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Documentary Review - A FULLER LIFE

Filmmaker Sam Fuller's life in his own words.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Samantha Fuller



"Cynics may brand A Fuller Life little more than an extended infomercial for Fuller's autobiography A Third Face, but if this is the case, it achieves its goal in some style."


It's an old joke that veterans of World War II constantly bore everyone they encounter with stories of their experience in that conflict. Of course, if you contribute to such a historic event it's not something you're going to easily forget, and will likely shape the rest of your life. It shouldn't be any surprise then to find it's Sam Fuller's accounts of his time as a 'dogface' soldier in WWII that form the meat of his daughter Samantha's new documentary.
Against the backdrop of Fuller's office, crammed from floor to ceiling with the ephemera of his life and career, 12 segments of his autobiography A Third Face are performed by a combination of those who worked with the director (Constance Towers, Jennifer Beals, Mark Hamill) and those who are simply fans (directors William Friedkin, Wim Wenders and Monte Hellman), many puffing on cigars in tribute to their idol. Some give simple readings, while some lose themselves in full-on performances. Bill Duke's reading is particularly memorable, while James Franco's is close to cringeworthy. This may sound like a cheap advert for the biography, but what justifies Samantha Fuller's documentary is her discovery of reels of footage shot by her father, much of it captured on the frontlines of World War II. Those reels contain some of the most intimate portraits of fighting men ever shot.
A Fuller Life is far from the typical documentary on a revered director; it's much more an account of Fuller the man rather than Fuller the auteur. The film devotes as many minutes to Fuller's early life as a crime reporter as to his later Hollywood years, and far more to his time as an infantryman in North Africa and Europe. There's almost no discussion of his movies, though there are plenty of clips incorporated. Instead we learn about the motivation and inspiration for Fuller's work through his real life experiences. One gruelling chapter details Fuller's horror at the discovery of ovens in a concentration camp, a scene he would later play out on screen in 1980's semi-autobiographical war movie The Big Red One. Other accounts, such as an encounter with a young Italian girl raped by fascists, could never have made it onto the screen in Fuller's time, given their disturbing nature.
Cynics may brand A Fuller Life little more than an extended infomercial for A Third Face, but if this is the case, it achieves its goal in some style. If you're a Fuller devotee, or have an interest in mid-20th century history, you'll want to pick up a copy the moment the credits roll on Samantha Fuller's tribute to her father's life, work and spirit.




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