7/19/09

I SHOT JESSE JAMES: A SAM FULLER JOINT, A DICK BROOKS HOME MOVIE?

samfuller

Apropos of inspiration seeking and the whole auteur-ism business of the bizness of the bidness, I'm reading Sam Fuller's massive autobiography "A Third Face". Nobody can dispute Fuller's place in the pantheon as an early auteur--though he didn't always operate within the studio system like his friend Richard Brooks (see previous two posts). Fuller frequently found independent financing back when that was even more unusual then Brooks taking no up-front money from a studio in exchange for artistic control was. Indeed, Fuller's earliest "angel" was a man named Robert Lippert, the owner of some drive-ins in northern California who had a hankering to produce his own movie. Somehow he and Fuller got hooked up and this led to Fuller's first feature as writer/director, 1949's "I Shot Jesse James".



I haven't seen this film in years but remember enjoying it quite a bit on television as a young'n. It's bare bones stuff, to be sure, but Fuller-esque in the extreme--which is to say stuffed with tense, squirm inducing moments built around a series of set-piece shock moments. But let me say, at this juncture, that Fuller remains, for me, a filmmaker whose existence I admire more than any one of his films. I've enjoyed a few of Fuller's films--but none draw me back for repeat viewings and frankly all have things in them too absurdly stupid to allow me to consider them as much beyond shock-kitsch. I know this is a grossly unfashionable attitude--Tarantino, Tim Robbins et. al having come to late to the resuscitation and made it stick with their enthusiastic (and loving, if slightly goofy) reconsiderations of some of Fuller's most iconic (and often silliest) works. Indeed, it was my friend Peter Bogdanovich who initially led the parade (at least the American one) that helped rally support to reconsider Fuller as a major film artist. We've never spoken about it.



Still, I love the man for his straight forward, no-punks-get-in-his-frigging-way attitude. It certainly is the American autuer spirit incarnate and the only way for the writer/producer/director to make any headway in a world that did not, contrary to popular opinion, only recently turn cold; the film industry was always cold toward the individualist, no matter how important, generation after generation, those individualists were to the growth of the art.

shockcorridorposterAs far as Fuller's films, I like "Jesse James" and "Shock Corridor" best. "The Naked Kiss" promises much (the bald Constance Towers opening scene is , of course masterful) but peters out, in my opinion, rather quickly and ludicrously as the prostitute is redeemed by her work with the children. (Apropos of a bad girl turning good perhaps not being the strongest story line, Billy Wilder once remarked about female characters: "Unless she's a whore, she's a bore". Comments, anyone?) But even the Fuller films that I like are best taken in small doses. For instance, dig the trailer of "Shock Corridor":



Now, you may very well be intrigued to see the film after having watched this...but unlike so many good movies with trailers that can't do them justice, this one does the film perfect justice. To the extent that you've essentially seen the best of the movie within the above hot little trailer. Yes, yes, "Pickup On South Street" is a good, tight noir...and "Underworld USA" has its supporters. Fuller's long gestating masterpiece, "The Big Red One" was, I'm afraid to say, something of a disappointment once he got around to making it--thirty or so years after he scripted it. There's much talk of his directors cut being better and I can't say having not gotten up the gumption (nice word, that, been using it quite a bit of late, derives from the root word "gump") to actually sit through it. Is it necessary to like the artists work as much as the artists symbolic place in the world? I like the fact of Fuller, more than the fact of his films. He doesn't need my fandom, anyway. He's secure in his spot...

Anyway, look what the hell I found today picking through the detritus in the gigantic Fibber McGee video closet known as YouTube. First, a terrific scene from Fuller's debut film, "I Shot Jesse James." And then, buried in an eight part documentary on Fuller (made in France) are home movies of Fuller directing his first movie, shot by none other than his friend Richard Brooks. As you'll see, the barroom set in the first clip is the same as the set depicted in the behind the scenes footage--said footage begins about one minute and fifty seconds into the ten minute chunk of this quite interesting looking doc (I'll post more of it through the week). A thrilling little bit of kismet, this linking of Brooks and Fuller, as I procrastinate with my own writing and channel these two Hollywood mavericks for a bit of inspiration. Dig...





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2 comments:

  1. Great stuff Raymond . What I liked
    about I shot Jesse James was that
    the actors moved not the camera.
    I went and seen the Johnny Depp
    new gangster film. That hand held
    camera was bouncing all aver the
    place so much that I had to leave
    the theater.Would have loved to see
    the whole film but it was to
    irritating.

    ReplyDelete