Marsha Gordon is on a mission to let everyone in the Triangle know what a badass filmmaker Samuel Fuller was.
A film studies professor at N.C. State, Gordon has been immersed in Fuller's life and career. She's writing a book on his war movies, tentatively titled Organized Insanity: Sam Fuller's Hot/Cold War Films, slated for release next year. She even went to Vienna recently to introduce a film Fuller shot when he was a soldier, capturing the liberation of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
And, this week, she has persuaded the Colony in Raleigh to screen A Fuller Life, a 2013 documentary directed by Samantha Fuller, the director's daughter. "This is a great opportunity for people to learn more about his past as a soldier and a filmmaker," says Gordon, who will be at the screening to give an introduction and a Q&A, "and he's a great, outsized, Hollywood-maverick character."
The documentary features a bevy of celebrities who were influenced by Fuller's tough, electrifying filmmaking—from A-list admirers (James Franco, Tim Roth) and filmmakers (Joe Dante, Wim Wenders) to actors who appeared in his movies (Jennifer Beals, Mark Hamill)—paying their respects to the journalist-turned-screenwriter-turned-filmmaker, who passed away in 1997. They all show up at Fuller's memorabilia-strewn office in the Hollywood Hills to read passages from his posthumous 2002 memoir, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking.
The cigar-chomping Fuller lived by his own instinctual rules, making sensationalistic, independent genre films whether they were urban crime noirs, outlaw-heavy westerns or bullet-riddled war flicks.
"I think he made some of the most distinctive films that came out of Hollywood, especially in the 1950s," says Gordon. "I got really interested in the angle of the way he dealt with the issue of war, which he dealt with throughout his career." A Fuller Life intimately captures life during wartime, as Fuller's daughter rounds up clips not just from her old man's filmography, but also from his personal war-footage archives. Most of the doc focuses on Fuller's experiences as an infantry grunt, taking mental and celluloid snapshots of the atrocities he witnessed before eventually instilling his films with that chaotic energy and kinetic action.
After the hell he experienced as a soldier, the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood didn't faze Fuller. Gordon says, "I was really interested in the fact that he fought this war, came back to the U.S., made these films and, actually, became a somewhat controversial figure, politically, with the making of a couple of his films, like The Steel Helmet."
Apparently, J. Edgar Hoover wasn't a big fan, singling out Fuller's 1953 Cold War spy noir film, Pickup on South Street, for being unpatriotic. "The FBI investigated him for his politics, although he was never called to testify in front of HUAC," Gordon says.
Although Fuller didn't get major love in his home country, he did overseas. The French worshipped the dude and his low-budget, hard-boiled storytelling; New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard even gave him a cameo in Pierrot le Fou. Of course, in his later years and after his death, the U.S. started recognizing Fuller's greatness. The 1996 doc The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera finds filmmakers and Fuller disciples Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino saluting the man and his work.
Gordon hopes this one-night screening could lead to Fuller's movies getting some screen time at regional repertory houses—or maybe even a retrospective. "I've talked to a couple of people about wanting to do it, but that will take a major effort to convince an institution," she says. "I don't know. But I'd love to make it happen."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Sam Fuller's war."