Straw Dogs

CD Review: Straw Dogs

Few films are as disturbing as Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS. The 1971 films stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as David and Amy Sumner, newlyweds who come to the hills of rural England so that David can write his book on mathematics.  The nearby town, and their marriage, is full of repressed rage and sexual tension, which percolate from the opening frame until it boils over. As Nick Redman says in the liner notes, the story is “one man’s apocalypse, a descent from the rational to the irrational, from reason to instinct, a regression to the primordial.”

The film is well-directed and well-acted by Hoffman, but it is damn unpleasant. Jerry Fielding contributes a rich, atmospheric score that adds greatly to the palpable feeling of menace throughout the film.

If you’ve seen STRAW DOGS, then you’ve more than likely missed a majority of the score, since much of it is mixed at a level as to be nearly inaudible. Even when watching the isolated score and effects track on the now-out-of-print Criterion DVD, it is almost impossible to hear the music throughout much of the film. That alone is reason to celebrate Intrada’s release of the complete score.

The score begins in the “Prologue” with a haunting brass choir. The open chords are hollow and lonely, much like the moors and the isolated town at the center of the film. The brass take on an even more menacing tone as they end the cue with antiphonal triplets, which fade into church bells on the same pitches in the film. The brass choir also accompanies “The Hunting Party” and closes the film with the “Epilogue.”

Straw Dogs soundtrack
“The Hunting Party”
“Peeping Toms”

A good portion of the score interpolates Stravinsky’s chamber dance piece, L’Histoire du Soldat. Mixed meters and jaunty rhythms offset the bleak atmosphere, seemingly at odds with the story, and yet fitting in perfectly with David’s “Devil’s pact.”

The film and the score center around the climactic rape scene, underscored by lengthy 8-minute “The Infamous Appassionata.” Shimmering strings and muted brass interweave with sobbing electronics as Amy is raped.

Given his outsider status and the violent nature of the film, Fielding’s Oscar nomination was surprising, though richly deserved. While the subject matter of STRAW DOGS may turn off some viewers (and I’m one of them), Fielding’s score is at turns horrific and beautiful. The folks at Intrada are to be thanked for bringing to light one of the great film scores of the 1970’s and one of Fielding’s masterpieces. The score is not for everyone, but if you’re willing to give it a shot, you’ll be richly rewarded.

  1. Nice review, Jim.

    I enjoy Jerry FIelding’s musical voice, but there are some passages in here that are so bleak it feels like all hope is being sucked out of the world. Good job, Jerry!

    I think there’s a chance STRAW DOGS will be available for a while longer than most Fielding limited editions. All of his 1,500-copy releases from Intrada (THE MECHANIC, CHATO’S LAND, THE KILLER ELITE, SCORPIO, THE BIG SLEEP, LAWMAN, THE NIGHTCOMERS) were quick sell-outs, but the 2,000-copy editions (this, GRAY LADY DOWN) seem to be holding. FSM’s version of THE GETAWAY was 3,000 copies and it’s still for sale. It appears there are at least 1,500 devoted Fielding fans in the world, but perhaps not quite 2,000.

    1. Yes, there are some very bleak passage in here. And they fit the film. Such an unpleasant detour into the darker side of man that, for me, is basically unwatchable.

      You’re right about the higher counts of Fielding CDs. I’d like to think that the quick sellouts of lower pressings was because of 1,500 Fielding fans who love his music and not 1,500 eBay leeches.

      I bet it’s only a matter of time before Fielding’s complete THE OUTLAW OF JOSEY WALES comes out as well. (And, no, I don’t have any secret information. LOL) I’ll eagerly snatch that one up as well.

      Until then, I have the beauty–and the bleakness–of STRAW DOGS to keep me “happy”.

  2. I don’t want to ever see the film again. It’s been probably 25 years since I’ve seen it and I plan on keeping it that way. And I don’t want to hear the score. I do, however, think it is wonderful that labels like Intrada exist and deliver these kinds of cd’s.
    .-= That Neil Guy´s last blog ..5 Things I Learned from David Lynch =-.

    1. I certainly understand your feelings about the film. Too bad about the score though. But if it brings back memories of that violent film, then I don’t blame you. :)

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  4. This is the greatest vintage score released in 2010.
    “Straw Dogs” is amongst the composer best three works along with “The Wild Bunch” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”.
    I love the “laughing trombones” that symbolize the inner distress of Amy in “The Infamous Appassionata” and “Suffering Amy”.
    I hope Intrada will give us the last score done for Sam Peckinpah: “Junior Bonner” which features a first-rate love theme that Fielding reuses for later scores.

    1. Hi Stefan, thanks for commenting. I agree that this is one of the best vintage scores released this year. I’d been waiting a mighty long time for this one and I’m happy to cross it off the list. I’m sure JUNIOR BONNER is out there somewhere. (And, no, I don’t have any “insider” information. LOL)

  5. Yes, STRAW DOGS is definitely far from the easiest film to watch because of its disturbing subject matter (for my money, it is an intense psychological horror film), but certainly Jerry Fielding’s score for it is one of the best and most underrated film scores ever, alternating between pastoral idealism and disturbing dissonance. It is the right kind of score for this kind of film (IMHO).

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