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July 28, 2005

Tigrero: A Film That Never Was Made

Mika Kaurismaki - 1993
Fantoma Region 1 DVD

The title of this film is misleading. Tigrero is not quite like It's All True with its recovered footage shot by Orson Welles, or The Epic That Never Was which documented Josef Von Sternberg's aborted attempt to film I, Claudius. Tigrero is an amiable, though clearly staged, documentary of Samuel Fuller returning to a remote part of Brazil where he visited almost forty years previously.

The Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurimaki shows Jim Jarmusch gamely tagging along with Fuller to a remote indian village where Fuller shot test footage in 1954 for a film to star John Wayne at the request of Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck. Fuller insists that the villagers will remember him. Jarmusch is doubtful. In what is the best moment of Kaurimaki's film, we see the villagers watching the old footage, eyes lighting up at the recognition of some of the people on screen. Some of the indians thank Fuller for bringing their relatives and friends temporarily back to life.

Some of the footage shot in Brazil is familiar to anyone who has seen Shock Corridor. Shots of a fertility dance and waterfalls were incorporated by Fuller, with the cinemascope imagery distorted to reflect the madness of the characters. One of the extras of the DVD shows the original footage in the correct aspect ratio, which includes shots of Fuller on horseback as well as chopping his way through the brush with a machete. With his ever present cigar in his mouth, Fuller always looks ready to take charge.

One of the other extras on the DVD is of still shot by Jarmusch. There is a shot of a villager playing with a tripod, with his head where the camera is normally placed, pretending to be a cameraman, or even, perhaps, a camera. The shot made me think of Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie. Samuel Fuller played the part of a director shooting a movie in a remote village in South America. After the production crew leaves the village, the villagers re-enact the production process with mock cameras.
I have to wonder if Jarmusch was thinking of The Last Movie when he took the photograph, or if any of Fuller's anecdotes were the inspiration for Hopper's meditation on film and reality.

Fuller's story of his not making Tigrero is also recounted in his autobiography. In addition to John Wayne, Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power were set to go to Brazil. Due to the remote and sometimes dangerous location, production was cancelled due to exorbitant costs of insuring the stars.

I had the opportunity to see Sam Fuller in person in Denver, in 1982. Denver briefly had a cinemateque. The person in charged vetoed screening Fuller's version of his little seen White Dog in favor of the more familiar Pick-Up on South Street. Until I saw him in person, I did not realize how short Fuller was, standing barely more than five feet tall. He graciously autographed my copy of his novel 144 Picadilly. I normally don't seek autographs from anyone. The exception is this fireplug of a man who whether on film, in print, or in person, always had a story to tell.

Posted by peter at July 28, 2005 04:52 PM