Film

The 100 Essential Directors Part 4: Samuel Fuller - John Huston

On our fourth day, this journey through the 100 Essential Film Directors continues to twist and turn in unexpected ways. From bold, opinionated Hollywood voices to those who essentially created the language of cinema, today will shed light on kings of genre like Samuel Fuller, through lions like the legendary John Huston.

On our fourth day, this journey through who we believe to be the 100 Essential Film Directors continues to twist and turn in unexpected ways. From bold, opinionated Hollywood voices to those who essentially created the language of cinema, today will shed light on kings of genre like Samuel Fuller, through lions like the legendary John Huston.

 

Samuel Fuller
(1912 - 1977)

Three Key Films: The Steel Helmet (1951), Pickup on South Street (1953), The Big Red One (1980)

Underrated: Park Row (1952). Frank Capra called It’s a Wonderful Life his best film for decades before anyone would listen. Sam Fuller felt the same way about his newspaper epic Park Row, which has finally become available on DVD this year. Inspired by his years working in the cutthroat New York newspaper business -- a copyboy at 12, crime reporter at 17 -- Fuller’s fondness for the industry is apparent. The plot and themes are basically the same as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Loveable underdogs take on corrupt institution, only here it’s a startup newspaper taking on a corrupt institution personified in Charity Hackett (Mary Welch), a classic Fuller brunette and coldhearted, greedy publisher whom the loveable underdog is more than happy to sleep with. Long-admired for his explosive camera movement, Park Row features one of Fuller’s most exciting fight scenes and plenty of sardonic wit, with just the right amount of heart planted firmly on its sleeve.

Unforgettable: From The Steel Helmet. The titles scroll, the camera resting on the dome of a helmet, smooth except for a single bullet hole piercing the right side. A grave, familiar image of wartime sacrifice. Only this isn’t WWII. This is Korea. And as the titles fade, the seemingly abandoned helmet suddenly rises to reveal the squinting, shifty eyes of an American soldier, hiding from the enemy. Stephen Frears would open The Queen (2006) similarly, humanizing our iconography by bringing what seemed to be a royal portrait to life.

The Big Red One (1980)

The Legend: Martin Scorsese said, “If you don’t like the films of Sam Fuller, then you just don’t like cinema.” Samuel Fuller was told to cast John Wayne in the role of platoon leader in his epic and autobiographical war film, The Big Red One, he said he’d rather not make the movie at all. One need watch only a couple of Fuller’s pictures to understand why his response is no surprise. Though his scope was broad -- he made war films, melodramas, westerns, crime noir, and odd things in between -- Fuller’s trademark punchy dialog, exuberant violence and inventive camera work unifies the disparate settings and characters. Whether we’re shaking down a Japanese pachinko parlor in House of Bamboo (1955), or confined within a submarine in Hell and High Water (1954), the integrity of his vision is clear. We’re clearly operating in the same mental space. No, what is surprising about the story of making The Big Red One is that anyone would ask him to cast John Wayne to begin with. Trying to imagine The Duke in any of Fuller’s war films is like picturing Darth Vader in 2001. That’s not a knock on Wayne (or Vader), but they’re fictional characters, operating on the level of myth. Somehow, the surrealistic world of Sam Fuller manages to feel emphatically real.

His films didn’t always feel real though. Critics at the time complained that his tawdry subjects stretched credulity and disliked his left-of-center aesthetics. Similarly, viewers accustomed to a different kind of war film found many aspects of Fuller’s breakthrough The Steel Helmet quite unreal. An integrated platoon? An American shooting a POW? An intelligent commie? Many were outraged. They said the film was funded by Reds, and accused the real-life war hero of being anti-American. (Fuller’s WWII platoon landed in Africa, Sicily, and Normandy, earning him Bronze and Silver Stars.) Unfortunately, this sort of controversy plagued Fuller’s career. Several decades later, his film White Dog would be shelved by Paramount, who feared a threatened boycott by the NAACP. Never mind that the film was actually a sobering contemplation on the roots and results of racism, made by a director whose progressive record on race was abundantly evident in both his themes and his integrationist casting choices. Paramount would not release it. Angry, Fuller moved to France and did not make another American film.

Despite these battles, Fuller was not a provocateur. Instead he strove to capture a sense of reality that only he could see and, in doing so, redefined our expectations of cinema. What once seemed pulpy (The Crimson Kimono 1959), surreal (The Naked Kiss 1964), and outrageous (Shock Corridor 1963), now seems simply ahead of its time. As a result, his greatest legacy might be his influence. The French New Wavers, Spielberg, Jarmusch, Tarantino (and on and on) have acknowledged Sam Fuller’s direct impact on their work. In fact, you can hardly imagine their films without him. His idiosyncratic vision normalized what we value in cinema today. Joshua Ewing Weber

 

 

 

Next Page

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image