Film Review – A Fuller Life
A Fuller Life
Not everybody lives a life with so much activity that it could make an epic story. From crime-beat reporter to World War II soldier to novelist and filmmaker, the aptly titled A Fuller Life tells the epic story of Samuel Fuller, reporter, writer, producer and director.
Over the course of eighty-five years, Sam Fuller lived the kind of life that would probably make most people feel exhausted just upon hearing about it. Or perhaps feel belittle by such a vast and at times humbling set of experiences. Fuller did it all, starting as a crime reporter as a teenager, and covering murders and executions, he went to write crime novels before joining the army and storming the beaches of Normandy in WWII.
Upon returning from the war, Fuller decided to start writing and directing his own movies where he went on to deliver films like I Shot Jesse James, Shock Corridor and White Dog. His movies, like the life Fuller lead, are personal examinations of societal upheavals and violence. Shock Corridor tells the story of a reporter who goes undercover in a mental institute to uncover a murder, while White Dog is about the attempt to deprogram a dog that was trained to attack Black people.
In a room that looks like a combination of Masterpiece Theater meets Doc Brown’s laboratory, among large stacks of books and piles of paper, director and daughter of Sam Fuller, Samantha Fuller, stands in what was her father’s office, addressing the camera in a prologue. Based on Sam Fuller’s memoirs A Third Face, the documentary uses only Fuller’s own words as spoken by various actors, directors and screenwriters.
Broken into segments, or chapters from A Third Face, different people tell different parts of Sam Fuller’s life, while accompanied by actual footage and photographs. Beginning with Fuller’s youth, actor James Franco, looking like he might’ve just stepped off the set of Homeland, starts Fuller’s story complete with southern accent and stoned cantor.
Fortunately the great Jennifer Beals follows up to level things out, before Bill Duke shows up. Bill Duke, looking like he hasn’t aged since Predator, approaches Fuller’s words like an actor let loose. What should be simple narration becomes a performance of its own. Fortunately Bill Duke is Bill Duke, which allows for a certain level of Bill Dukeness eccentricity to amplify the subject matter; itself eccentric. Later guests, like actor Tim Roth, and the sublime Wim Wenders, again bring the tone back to a more even level, while surrounding engaging and fascinating stories of a person’s life.
Wim Wenders’, with his hypnotic accent and deliberate pacing of words, reads one of Fuller’s more light hearted stories about Fuller meeting Marlene Dietrich during WWII. The story becomes a nice reprieve that causes a moment of pause to realization of just what insanity all of these stories in one person’s life are. Whether one likes Sam Fuller’s movies or not becomes irrelevant, as story after story reveals a unique path of existence.
With the right person reading, the actor, director or celebrity also takes a back seat to not just the events of Fuller’s life, but Fuller’s prose. Simple, clean, and yet biting, Fuller’s words themselves are half the fun. With the help of the readers, the words show a sense of passion behind them that puts reason behind a person who seeks out such a life. Movies buffs and scholars aren’t exclusive to the material here. This is a story that transcends filmmaking, yet at the heart is a story of a filmmaker who used the medium to exercise the demons of crime and violence that clearly haunted him. When joining WWII, Fuller makes the claim “I had a hell of an opportunity to cover the biggest crime story of the century, and nothing was going to stop me from being an eye witness.” Unfortunately, as Fuller’s words later tell us, the witnessing bore a price that came in the form of nightmares and inner torment.
When recounting the story of Fuller’s life out loud to someone, it almost sounds too fantastical, which is how the documentary succeeds. Combining Fuller’s words retelling his own life, with photographs and film to support it, and famous faces to give it all a voice makes it all real. Believability isn’t really at issue though, it’s more the incredibility of how someone could choose to charge head first into the violence of life and use art to attempt to channel the repercussions. A Fuller Life is as poignant as it is interesting and exciting, a must see.