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The Typewriter the Rifle & the Movie Camera

Any documentary about the great Hollywood iconoclast Sam Fuller could hardly help but be lively, and this smoothly made overview of the cigar-puffing octogenarian does a fine job of capturing the writer-director's feisty, loquacious character, as well as his principal thematic concerns. As a primer for students and filmgoers not intimately acquainted with this cult favorite, this Brit-Yank co-venture will serve the worthy task of inspiring them to check out his work, although specialists will be left hungry for a few new insights. Aside from fests and featured slots at Fuller retros and buff programs, hourlong docu is a snug fit for cable and upscale webs.

Any documentary about the great Hollywood iconoclast Sam Fuller could hardly help but be lively, and this smoothly made overview of the cigar-puffing octogenarian does a fine job of capturing the writer-director’s feisty, loquacious character, as well as his principal thematic concerns. As a primer for students and filmgoers not intimately acquainted with this cult favorite, this Brit-Yank co-venture will serve the worthy task of inspiring them to check out his work, although specialists will be left hungry for a few new insights. Aside from fests and featured slots at Fuller retros and buff programs, hourlong docu is a snug fit for cable and upscale webs.

As exec producer, Tim Robbins admits in his opening narration that he knew little of Fuller until recently, and he plays an essentially passive role as interlocutor and tour guide through key aspects of the tough-talking helmer’s career. Interviewed in Paris, where he lived for 13 years before his recent return to Los Angeles, Fuller charges ahead about his passionate involvement in the three fields indicated by the title — newspapers, war and filmmaking — with nary an interruption from his distinguished host. While much of Fuller’s commentary is highly charged and entertaining, some of it represents questionable digressions from the matters at hand and may leave some viewers adrift.

Fuller’s hard-hitting cinematic style has often been compared to tabloid journalism, and writer-director Adam Simon touches the important bases of Fuller’s early training as a copy boy and crime reporter, as well as his indelible experiences on D-day and liberating the concentration camps in World War II.

But Fuller’s career in Hollywood, which began in earnest in the late 1940s and saw him move from major studio work in the ’50s into more haphazard experiences in the indie and international realms thereafter, goes entirely unanalyzed. A very different, but welcome, docu would quiz some of Fuller’s collaborators, do a bit of investigative work of its own and come up with a more complete picture of the man and his remarkable accomplishments.

Instead, Simon and Robbins have opted to include observations from three of Fuller’s most illustrious younger admirers, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Of them, only Scorsese, always an invaluable contributor to such buff undertakings, provides any revelations, especially when he describes how one of the fights in “Raging Bull” was directly inspiredby a sequence in Fuller’s “Steel Helmet,” with appropriate illustration from clips.

Excerpts from Fuller films gratifyingly occupy much of the running time, and they are of uniformly excellent visual quality and well edited to make their points, even if quite a few films are omitted. Interviews are also shot in an eye-catching way to keep the film visually stimulating at all times.

Docu is intelligent and represents its subject in an accurate way, but falls short of fully explicating his incredibly rich personality, career and life.

The Typewriter the Rifle & the Movie Camera

(BRITISH/U.S. -- DOCU -- COLOR/B&W)

Production: A British Film Institute and Independent Film Channel presentation in association with Channel Four Television, Havoc Inc. and the Museum of Modern Art Department of Film and Video. (International sales: BFI TV, London.) Produced by Colin MacCabe, Paula Jalfon. Executive producer, Tim Robbins. Directed, written by Adam Simon. Camera (color, B&W), Caroline Champetier; editor, Bill Diver; sound, Alain Villeval (Paris), Jeff Pullman (N.Y.), Buck Robinson (L.A.). Reviewed on videocassette, L.A., Jan. 17, 1996. (In Sundance Film Festival -- World Cinema.) Running time: 55 MIN.

With: With: Sam Fuller, Tim Robbins, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino.

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