July Highlights on TCM
SAM FULLER (July 13) -- 2012 is the centenary of one of American cinema's most dynamic and inventive artists. In the old reference books, he was known as Samuel Fuller, but now everyone calls him Sam, which is just-- one syllable rather than three seems fitting for the man who made pictures like Pickup on South Street and The Big Red One, which are blunt, nononsense, and as graphically powerful as the tabloid newspaper writing Fuller practiced as a young man and celebrated in his early and very personal picture Park Row. That movie, made for very little money on one large-scale 19th century New York set, has always amazed me, with its endless dynamism, its immersion in the romantic lore of the earliest days of crusading journalism, its celebration of the materials and tools and activities of the trade (writing, sorting of type, printing), and its powerful link between motion and emotion. I'm pleased that it's being shown in TCM's birthday tribute to Fuller, which also includes his remarkable debut, I Shot Jesse James, and two wild films from the early '60s, Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss. For those who have never seen a Fuller movie, expect nothing in the way of either subtlety or opulence. Fuller was an inventor, excited by every side of moviemaking--composition, the impact of one shot cut together with another, the hypnotic momentum of the moving camera. He inspired many filmmakers after him, including Jean-Luc Godard (who cast Fuller in a brief cameo, as himself, in Pierrot le fou), Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Quentin Tarantino. I would also proudly place myself in this group. Happy Birthday, Sam.
ISLAND IN THE SKY (July 20, 9:30pm ET)--This is a very special movie, made by William Wellman with John Wayne as a kind of follow-up to The High and the Mighty, which was a massive hit. It's about a civilian pilot (Wayne) and his crew flying a Corsair for Army Air Transport during the war. They lose their bearings and crash-land in an extremely remote and desolate patch of land near Labrador, where the temperature drops to 70-below at night. This is studio filmmaking at its best, because while it's evident that the stranded men are not in sub-zero weather, you do get a strong sense of the mounting desperation and disorientation that comes with trying to stay alive in hellishly cold conditions--you feel it in the slow deterioration of hope and morale, in Wayne's stoicism slowly coming apart. But what really makes this picture so special is the camaraderie within the far-flung brotherhood of airmen. The word goes out that Wayne and his crew are down and his fellow pilots in Presque Isle, Maine (Walter Abel, James Arness, Lloyd Nolan) don't even think twice-- they drop whatever they're doing and fly as far as they can, over and over again, before they start running out of gas and have to turn back. They just keep going back, against increasingly tough odds (a storm is on its way), until they get the job done. Island in the Sky is a wonderful film about community, friendship, and endurance, and it has a strange, almost mystical power: no matter how bad things get, the men trapped in the wilderness seem to know that their friends are up there soaring through the clouds.
UMBERTO D. (July 1, 2:00am ET)--Just a brief word about Vittorio de Sica's masterpiece Umberto D, which is also showing this month. The simple eloquence of this picture--about a retired professor (Carlo Battisti) with nothing left in this world but his dog Flag--is some kind of miracle. As Orson Welles said of De Sica's Shoeshine, "the camera disappeared, the screen disappeared, it was just life..."
by Martin Scorsese