Sunday, May 15, 2005

Rin Tin Tin Joins The Ku Klux Klan

Okay, here’s something I can’t figure out.

I have a handful of Canadian and French film-loving friends and when we talk about Samuel Fuller, we marvel at two things: (1) how he is one of the most exciting and vital directors in the history of movies, and (2) why most Americans find our enthusiasm for Fuller laughable.

Last evening, I read my friend Doug Cummings’ marvelous piece on Fuller’s controversial 1981 movie White Dog. I had attack-dog nightmares last night, and taking them as a Freudian sign, I watched the movie this morning, having taped it off some late-late-night cable airing years ago.

White Dog is about a German shepherd that is trained to attack and kill black people. A black trainer then sets about trying to deprogram the dog of its racism. Apparently, the NAACP protested to the studio that the movie might encourage the breeding of such attack dogs, and the studio saw fit to shelve the movie for ten years.

Which is tragic because Fuller’s movies have always been about X-raying the American psyche to expose its multiple prejudices. But because he worked in genre cinema (like westerns, war movies, or gangster films), and was drawn to pulp and tabloid material, his art is sadly considered “low”.

The truth is that Fuller is a completely unique and visionary stylist in cinema. His approach is so original that it takes a little while to get acquainted with and get used to. The first time you see a Fuller movie like Forty Guns or The Naked Kiss, it seems to flirt outrageously with looniness. When you return to it after having seen a dozen Fuller movies, the same movie registers as being positively sublime.

I stole the title of this post from J. Hoberman, whose ten best films of 1991 list leads off with White Dog.