Sam Fuller was born in 1912. He died in 1997. And he led a life to be proud of. Growing up, he worked selling newspapers, and graduated to the copy room. He moved up to cover stories, and got addicted to the buzz of the newsroom, and cigars. He covered murders, he covered executions, he covered robberies. He knew the underworld. He was a reporter first and foremost, and that sensibility carried through in all of his work. When America became involved in the Second World War, Fuller had to go, even though he was 30. He knew it was the story of a lifetime. He knew it was the story. In an already eventful life, his war experiences were the defining ones. To witness The Big Red One, one could almost think the war had just ended as it's remembrances are so fresh and vital. This is why Fuller is the filmmaker who captures war better than anyone else has before or since.
My grandfather, Leonard Kullman, was also a journalist. He went to Stanford University, and studied Journalism. He too heard the call of war and saw that it would be the place to get his big story. To make his name. He was also in his thirties. He left his wife Elsa pregnant, and went off to seek his fate. Kullman was also Jewish (though I don't think Sam was). What separates Sam from Leonard is a bullet.
My mother Ellen never met her father, and was raised by my grandmother, who came from Denmark and had no other family here, and by Leonard's mother. There have been some comments from my mom to suggest she left Denmark under some controversy. (parenthetical paragraph: Sufficed to say we Houxes have never had much contact with her side of the family, and with my father's father an army man [who married a Japanese woman after my grandmother died before I was born], the Houx family that I know of is remarkably small, with only an aunt and her children as my extended family.) My Grandmother also had my mother when she was 40. A household of old women. A household of widowed women. Without knowing his presence, my grandfather's ghost has long been hovering over my mother. The older I get, and the more I understand human psychology, it's not hard to see how much emotional damage, and how much longing my mother had for her father.
And so I return to Fuller, and not just because I am to write about The Big Red One this week. I have been a devotee of Fuller's ever since I discovered his work through an eventful college screening of Shock Corridor. This though is less poetic: I was dating a girl who like smoking pot (not the first or last), and as a not so experienced pot smoker, to lubricate my evening with her we smoked something that might be labeled the Chronic. It caused my vision to strobe, me to throw up and pretty much go insane, floating in that cloud of euphoria and panic and tapped memories that would become more familiar with later less pungent use. The next day I was still high and could barely function so I watched the films I had rented, Goldeneye, and Shock Corridor. Though in subsequent viewings the metaphorical content of Shock Corridor was more prevalent, and though I got that aspect of the film on first viewing, the film seemed to tap into my subconscious and suggest that I too was going insane. I felt like the film understood my insanity. This is, of course, the exact sort of lame bonding experience story one expects 19 year olds who get high simply so can they get laid to tell, but it's my story nonetheless.
After that it was on to Pickup on South Street, The Naked Kiss, Underworld USA, and The Big Red One. That was pretty much all that was available of his at the time, but persistence and time working at a video store - mixed with an awareness of grey market bootleggers - lead me to see all but one of Fuller's films. Many are masterpieces: Fixed Bayonets, Merrill's Marauders, the one's listed above, while Forty Guns is a camp classic of its kind (though modest, I must admit modest); if I make a list of my top directors, it's long been these five: Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, Fuller, Jean Pierre Melville and Akira Kurosawa. As for that last film, mind you, it's not that I can't find it (though I did some TV Guide Scanning for months to find some of the titles), heck I even started watching it one day. The final film I haven't seen is his first film, I Shot Jesse James. But Sam Fuller is dead, and I now own it and I hold on to it as a good luck charm. Whenever I hit a low that I'll need some help out of, I've reserved it as my payoff. Or perhaps when I hit some high, I achieve something in my life of great import, I will watch it. Until then it's locked in my cinematic wine cellar.
But to tie this whole thing into a neat little bow, as I've essayed earlier, Fuller's life parallels my grandfather's. I put no real sense of meaning into this - I don't think I'm psychologically drawn to Fuller's work because of that tenuous connection, but I've noticed that it's there. And this lvoe of Fuller has little to do with my mother, she was never as into movies as I was, and I normally made her watch films more than vice versa (to wit I helped her devise a syllabus for a film class she taught that was heavy on the Hawks), and I don't think I've ever shown her a Fuller film. I would think Fuller's work would bear heavier on her, and yet I have no idea if she's been exposed to it. My appreciation of Fuller can be read as simply that; he's long been regaled as a cinematic good to great (though not as highly canonized as I have, but then one's favorites are rarely the "best"), and he's the sort of director I think young turks such as myself, who wish to make movies, have to love. I suggest this whole thought process as an interesting factoid of my life. Though if I was a character in a story, its relevance would surely be teased out. I think that's because that sort of analysis works better on movies than people.