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CINE PAGES

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CIGARS, GONADS AND CELLULOID

But what they lack in subtlety they more than make up for in honesty; there's a pushy personality behind them that

 
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comes through loud and clear and maybe even lovable. More than one film buff has started out watching Fuller's films for novelty's sake, smirking at the melodrama, only to come around to embracing them on their own terms.

A Third Face, Fuller's posthumously published autobiography (the author died in 1997 at age 85; his coauthors continued working after his death), speaks in the same voice. Its gruff, cigar-chomping prose often sounds like dialogue from some '30s film about streetwise newspaper men, and there's a good reason for that: The author spent his childhood in the heyday of New York newspapers, starting off hawking the papers on street corners but quickly working his way up - before he hit puberty, little Sammy worked as personal gofer for Arthur Brisbane, one of the most important editorialists in newspaper history, and found himself an occasional visitor in the Manhattan apartment of William Randolph Hearst. Soon, he was a beat reporter himself.

But where Hollywood's wise-cracking newspaper folk were shockingly cynical, Fuller remained anything but. He believed in things, big-ticket items like Democracy and Truth, and happily risked his life for them. After dirtying his hands with newsprint, he got them bloody in World War II. He joined the infantry instead of using his experience to land a safe job; he fought on the beach at Normandy and helped free concentration camp prisoners in Germany.

When he returned, Fuller saw an America that didn't always practice what it preached. He had liberated

A THIRD FACE: MY TALE OF WRITING, FIGHTING, AND FILMMAKING
By Samuel Fuller
With Christa Lang Fuller and Jerome Henry Rudes
Knopf, 574 pgs, $35
Jews on Uncle Sam's dime, but what about the plight of racial minorities here at home? Throughout his career in novels and on film, bigotry would be a recurring villain. To 21st-century eyes, Fuller's message can look pretty hokey, but he put his weight into it, telling his audiences something they needed to hear.

There's a lot less urgency in Third Face, and that's a good thing. Here, the storyteller really just wants to spin a good, long yarn. His hyperbolic, gritty voice is good-natured and inviting; his quirks are endearing. Fuller has long been adopted as a renegade uncle by such younger filmmakers as Wim Wenders or Jim Jarmusch - here, his story speaks not only to cinephiles but to all Americans who like their truths unvarnished.


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