Sam’s Centennial

Sam Fuller and his daughter, Samatha, 8bis Rue de la Baume, Paris, 3/5/83

I first saw films directed by the great Sam Fuller (1912-1997) at the Collective for Living Cinema on White Street.  “Naked Kiss,” “Pickup on South Street,” “Shock Corridor”: they were thrilling.  But his reputation and those of equally remarkable contemporaries, Douglas Sirk and Nick Ray, were languishing, the three then mistakenly labeled–and dismissed–as B-movie directors.

(The Collective was also where a famous feminist artist whom I recognized–her face and body figured prominently in her work–looked at me with exasperation when, working at the folding table that served as the box office, I asked her for the price of admission to that evening’s program, the new work of a famous avant-garde filmmaker, who unknown to me was her boyfriend.  She said, gratingly ungrammatically–I was a recent literature and creative writing college graduate–“For I? For I am the Muse.” And then she flowed dismissively past me in her hippie layers.  But I digress.)

In late winter 1983, I photographed Sam Fuller in Paris.  I had been given his contact info (which pre-everything digital meant a phone number) by Wim Wenders’ producers in New York.  Sam had played “Der Amerikaner” (with aplomb) in the “The American Friend”–the young directors of the Neue Deutsche Kino tuned into the importance of his  (and Ray’s and Sirk’s) work before the reevaluation began  at home.

The apartment, a young American’s idea/ideal of Parisian elegance and sophistication (decades years later, Sam’s wife, Christa, told me that “it was quite a place, except nothing worked. Had to stand in the kitchen with a wintercoat to do the dishes at times!!”) was off the Champs-Elysée near the Arc de Triomphe and belonged to the producer Humbert Balsan (whose work, life and suicide were the inspiration for Mia Hansen-Love‘s 2009 film, “The Father of My Children”).

We began photographing in the building’s courtyard.  It was gray outside but not cold.  Sam’s ubiquitous cigar is in every frame but his unmistakable voice, that day unrecorded (my beautiful, perfect, analog Hasselblad 500 C/M, of course MOS).  And moving inside–high ceilings, carved moldings, parquet floors, French doors–I shot my favorite image, Sam with his daughter, Samantha.

Samantha, eight years old in the photo, is now a glass artist and her daughter, Samira, is the third Sam.  She’s making a tribute film, a feature-length documentary about her father, “A Fuller Life,” incorporating personal footage Sam shot with his Bell & Howell and passages from his autobiography, “A Third Face,” read in his office by friends and admirers.  “Mavericks,” Christa called the readers, a word often associated with Sam (and dealt a near-fatal body blow by Sarah Palin when she tried to own it), including Wim Wenders, Monte Hellman, Bill Duke, James Toback, “the boys, now men, from ‘The Big Red One’ ” and James Franco.

With a 50-minute rough cut completed, Samantha has begun a kickstarter campaign to fund additional  shooting and post-production:

Sam Fuller would have been 100 today.

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