Mini-Review: A Fuller Life (2013)

fullerlife_1Starring James Franco, Jennifer Beals, Bill Duke, James Toback, Kelly Ward, Perry Lang, Robert Carradine, Mark Hamill, Joe Dante, Tim Roth, Wim Wenders, Monte Hellman, Buck Henry, Constance Towers, William Friedkin

Directed by Samantha Fuller

Expectations: High. I love Sam Fuller!

threehalfstar


A Fuller Life is a wonderful tribute from a daughter to her father. Samantha Fuller hasn’t put together a documentary, but more a concise, visual version of Sam Fuller’s memoir, A Third Face. This approach seems like an odd choice at first, but much like the films of Sam Fuller himself, A Fuller Life carves its own path and succeeds in creating something unique and worthwhile.

The script is composed of selections from A Third Face, read by his friends, colleagues and admirers. Each person puts their own energy and interpretation into the reading, and coupled with the undeniable truth and spirit of Fuller’s words, it plays almost like a final collaboration with the iconoclast. Through their performances, Fuller’s words come alive and transcend the printed page, even for someone like me that has already read the book.

fullerlife_2Not only does this non-traditional style work for this film, it’s perhaps the only way to properly paint a picture of Sam Fuller as vibrant and affecting as the man himself. A traditional documentary might catch glimpses of the fire and the passion of his words, but in A Fuller Life it’s almost like having Fuller himself telling you a quick version of his story and struggles. The material is riveting, and each reader is exceptional well-suited to the passages they read. The film reminded me of everything I love about Sam Fuller, both the man and the director, and this overview of his life allowed me to appreciate even more just how incredible his story was.

If you’re a Fuller fan, it’s definitely worth your time, and if you’re Fuller-curious I’d say that outside of Fuller’s own films, it’s probably the best introduction you could ask for.

A Fuller Life has been recently released to DVD, currently available exclusively on the Chrisam Films website. The DVD has a few bonus interviews, as well.

 

The Madonna and the Dragon (1990)

la_madone_et_le_dragon0The Madonna and the Dragon (1990)
AKA Tinikling

Starring Jennifer Beals, Luc Merenda, Patrick Bauchau, Behn Cervantes, Pilar Pilapil, Christa Lang, Reginald Singh, Alfredo De la Fuente, Antony Tan, Dodie Lacuna, Chabeng Contreras, Nanding Josef, Ray Ventura, Ernie Zarate, Samuel Fuller

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


The Madonna and the Dragon is the final feature-length film to come from director Sam Fuller, and it’s also the first of his films since White Dog to feel like a Fuller film throughout. Produced for French TV, it’s not generally included in his filmography for some reason — even the list of his works in his own autobiography leaves it off — but it’s definitely a worthwhile film that should be seen by Fuller fans. It combines many of Fuller’s noted trademarks into one movie: the streetwise kid, social commentary, stock footage used to lend credibility and realism to the film, journalism, etc.

The Madonna and the Dragon is set around the People Power Revolution that happened in the mid-’80s in the Philippines. During this time in their history, the Filipino people rose up in revolution against the authoritarian government that had been oppressing them for the last 20 or so years. Fuller’s film focuses on a pair of photo journalists hoping to capture some great images of the revolution. They find themselves in a world of poverty, where kids ride garbage trucks to scavenge whatever they can find, and everyone is potentially double-crossing you behind your back.

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The Day of Reckoning (1990)

dayofreckoning_1Starring Assumpta Serna, Cris Campion, Philippe Léotard, Samantha Fuller, Manuel Pereiro, Christa Lang

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low.

twostar


According to Sam Fuller’s book, A Third Face, The Day of Reckoning was the final directorial work of Sam Fuller (though not the last released). It’s not a feature film, it’s actually a 50-minute episode of the anthology program Chillers, hosted by Anthony Perkins. But this doesn’t diminish the fact that it is a Sam Fuller film at its heart, so when I realized that the storyline was going hard into an animal rights stance, I could only smile. Sam Fuller had confronted social injustice against humans throughout his filmmaking career. With White Dog he explored similar themes, but the dog was still just another method of humanity’s social injustices. With The Day of Reckoning, Fuller goes one step further and takes on factory farming and the injustices done to chickens in the name of the almighty dollar.

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Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973)

deadpigeon_1Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street [Tote Taube in der Beethovenstraße] (1973)
Released in the US 1974

Starring Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang, Sieghardt Rupp, Anton Diffring, Stéphane Audran, Eric P. Caspar, William Ray, Alexander D’Arcy, Anthony Chinn

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Moderate.

Overall:
twohalfstar

Just in terms of entertainment:
threestar


Following Shark!, Sam Fuller’s luck getting films funded didn’t change much; Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street is Fuller’s only film of the ’70s. Technically, it’s not even a proper film, but if you didn’t know it was made as an episode of the German cop series Tatort (which is amazingly still running), you’d never have guessed it. Where American television stifled Fuller’s creative spirit and made him conform to the norms of whatever show he was working on, the producers of Tatort allowed Fuller the freedom to make whatever he wanted. He took this freedom and ran with it, crafting a unique, exciting picture unlike anything else in the Fuller catalog. Part crime thriller, part farcical comedy, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street is a hidden gem in Fuller’s filmography.

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street opens with a pigeon falling from the sky. As it plummets to the sidewalk below, it is joined on the ground by a dying man. The killer runs down the street with the cops in chase. The film hits the ground running, leading us into a tale of blackmail, deceit and betrayal. Our hero, Sandy (Glenn Corbett, who made his film debut in Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono), is an American private investigator on the hunt for the negatives to some compromising photos of an American senator. The man murdered on Beethoven Street was Sandy’s partner, and the clues left by the murderer allow Sandy to infiltrate the group responsible for the senator’s blackmail.

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