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Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, The
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by Chris Parry

"A fine tribute to one of America's underappreciated cinema pioneers."
4 stars

Heard of Sam Fuller? Not many people seem to have, and that's a pity since the man wrote, directed and even starred in films from as early as 1937 to as late as 1994. But Sam Fuller wasn't just a guy who made movies, he was a man's man. The rode the rails as a hobo, he was the New York Journal's youngest ever news reporter, he wrote pulp fiction novels and hit the front lines of the second world war in Europe and Africa. He was also an independent film maker back when everybody worked in the studio system. He made films on the cheap, concentrating on atmosphere, story and balls out bravado. He's a man who lived life to its fullest and had influenced countless modern day filmmakers - including Tim Robbins, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese and Jim Jarmusch - all of whom appear in this intriguing documentary.

In Europe, Sam Fuller is a God. There's a street named after him in Finland and when Hollywood got sick of his critically acclaimed but politically unsubtle commentaries on American life, France opened it's arms to the cigar chomping he-man and he continued directing right up until his death. But while the Joe Average filmgoer might have missed his best (and worst) work, Fulelr's influence has only picked up steam as the indie movement blew up to next big thing status in the 90's.

And so it goes that Tim Robbins and Quentin Tarantino took part in this documentary on the film legend, including lengthy interviews with Fuller where he discusses his life, his trials and his many tribulations as a filmmaker on the outside.

Say what you will about Tarantino being a schmuck, but you have to give credit to the man for paying respect to those he believes deserve it most. With Jackie Brown he put Robert Forster and Pam Grier back on the map. With his Rolling Thunder branch of Miramax, he distributed tiny films that might otherwise have gone unnoticed to a small, if appreciative, audience. And with From Dusk Til Dawn, he brought the tacky D-grade drive-in thriller back to the forefront (to mixed results). With this documentary, he (and the aforementioned Robbins, Jarmusch, Scorcese et al) pays homage to someone who made movies that hit a personal chord with him.

Invariably the messages behind Fuller's films were about the shallow-mindedness of society, but this message generally proved too much of a reflection on the people the studios wanted to actually come see the movie. The average filmgoer wanted to watch Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant frolic in Rome, they didn't want to watch a movie where a nastay prostitute exposes a small town's hypocrisy (The Naked Kiss), especially when they lived in said small town. The academics, the artists, they looked at Fuller with admiration. But it just didn't play in Peoria.

If you're a little young or unfamiliar with Fuller's work (The Big Red One and Shock Corridor are must-see films for any film fan), think of the scene in Rushmore where Max and his buddies put on a play about the war. That scene is Fuller to the core. Uber-macho, melodramatic, bullets flying and muscles slogging through mud. Fuller's films were the human condition laid bare, guts akimbo, last dying breaths spurting out words of wisdom.

His greatest films were B-movies to the chore, but they had more meat than anything Hollywood was producing. 1949's I Shot Jesse James proved he could make a movie that would sell tickets, and his Korean War drama, The Steel Helmet took hings a step up and blew people away with it's brutal look at the reality of war.

As a documentary, The Typewriter, the Writer and the Movie Camera is far from perfect. It's made on the cheap and very much made for TV, but you don't see something like this to for Orson Welles-like camera techniques, you watch this kind of film to hear the story that might otherwise have gone untold.

Many filmmakers say they were influenced by this and that, but when the filmmakers themselves feel so strongly about someone's influence on their art that they get together and tell the man's life story, suffice it to say that there's more to Sam Fuller than a dirty fedora and a half-chewed cigar nub. Find this film and find out the rest.

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originally posted: 07/03/01 09:51:36
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Directed by
  Adam Simon

Written by
  Adam Simon

  Samuel Fuller
  Tim Robbins
  Jim Jarmusch
  Martin Scorsese
  Quentin Tarantino

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