterers emphasizes how aggressors tend to deny responsibility “since the batterer believes the source of the real problem to be external to him entirely” (2007: 224). Based on studies that involved interviewing aggressors, she also concludes that “quasi-repudiations reframe violence as somehow not violence through various means, including, but not limited to, not knowing about violence due to instances of ‘blacking out’, minimizing the violence (e.g calling a ten- minute rampage a ‘little accident’), or narrowing the scope of what should count as violence in the first place” (225).

After accidently hitting the runaway Niles with his car, due to the fog, David decides to take him home and refuses to hand him over to the enraged villagers. His strength here contrasts with the weakened, emasculated image he had heretofore embodied, his anger resulting in a display of survivalist instinct. Apropos of this final showdown, Barker argues that Straw Dogs is inscribed in an emergent line of 70s films which applaud the resurgence of male survivalist energies, albeit bringing to the fore the psychic havoc such violence wreaks and the heavy toll it takes on the masculine ethos of indomitability. Thus, one may recall Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972) where a group of city dwellers are threatened by a group of hillbilly degenerates. Like the characters in Deliverance, David has to tap into his hitherto unknown capabilities to defend himself and his property against the thugs. When asked by the latter why he tries to protect Niles, he replies “because he is my responsibility”. However, Peckinpah clearly shows the character’s confusion by offering a close-up of his baffled face as he desperately seeks a rationale for his action. Similarly, when Amy insists on his handing over Niles to the attackers, he accuses her of callous indifference, while he is the one who really cares about defending “his house”, forgetting the fact that it is her and her father’s house. David’s choice of Niles as a protégé seems quite arbitrary and stems mainly from his need to vindicate his authority and compensate for the feeling of humiliation he has suffered.

What follows is a maelstrom of violence where Sumner’s gumption and calculation gain the upper hand in opposition to the locals’ makeshift brutality. This long sequence marries a horror-genre sense of imperilment with an almost carnivalesque disruption of normality. The men’s sexual menace (so disturbingly realized in Caxton’s mocking snigger and his outrageous rats) signal the film’s inscription in the ultraviolent Peckinpahesque mode. Throughout the battle, the rift between David and his wife becomes sharper, she considers shifting sides. He grabs her by the hair, justifying to some extent previous subjective shots where he was aligned with Amy’s aggressors. The climax is reached when he manages to kill Venner with the man trap, delivering an agonizing death which restores his wounded pride. The draining battle can be construed as no more than a pretext to prove his wife wrong. Sragow observes:
During the siege, the action within the house is every bit as fraught with uncertainty as the action outside the house. Peckinpah takes nerve-wracking care in calibrating the relative drunkenness, giddiness, and shock of the gang who can’t think on their feet, as well as the quickening responsiveness of David, who is fighting not for his manhood but for survival. Amy is the wild card in the conflict not because she’s a woman but because David and Venner have tested and broken her affections. When David slaps her and grabs her by the hair to keep her from joining Venner, his actions swing jarringly close to those of the rapists (Bliss 2012: 78). (my italics)

What Sragow rejects is that David’s deployment of violence is rooted in his need to restore his beleaguered masculinity. His insistence on protecting Niles contradicts Amy’s plea to hand him over to the angry mob and, through that intransigence, he reinforces his authority over her. His baffled recognition that he has“got them all”, evidenced by his final bemused look at the mayhem he had unleashed, hints at his own newly found discovery of the cleansing power of violence.

If the film seems to legitimize violence, in the trope of the worm turning, the former victim Sumner taking revenge on the thugs who had humiliated him in such an unremitting way, it also considers the dangers of a frontier-style vigilante justice. Sumner’s “rebirth” at the end is sullied by a sense of psychic alienation, a Travis Bickle-like unanchored loneliness, eventually cut adrift from any sense of ontological safety. When he leaves his wife behind, getting into the car with Niles who pathetically remarks “I don’t know my way home” David replies “That’s okay, I don’t either”. Amy’s image, sitting on the steps of the stairs, worn out, distressed, and utterly crushed, lingers on disturbingly. After all she was throughout the narrative trampled over, humiliated, sexually abused and ignored. David’s last words to her “Are you all right?” and her trembling acquiescent nod convey her shock and the depth of her desolated loneliness. Andrea Dworkin’s words acquire a special significance here:

In all their communication, shouted and whispered, no matter what men have done to them, they name women the threat, and the truth is that any loyalty to women does threaten a man’s place in the community of men. Anything, including memory or conscience that pulls a man toward women as humans not as objects and not as monsters, does endanger him. But the danger is always from other men. And no matter how afraid he is of those other men, he has taken a vow - one for all and all for one - and he will not tell. Women are scapegoated here too, called powerful by men who know too well how powerless women are - know it so well that they will tell any lie and omit any crimes so as not to be touched by the stigma of that powerlessness (66). (my italics)

The idea of any overriding victory is belied by David’s alignment with a man who is in fact a woman-killer, albeit mentally unfit. There is no sense of glory in this drive to nowhere but a melancholia which suggests David’s painful “rebirth” into a new man, one who has become aware that the hegemonic model of masculinity is perversely aligned with a capacity for violent action. After all, if he looks through the rearview mirror, he might see a version of Martin Scorsese, in his cameo appearance, as the misogynistic devil passenger in Taxi Driver (1976) who asks Travis (Robert De Niro) if he ever saw what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s pussy. “You don’t have to answer”, he says, but Travis, like his disturbed forbear David Sumner, silently muses over it.
Last edited by cinewest on August 6th, 2022, 2:45 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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#13

Post by cinewest »

double post
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#14

Post by matthewscott8 »

That was a very interesting text. It certainly seems that Straw Dogs is a highly objectionable film. I wouldn't want to watch it based on the description. Interesting that High Plains Drifter is brought up too, that has an intensely repugnant "rape = ravishment" scene in it, which for me invalidates the whole movie.

