A Fuller Life: Venice Review

A Fuller Life Venice Film Festival Still - H 2013

A Fuller Life Venice Film Festival Still - H 2013

Enjoyable, generously illustrated stroll through the eventful and inspiring life of an outstanding maverick filmmaker.

A slew of prominent actors and directors pay tribute to legendary reporter-turned-filmmaker Sam Fuller in his daughter Samantha's documentary, premiering in a sidebar at the Italian festival.

A truly unique career is lovingly celebrated in A Fuller Life, director Samantha Fuller's heartfelt tribute to her legendary father. Featuring extended extracts from Sam Fuller's own 2003 autobiography, read by a slew of collaborators and celebrity admirers, the film takes a relaxed approach to a life full of excitement, chaos and conflict. While breaking no new ground in terms of form, this absorbing and entertaining "family affair" will be a popular choice for festivals and TV channels with a film-history bent, ideally in conjunction with retrospectives of Fuller's own remarkable oeuvre.

Fuller's pictures as writer/director ("my ballsy yarns") encompassed numerous genres, his no-nonsense hard-boiled style serving up such enduring minor classics as Pickup on South Street (1953), Shock Corridor (1963) and The Big Red One (1980). Many of his low-budget, high-energy pictures, often made on the fringes of the Hollywood system and usually based on his own first-hand experiences as a reporter and World War II veteran, courted controversy with their taboo-busting approach to such topics as racism, crime, war and mental illness. Noted for what this film refers to as his "bold style," he found himself nearly unemployable after 1982's uncompromising White Dog, barely shown at the time but now revered by many as a masterwork.

A Fuller Life, by contrast, guides us smoothly through Fuller's long (1912-1997) and crazily productive life, his words accompanied by brief clips from his movies and samplings of a private 16mm archive recently discovered -- as we're informed during Samantha Fuller's perky intro -- by his family. We're thus able to see his exploits in wartime ("the biggest crime story of the century"), including horrifying images taken in the aftermath of a concentration camp's liberation, through Fuller's own eyes, while hearing his words spoken by those who worked with him or simply respected him as a gutsy pioneer.

The speakers start with the currently inescapable James Franco, and include actors Mark Hamill and Robert Carradine (from The Big Red One), Tim Roth, Jennifer Beals and Constance Towers (from 1964's The Naked Kiss), these ladies offering welcome respite from what is occasionally a testosterone-soaked affair. Later sections feature directors Joe Dante, Wim Wenders, Monte Hellman and William Friedkin, each of them reading from Fuller's manuscript in the claustrophobically cozy confines of the author's own fabled, paraphernalia-stuffed den-cum-study.

These on-camera narrators do a uniformly rock-solid job, with sound-man Gary J. Coppola and four credited cinematographers achieving an appropriate steadiness of visual and aural tone. Hamill and Friedkin perhaps come closest to emulating Fuller's own cigar-and-whiskey rasp, the director's gruff tones part of an image that, along with a certain cult of personality, he wasn't exactly slow to cultivate, especially in his latter years when he became estranged from American mainstream cinema and funding proved increasingly impossible to amass.

Those immune to this posthumously expanding "Fuller mythos" will want to keep well away, while viewers who prefer their documentaries unadorned by music will have their patience taxed by Paul-Alexander Fuller's varied but near-incessant score. And surely Fuller would have spat his cigar out at the sentimental song "That's What He Lived For," which plays over the end credits. But those intrigued by an indelibly influential persona that combined showman-like flamboyance, old-school masculinity and die-hard personal integrity to disarming and intoxicating degrees, will find much to chew on here.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Venezia Classics)
Production company: Chrisam Films
Director: Samantha Fuller
Screenwriters: Samantha Fuller, Sam Fuller
Producers: Gillian Wallace Horvat
Executive producer: Christa Lang-Fuller
Director of photography: Seamus McGarvey, Hilton Goring
Editor: Tyler Purcell
Music: Paul-Alexander Fuller
Sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York
No MPAA rating, 80 minutes