Tag Archives: Samantha Fuller

Review Round-Up: Dan Sallitt Double Feature / Samantha Fuller’s A FULLER LIFE

I originally wrote the following reviews of films by Dan Sallitt and Samantha Fuller for Cine-File Chicago back in January to coincide with theatrical screenings. The Sallitt films can be rented on amazon (and you really should see them if you haven’t already) and the Fuller doc is happily still enjoying theatrical engagements around the world (with a home video release coming eventually).

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Dan Sallitt’s HONEYMOON and ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA (American Revival)

When the enterprising distributor The Cinema Guild picked up the low-budget comedy/drama THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT in 2012 it considerably upped the profile of writer/director Dan Sallitt, a New York-based critic and filmmaker whose sparse filmography (he’s made exactly one film per decade over each of the past four decades) constitutes one of the hidden treasures of independent American cinema. Beguiled Cinema, the programming endeavor of local critics Ben and Kat Sachs, has teamed up with Chicago Filmmakers to present this rare double-feature screening of Sallitt’s second and third films at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema, an event that should be considered unmissable for local cinephiles. Both movies are visually austere, dialogue-based dramas centered on two characters in conflict. The earlier of the two, 1998’s HONEYMOON, is a mature and astonishingly frank portrayal of marriage about two old friends, Mimi (Edith Meeks) and Michael (Dylan McCormick), who decide to tie the knot on a whim. These urban professionals seem intellectually and emotionally compatible and their friends have long remarked that they would make the “perfect couple.” It isn’t until their honeymoon at a lakeside cabin in rural Pennsylvania, however, that they first attempt physical intimacy–in a series of awkward and halting encounters that must rank as the most honest portrayal of sexual dysfunction ever committed to celluloid. Mimi and Michael’s decision to stick out the marriage ultimately leads to an ambiguous finale that will likely serve as a Rorschach test for the personal philosophy of each viewer. What’s not in doubt is the phenomenal chemistry between Meeks and McCormick, who convey the evolution of a years-long relationship telescoped into just a few days. Even more compressed, and impressive, is the 64-minute ALL THE SHIPS AT SEA from 2004. The lean running time of this virtual two-hander, about a series of philosophically-inflected discussions between two very different sisters, belies the wealth of feeling and ideas that Sallitt has crammed into it: respectable Evelyn (Strawn Bovee) teaches theology at the college level while her estranged, potentially suicidal younger sister Virginia (Meeks again) returns home after being kicked out of a religious cult. As the women struggle to re-establish their former sibling bond, the notion of exactly who is helping who is kept tantalizingly in flux. New City’s Ray Pride will introduce the screening. The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky will lead a Q&A afterwards. (1998 and 2004, 154 min total, 16mm and DVCam) MGS

More info at http://www.chicagofilmmakers.org.

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Samantha Fuller’s A FULLER LIFE (New Documentary)

With A FULLER LIFE, Samantha Fuller, daughter of maverick filmmaker Samuel Fuller, has made an unconventional but entertaining documentary about her father. The first-time director daringly eschews traditional interview segments in favor of having a dozen motion-picture luminaries appear before her cameras only to read excerpts from her dad’s superb, posthumously published memoir, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking. Among the readers, most of whom worked with or were friends of the late, great Fuller, are: Jennifer Beals, Robert Carradine, Joe Dante, Bill Duke, James Franco, William Friedkin, Mark Hamill, Monte Hellman, Buck Henry, Tim Roth, James Toback and Constance Towers. Some misguided critics have damned A FULLER LIFE with faint praise by likening it to a mere star-studded “audio book” but this is hardly a fair analogy since many of the film’s pleasures are image-based. The “chapters” are visual records of the subjects reading their texts in a specific location, one that seems suffused with an almost mystical energy: Fuller pere’s legendary garage-office, a place affectionately known as “the shack,” which functions today as a virtual shrine to his impressive careers as newspaperman, soldier and filmmaker. Each segment is also cleverly intercut with scenes from both Fuller’s official oeuvre, from 1949’s I SHOT JESSE JAMES to STREET OF NO RETURN 40 years later, as well as home movie and documentary footage he shot throughout his life (including powerful wartime images of a recently liberated concentration camp in Falkenau, Czechoslovakia, footage that was recently added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry). Finally, the film’s most disturbing sequence, the Dante-narrated “Sicily Black and Blue,” is embellished by an inspired use of animation. All of this adds up to a fitting tribute to a vital American artist, one whose ballsy and highly personal “yarns” were both ahead of their time and inextricably tied to the colorful, adventurous life of their creator. As a writer/director, Sam Fuller may have specialized in genre fare (especially war movies, westerns and crime films) but, whether working as an independent or within the Hollywood studio system, he stamped everything he did with his outrageously entertaining, “yellow-journalist” style. Within his idiosyncratic idiom, Fuller’s commitment to racial equality, long before such a stance was fashionable in American cinema, looks especially interesting today. A FULLER LIFE is a must for Fuller’s admirers and an ideal introduction to his work for the uninitiated. (2013, 80 min, DCP Digital) MGS

More info at http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org.


Filmmaker Interview: Samantha Fuller

Samantha Fuller, daughter of maverick American filmmaker Samuel Fuller, makes an exceedingly promising directorial debut of her own with A Fuller Life, a fittingly unconventional documentary portrait of her father. I interviewed her via e-mail in advance of its Chicago premiere this weekend (it will screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Saturday, January 17 at 6:45 and Monday, January 19 at 6:00). My review of the film will appear soon either on this website or in Cine-File Chicago but let me just say for now that A Fuller Life is both a must for Fuller fans and an ideal introduction to his work for the uninitiated. You can find more info about the screenings on the Siskel Center’s website.

