Sam Littman recently interviewed Filmmaker Rod Lurie. Rod continued his tradition of coming to Syracuse University to present his most recent work, “Straw Dogs,” to a large audience Friday night at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
A remake of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, Lurie’s film is just as brutal and certainly holds its own when compared to its predecessor. Here, Lurie talks to The Daily Orange about the process of remaking the film and how his version will compare to the original picture.
To be bold: Were you trying to one-up Sam Peckinpah?
Nobody, least of all myself, can one-up this master. That was not my ambition. There’s definitely an ambition to try to make a fantastic film, but it would have been a fool’s errand to say that you’re going to make a better film than Peckinpah. The truth is that Peckinpah is one of the great masters in all of cinema, one of the most imitated directors of all-time, and I frankly don’t have the experience nor do I think the genius of Sam Peckinpah. He was rather extraordinary in what he was able to create and he also had balls the size of Texas to make a movie like this. My vision is a personal one. I’ve had some critical success in my time, but what I would really like to see is a movie that’s regarded as a really well made film but also is a commercial success, and I’m hoping that this movie has the opportunity to be both.
What inspired you to remake “Straw Dogs,” a film that is widely considered to be a landmark in cinema?
Well, “landmark” is the key word here; it’s a more appropriate word than ‘classic.’ First of all, when you have an opportunity to make a film, you take it very seriously. My producing partner, Marc Frydman, came to me and told me that he thought he could pick up the rights to “Straw Dogs” for a remake, and at first I thought he was bananas, that we would simply have a bullseye on our backs regardless of how well the film would be made. And that probably still is the case. But the point is that the film, even if you look at the oeuvre of Sam Peckinpah, is not a classic. In fact, I’ll take it one step further. Let’s say that “The Wild Bunch” is church, and “Straw Dogs” is state. And what I mean by that is that with “The Wild Bunch,” Peckinpah, in all his genius, created a genre, created something that had never been done before. I think that with “Straw Dogs” he was playing in the same playground as “The Wild Bunch.” Also I think that unlike “The Wild Bunch,” which was very specific to its era and its location, “Straw Dogs” was eminently remakable (re-makable, not remarkable) as a story because it could be moved to the United States and could be set in modern times.
Is the transposition in setting from England to the American South vital to the film’s meaning, or did you change it merely to give the film a different feel?
I did certainly change it to give it a different feel. I know and lived in the American South, I don’t really know the country sides of England although I lived in England for a while. Those kinds of towns in England I don’t think really exist in the same way as they did 40 years ago when this film came out, but these towns do exist in the United States. The thing about these towns is that very few people are moving into them. People are moving out. So basically the same families have been in the same homes now for over a century, and the truth is that because people don’t move into the towns, the same mindset remains, be it political, racial or religious.
Alexander Skarsgard is absolutely dazzling in the film. How does he compare to Del Henney, the actor whose role he inherited?
Well this is the one area where I will lay my cards out and tell you that we did exceed the original in the casting of Alex. We found Alexander before he really exploded, and he met with myself and with Clint Culpepper several times, and we were unsure because he wasn’t necessarily a big name and Alexander in person is unbelievably sweet, and very Swedish. But he translated into something absolutely extraordinary and I think that the Charlie in our film is somebody that you can much better understand why Amy was ever into him in the first place. In the original film I don’t necessarily think that you spend an hour, especially the women in the audience, arguing who you would rather see Amy with. In this film that certainly is the case because he comes across as very down-to-earth, very rugged, very much a man, very unpretentious, which is sort of the opposite of how David is perceived in the film. You’re going to see the emergence of Alexander as one of the biggest stars in the world. I doubt I’ll be able to get him on the phone in two years.