WHAT are his films about?

WHO is he?

American scenarist, producer, novelist and director of mostly hard-boiled B-movies who worked from the late Forties to the late Eighties. Mostly sidelined at home during his time, Fuller rose to international prominence when French critics of the renowned film magazine Cahiers du Cinema recognised him as a major American filmmaker, whose body of work evinced a unique and personal vision of the world.

WHY is he of interest?

Though his typically American, direct approach to subject matter would raise a few eyebrows in our age of political correctness and apparent moral complexity, the visceral style of numerous filmmakers (in Hollywood and elsewhere) owes much to the pulp cinema of Sam Fuller. Surprisingly enough, the austere French filmmaker Robert Bresson has remarked that the inspiration for his film Pickpocket (1959) comes from Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953).

WHERE to discover him?

Shock Corridor (1963) involves an ambitious newspaper columnist who feigns insanity and gets himself admitted to a psychiatric ward in search of an extraordinary story. In Fuller’s dark and rattling film, the psychiatric ward is a microcosm of America itself, in which racism, jingoism and violence abound. Shock Corridor questions conventional ideas about sanity and normalcy by presenting the happenings inside the ward as being symptomatic of the society outside.

srikanth srinivasan

Themes

Fuller worked as a crime reporter and was in the American infantry during the Second World War and these firsthand experiences of crime, violence and death directly inform the themes of his films, which are full of bitter little ironies. Life and death, war and peace, laughter and sorrow are perpetually intertwined in his scenes. Many of these films deal with the inglorious finality of death and strip away the abstract trappings of honour and pride. They are also about the thin line between sanity and insanity that is constantly blurred at the time of crises.

Style

The most evident stylistic aspect of Fuller’s cinema is their boundless energy and dynamism. Tracking shots, rapid zooms, obtuse camera angles and shock cuts mark his decidedly gratuitous aesthetic, which is driven more by emotional logic than by established notions about good filmmaking. One of his most characteristic compositions is the bird’s eye view of the characters, which frames them from above, as though indicating the presence of a silent God looking down upon them.