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MGS: I know you conceived this film as a way of celebrating your father’s 100th birthday. I’m curious about your choice of only having the subjects read excerpts from his autobiography, A Third Face. How did you arrive at the decision to create the film in this unique way and did you ever consider making a more traditional documentary (i.e., with conventional interview segments)?

SF: Yes, the film was intended as a centennial celebration of my father’s life. See, as a child, he had always told me that we would have a big party when he turned 100, and I took him up on that. It didn’t matter that his body wasn’t present, since his spirit never left us. By having our guest readers speak his words, it served as a vehicle to bring his voice back to life. In this way, he felt very present during the entire process. My father’s films were quite unconventional, so there was no way I was going to make a conventional documentary about him. The film was entirely shot in his office. A place humorously called “the shack,” where nothing much has changed since his death in 1997. The participants loved that idea and read parts of his autobiography surrounded by rows of his favorite books, stacked scripts, film memorabilia, his beloved typewriter and of course a big fat cigar placed at their side. The actors were interviewed after reading their segment. The interviews will be featured on the DVD supplements.

MGS: How did you decide which segments from A Third Face to use? Also, did the subjects have any choice in which excerpts they read or did you assign the texts to the readers?

SF: I wanted to tell my father’s story chronologically, respecting the flow of his autobiography. The film is intended to reflect on his gusty life, brimming with multiple hard-hitting stories. It wasn’t easy deciding which segments to use, since every one is a good story in itself. I chose the ones that would give a sense of the life he lead. In the case that the audience is left wanting more, they can always pick up A Third Face and enjoy a real page turner. A Fuller Life is basically structured in three parts: the first section leads us through his youth, and his time as a young crime/freelance reporter. The second part describes his experience on the front lines of the Infantry during WWII, and how he survived major battles in North Africa, Sicily and D-Day. We witness the liberation of the Falkenau camps in Czechoslovakia through his words and his camera lens. The third, focuses on his career in Hollywood and how he successfully managed to combine work and family. The passages were assigned in a way that I trusted the readers would relate to most. Not once did any of them question my choice since I believe that they were indeed connected to the part of the story that they were telling.

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MGS: One of the things I loved about the use of different narrators was how they all delivered your father’s prose in a different style, which made the film very dynamic. Each segment was like a different song on a beautifully constructed mix-tape: some of the readers were matter-of-fact while others, notably Bill Duke, were incredibly dramatic. It was also very refreshing to hear a couple of female voices in the mix (Jennifer Beals and Constance Towers). Was there much rehearsal and/or discussion beforehand about how the texts would be read?

SF: Thank you for using the word dynamic in your question, since that was indeed what I was aiming for. Once again, in the spirit of my father’s films, which were always loaded with TNT in a certain form. Bill Duke happened to be the first one to read, and his performance was striking. He really is the one who channeled my father’s delivery most. After him, I thought that we better tone the other readers down, in order not to turn the film into a Sam impersonation film. I asked the rest of the readers to channel my father in a more subtle way, a talent that they were able to provide. The shoot was mostly in one or two takes, it was quick and to the point. Nobody had to memorize the text since they had it in front of them while filming. My father loved powerful female characters, so it felt natural to include a couple strong women in the mix.

MGS: Perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of the film was the use of documentary and home-movie footage that your father shot himself. The home movie scenes were playful and poignant but the WWII footage (especially from the concentration camp) was harrowing. What are your plans for the rest of the “100 reels of 16mm film” that you describe uncovering in the prologue?

SF: I digitized approximately three hours of footage that my father shot on his 16mm Bell & Howell camera. Some great home movies, but mostly film from the European liberation after D-Day. Only ten minutes were utilized in A Fuller Life, which leaves plenty material to make another documentary, which I’m currently working on. This time, the film will solely target WWII. I also have over 200 letters that my father wrote to his family during that time. Highlights from his correspondence will be included in the film. The structure will be similar to A Fuller Life in the sense that an actor will be reading excerpts from the letters, his voice will be heard over the images.

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MGS: I’ve shown your father’s films in my Intro to Film classes and they’ve always gotten a very positive response (even though most of my students are unfamiliar with his life and work). If you had to pick a single film to use to introduce young people to the films of Sam Fuller, what would it be and why?

SF: I’m glad to hear that you are showing Fuller films in your class. There is so much to learn from them! The fact that most of his films were made with small budgets and tight schedules is encouraging to fellow filmmakers to go out and tell their stories. It’s difficult for me to pick a single film of his since I love them all, almost comparably to how one would love their siblings. But if I really had to pick just one that would introduce a new audience to his films and life, it would be the restored long version of The Big Red One. That is an autobiographical film about his experience as a Dogface in the U.S. Infantry during WWII. Sadly, he was never able to enjoy the release of the long version since it was completed after his death. Nonetheless, it is the version he had wished for, and it stayed true to his vision according to the script. The film deals with his grueling years in the army, yet is is layered with humor and emphases the absurdity of war. His character is named Zab, not Sam. Actually, there is a part of him dispersed into every character. It is his most personal film.

You can check out the trailer to
A Fuller Life via YouTube below:


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