4B - Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
'f 'STRAW DOGS' (1971)
A controversial classic
By TIMOTHY RABB
For the Daily
With the arrival -of tlfe 1970s came
a nationwide re-evaluation of the ideal
"viewing audience" in American cinema.
Filmmakers undertook a collective effort
to appeal to the interests of a variety of
social groups as they attempted to tran-
scend the singular notion of a traditional
white middle-class family that was prev-
alent in the 1950s and '60s.
As aresult,the dawnofthenew decade
saw a new cinematic characterization
of human nature and a penchant for its
darker side. Films -like "A Clockwork
Orange" depicted psychological isolation
in its most grotesque forms using perva-
sive visuals of sex and violence.
One of the most brutal of these films is
British director Sam Peckinpah's "Straw
Dogs," released in 1971. The depersonal-
ization the movie foists upon the viewer
can best be summed up in the verse by
philosopher Lao-Tzu from which the
movie borrows its name: "Heaven and
earth are not humane, and regard the
people as straw dogs."
"Straw Dogs" tells the story of a
young American professor named David
(Dustin Hoffman) who leaves the United
States with his English wife Amy (Susan
George) amid the turmoil of the Viet-
nam War. David, a weak-willed and sul-
len pacifist, hopes to abandon the chaos
of his former life in favor of the pastoral
fields of Britain. Rather than finding
peace, however, David is forced to bear
the harassment of the raucous group of
men he has employed to repair his cot-
tage. When he attempts to befriend the
troublemakers in the spirit of peace-
ful conflict resolution, a few of the men
lead him away from his property under
look at our
the guise of a hunting trip, only to creep
back into his home and violate his wife
in what may be one of the most intensely
disturbing rape scenes of contemporary
The horrific nature of the scene does
not lie solely in its demoralizing effect
on Amy, but also in her reaction to the
forcible sexual advances of her assail-
ant. During the attack, Amy's emotions
seem to vacillate between revulsion and
pleasure. Many of the feminist critics of
the film considered this lack of clarity to
be evidence of misogynistic undertones.
Because of the controversial nature of
the scene, Britain banned the film in
1984 after it passed new decency laws.
The film was also not licensed for DVD
release until 2002.
Though the movie's controversial
approach to sexuality contributes to its
appeal, the most compelling scene of the
movie is the culmination of violence at
the end, when David is forced to rely on
animal instinct to defend his property
from a large group of men that includes
his wife's attackers. It is at this point that
thetrue intention ofthemovie isrevealed
to be a character study of David.
As he prepares to face the men who
intend to kill him, David is subjected
to a spontaneous transfiguration that
renders his demeanor unrecognizable:
He methodically repairs the displaced
right lens in his glasses and plays a vinyl
album that espouses a cacophonous har-
monization of bagpipes. David's abil-
ity to casually adapt to the destructive
onslaught of his oppressors suggests
that the viewer has been deceived, and
that this bumbling pacifist may actually
kill for a living.
Sam Peckinpah's stunning film is
important in the context of the moral
debate it poses with its infamous rape
scene. But the film's real value of the film
is its use of provocative visuals to char-
acterize human beings as inherently ani-
mal in nature.
From Page 1B
ing and rapping), graffiti, turn-tabling and
breakdancing. Some also add a fifth element:
Much attention is paid to the message in
The Cypher's writing exercises, which are
Lockett's favorite part of the Tuesday gather-
ings. Although he likes freestyling, he says it's
not as enjoyable for him as writingbecause he's
"not as quick a thinker as the rest of the guys."
He writes about whatever comes to mind at the
time - being broke, school and family issues -
explaining that the last thing he penned was
a Peter Pan-esque rap about how he doesn't
want to grow up.
LSA freshman Cholton Price, another avid
writer in The Cypher, said, "I've been writing
for as long as I can remember." Usually he jots
down the first thing that comes to his head,
sometimes touching on more personal sub-
ject matter like his father, who passed away in
Butwhatever The Cypher's members choose
to write about, they take pride in writing and
rapping for themselves instead of for execu-
tives and mainstream audiences.
"I'm not talking about rap on the radio,"
Wyszewianski said. "Not some greased-up,
bulletproof man staring at you thug-mugging
on the wall sellingrecords that were made with
money earned from selling crack-cocaine."
Wyszewianski blames the mainstream
media for the studio gangster image. He says
that people are spoon-fed negative stereo-
types perpetuated by record executives and
the media, influencing the general public to
equate hip hop with violent, drug-dealing
For these reasons, the Ann Arbor hip-hop
community is kept underground. But members
of The Cypher don't necessarily see that as a
bad thing. Lockett explains that hip hop has to
be underground in order to stick to its roots,
because "once an artist gets signed, it becomes
more about what sells."
Boachie-Ansah agreed. "If you want to keep
an art form pure, you have to keep it from
becomingsomething that will turn into profit,"
Although hip hop might be underground as
far as the masses are concerned, to the mem-
bers of The Cypher, it's a lifestyle. Riddell says
thathe feels most comfortable with others who
are involved in the hip-hop community, equat-
ing it with a brotherhood.
But The Cypher is not the only organization
on campus supportingthehip-hop community.
Freestyle Fridays, an offshoot of The Cypher, is
a more informal group in which anybody who
is interested can participate in freestyle rap
battles. During warmer months, this happens
on the Diag around 2 p.m. every Friday, and
when it's cold outside the group meets by the
posting wall in Mason Hall. Several members
of The Cypher also attend The U-Club Poetry
Slam every other Thursday.
Hip hop in Ann Arbor is not limited to cam-
pus. In addition to frequent hip-hop shows at
The Blind Pig, The Firefly holds an event called
Elevator Sundays, featuring an open mic with
the world-renowned DJ Graffiti.
While the hip-hop community might appear
to be underground to the general public, it's
very much alive for those involved. Groups like
The Cypher, along with bars and clubs around
Ann Arbor, support a thriving scene of artists
who are destroying negative stereotypes with
their words, beats and harmonies.
Win cash prizes of up to
UM Student Life Survey
Watch for your invitation to arrive by mail
this week. There will be a $10 check with
the letter so be sure to read it!
YARR, THERE BE MORE
(NOT THE PORN KIND)
Check michigandaily.com/video for a multimedia
piece about The Cypher.
A random group of UM undergraduate
students has been selected to participate
in this exciting Web-based survey about
student life, career aspirations and your
experiences with alcohol, tobacco and
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drawing where you will have the chance to
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Start thinking about how you will spend
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For further information contact (7341764-9537
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