Film

Get Carter (1971) and Straw Dogs (1971) and their remakes.

REMAKES. An often dubious proposition with mixed results. Recently, I’d watched the original Get Carter and the US Stallone version,  directed  by Stephen Kay in 2000, to see how these compared and what were the flaws. And I did the same with Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971).

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Michael Caine said an interesting remark on the commentary, a Hollywood producer had suggested that what was unusual about him as a movie star, and Get Carter, was that he dies at the end of the film, and this is something that most actors have a problem with. The original was not a success, received poor reviews for its violence and themes, and had been released in the US with a Frank Sinatra double bill for midnight showings but quickly disappeared.

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However, like John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967, remade as Payback in 1999), it became a cult classic and an icon of seventies ‘New Wave’ cinema, and which would eventually be voted sixteen on a poll of greatest British films of all time. I’m not sure if or whereabouts Peckinpah’s equally violent and disturbing Straw Dogs would appear on this poll since it was a transatlantic studio production, although Edgar Wright mentioned on the commentary for Hot Fuzz (2007) that locals in the village where Straw Dogs was set still have fond memories of the production, despite being banned, or heavily cut, for several decades.

Arguably, the original Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) has a cinema verite, grittiness and sixties stylish modernness that is difficult to recreate, which both the British directors for the Steve McQueen cop thriller Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) and Boorman’s trippy Lee Marvin revenge thriller Point Blank seems to show. Interestingly, Steven Soderbergh would imitate this retro style for Out of Sight, The Limey and Ocean’s Eleven. The remake has one obvious flaw, two if you count the glossy air-brushed music video style editing, that Stallone is not a violent sociopath out for revenge like the Caine character, but a sad lonely, bereaved man out to protect his estranged niece and stop the sleazy bad men from abusing and exploiting other young women for their internet porn.

Porn and sexual abuse also features in the original, which in the swinging sixties, according to Hodges and Caine, was still relatively new thing, along with celebrity criminals and narcotics. In the remake this is all old hat, and Stallone’s character does not abuse or have random sexual affairs or take drugs as Caine does in the original, nor does he torture or kill anyone for his own satisfaction, he only does when provoked. Somehow the irony and darkness is completely missing from the Stallone Carter, which was really the only that made it a classic.


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Similarly, the Straw Dogs remake, although not a bad film, still seems to lack the irony and morally ambiguous characters that were presented in the original. As with John Boorman’s film Deliverance (1972), the villains, the malicious rapist hillbillies are depicted with a feeling of humility and emotion that conveys to the audience that these people, these humans, are angry and resentful towards the bourgeois tourists which arrive in their town. This we can relate to, and although it doesn’t excuse their racism or crimes, it somewhat explains, and therein lays the duality, the moral paradox and political theme which Peckinpah is attempting to present us.
In theory, everyone would like to be pacifist and civilized, in practice, however, this is a lot harder since there divides between social status, power and cultural values. In Straw Dogs, it’s dog eat dog and everyman, or women, for themselves.

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For Rod Lurie’s 2011 remake, which creates are far more suspenseful and aggressive environment in the sweaty, gun-carrying Deep South compared to the quite, rustic English village, there is a lack of ambiguity about who the bad guys are. Whereas the men in the original appear uneducated, thuggish and clownish , the men in the remake come across as far more conscious and malicious in their pursuit of mob justice. At one point, the ringleader and the retired drunk James Woods actually warn David, the writer/intellectual, ‘we do things our own way here’. Similarly, as with Stallone in Get Carter, the consequence of power and its vulgar display, is removed from the remake, whereby David never threatens to kill his wife during the climactic siege if she disobeys him as the Dustin Hoffman character does in the original.

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More strangely, this display brutality and threat which is emphasised in the original rape scene, in which the wife appears to submit and not resist out of fear, somewhat reflecting the voyeurism of the scene itself. In the remake, there is more focus on the women’s terror and humiliation, with less focus on the cruelty and violence from the two men, making the rape less graphic but also less disturbing, even when a flashback is used during the later football game. The humiliation of the man and wife, the sexism, power and psychology, is given less consideration and replaced with more action

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