Pauline Kael is mentioned a lot in the text, she had strong objections to Straw Dogs. I think it slightly gauche however that the author didn't want to point out that Kael was pretty much Peckinpah's biggest fan. Writing a feminist take and leaving out this very important part of Kael's overall opinion seems pretty ironic.

I did find myself wondering if the author had objected mainly to Straw Dogs and then gone hunting for misogyny in all of Peckinpah's films, sometimes successfully, sometimes straw-clutchingly.

I particularly disagreed with the assessment of the sex scene between Fassett and his wife from The Osterman Weekend, and suggest that the author and the critic he quotes did not in fact see the director's cut given the descriptions. It certainly did not come across as a porno movie, not unless you've only watched it without all the FX work. Actually the only time you see the unadulterated sex scene (in the Director's Cut), is when you see Danforth watching it as surveillance footage, it then becomes not voyeurism but a comment on voyeurism. The scene when presented fully at the start of the Director's Cut is one of electrifying wrongness, it is of a maximum violation, the state intruding on connubial bliss. The celluloid comes across as riddled with virus, it is not intended to come across as anything other than a display of maximum wrongness, as such it seems absurd to view it as misogynistic. In terms of the couples that make up the friendship group of the Osterman weekend, they certainly are all strongly objectionable characters, the men and the women dealt with even-handedly and are strong characters. The author refers to one view that women are subordinated in most of Peckinpah's films because of the historical period they are shot in. The Osterman Weekend is probably a good piece of support for that argument, the women are much more significant in a contemporarily-shot movie of his. However, like the author I tend to think that's a weak argument overall.

The scene from Cross of Iron with the bathing Russian soldiers is brought up. Looking back and thinking about it, that probably is one of the main reasons I walked away feeling discontented.

I did find myself wondering if Peckinpah's blithe views on male aggression are why I like the theatrical cut of Major Dundee, and he hated it. The musical differences between the two are stark. The theatrical version of the movie is much more obviously a horror movie, the eerie sound effects in it make this clear; the director's cut has much more traditional celebratory music and does not use these effects. Reading the text you presented has really helped me to frame why I like the cut that the director himself so hated.
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Post by matthewscott8 »

I think it's important to restate just how objectionable Peckinpah's treatment of animals in his movies was. The text cinewest posted makes a comment about snuff in relation to the Osterman Weekend, but Garrett literally contains actual snuff material, as does the Wild Bunch. We live currently in an era where animal rights are denied for the convenience of a complacent majority. I really hope I live to see the day where assessments of the director major on this.
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@matthewscott8,

Good point about Pauline Kael, who I also remember as a Peckinpah champion. I read her film reviews a lot in my college years, and though I didn't always agree with her, I loved how she challenged the status quo in movies, and spoke her own opinion. Interestingly enough, one of the author's quoted was a former film professor of mine, Jim Kitses, who wrote several books on the Western.

I might also say, that the attitudes and behaviors being propagated by Peckinpah at the time (inclusive his treatment of animals) were not his, alone, as the thesis points out. And though I chose to focus on a section of the thesis that speaks to what bothered me so much about Straw Dogs, I should say that the writer is not anti-Peckinpah, per se, but seeks to provide a very thorough assessment of his work.
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I just want to mention as an aside that one of Kael's criticisms of Hud was that Paul Newman didn't end up raping Patricia Neal. She thought it would have been better for everyone if he had.

I haven't taken her seriously since I read that.
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blocho wrote: August 6th, 2022, 2:37 pm I just want to mention as an aside that one of Kael's criticisms of Hud was that Paul Newman didn't end up raping Patricia Neal. She thought it would have been better for everyone if he had.

I haven't taken her seriously since I read that.
I guess she must've been a fan of The Fountainhead or something - Rape! It's What All Women Secretly Want! Hadn't heard that before, it would have made me dismiss her also had I not dismissed her a long time ago for 1) her oft-repeated statement that her first opinions were never to be changed, and 2) her attitude about Orson Welles WRT to Citizen Kane.
It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion..
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Post by blocho »

Maybe Kael's criticism of Peckinpah for misogyny (regardless of how accurate it is) provides an example of the tendency that sometimes the things people find most objectionable in others are the things they hate about themselves.

Here's the quote from Kael's review of Hud:
If Lon hadn't rushed to protect his idealized view of her, chances are that the next morning Hud would have felt guilty and repentant, and Alma would have been grateful to him for having used the violence necessary to break down her resistance, thus proving that she was different. They might have been celebrating ritual rapes annually on their anniversaries.
It's unusual to find writing outside the nastier corners of the internet that is so explicitly pro-rape. But that review was published in Film Quarterly. Kael also thought Hud was a comedy, which is just odd. Anyway, sorry for this aside. I don't mean to distract from the discussion of Peckinpah.
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Paulene Kael began working as a film critic in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she cultivated an opinionated style that often championed or trashed films that went against the status quo. She became quite famous, too, as well as the biggest influence on film criticism in the U.S. during the latter half of the 20th century during her time at the New Yorker.

I recommend seeing the documentary made about her fairly recently, which among other things provides plenty more reasons to like and/or dislike her, but also says a lot about the state of film criticism and film in the U.S. during her time.
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