Trails lost and roads won at the polls on Tuesday; be clear that there is meaning there. This election should remind Austin voters of the different goals, both short- and long-term, of those in the inner city and those in the suburbs and county. Single-member districts will seriously shift the balance of power even more. It should also remind environmentalists of the driver-stuck-in-traffic vote, and they better think of the long-term consequences of that bloc; they will vote to pay for roads.
As expected, campaign finance reform won handily; the topic is so in vogue right now as the cure for what ails democracy. This is a bad law, some of it may be unconstitutional, the rest serves to do the exact opposite of what its proponents say it intends. I sincerely hope I'm wrong about what will happen. The voters have spoken and we will all now see the consequences.
Roam Sweet Home is a wonderful documentary, a trip down the roads of America by filmmaker Ellen Spiro, accompanied by her dog, her camera, and her Airstream. On the road, she encountered a culture of senior citizens who also live on the road, most of them in Airstreams, too. It is the kind of film -- a warm and funny humanist document filled with interesting characters -- that you want to watch over and over (shot by Spiro, it boasts some amazingly lovely visuals). Jerry Johnson captures both the film and its maker in our "Screens" section this week.
Spiro will introduce Roam Sweet Home at the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre 6:30pm, Wednesday November 12 as part of the Texas Documentary Tour. Afterward, there will be a question-and-answer session with the filmmaker. The Tour is a co-presentation of The Austin Film Society, the University of Texas RTF Department, SXSW Film, and The Austin Chronicle.
It is a long, narrow corridor, seeming to stretch forever into the darkness. A fat man fills the space; it is black & white. The fat man starts to sing and it ends with a scream. Or it starts with a scream in a dream and ends with the fat man singing. I'm not sure exactly how it goes in Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor, a 1963 film about a journalist who poses as a patient to go undercover inside a mental hospital to solve a murder. Visually, the film sticks in my memory like a jagged razor, occasionally cutting through the membrane and showing up in the most unexpected places. Still alive, I remember it more as a nightmare fragment than a quote from cinematic literature.
Fuller's films are full of such images, wild punches thrown at the audience. Unlike filmmakers who make films to please an audience or those that do it for their own satisfaction, Fuller wants to take the audience on, he wants them to leave the theatre shaking their heads, stunned and muttering, "What the hell was that!?!"
Sam Fuller died last week. Short, wearing a Confederate cavalry hat with a cigar always stuck in his face, Fuller directed movies that were made to confront their audiences and make them think. A newspaperman and scriptwriter, Fuller directed 17 Hollywood films between 1949 and 1965 including Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, Forty Guns, Underworld U.S.A., and Pickup on South Street. The early films made money, but some of the later films didn't. They were tough, in-your-face films that helped show the way from the classic Hollywood narrative to the more individual and idiosyncratic cinema of the Fifties and Sixties. They dealt with racism and class, war and morality, issues rammed through their stories, ideology pouring out the leaks. After Naked Kiss, Fuller continued to work, but usually not in Hollywood and mostly on his own terms (among the films that followed were Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, The Big Red One, Thieves After Dark, Street of No Return, and White Dog).
Fuller was well-loved by filmmakers, better known to them than to the general film-going audiences. The filmmakers honored him by putting him in their movies, and he appeared in, among others, Jean Luc Goddard's Pierrot le Fou, Dennis Hooper's The Last Movie, Wim Wenders' The American Friend and The State of Things, and Tobe Hooper's Return to Salem's Lot. It wasn't just that Fuller made great films, he was a figure of unusual personal integrity and conviction.
There is a scene in Forty Guns (in black & white CinemaScope) where Barbara Stanwyck, dressed completely in black, rides at the head of 40 male riders. The sky opens up, the landscape rushes for a turn, and this carefully cut sequence goes wild. The ride is there, not just Stanwyck and her Forty Guns riding through the old West, but the thrill of cinema where the sum of the parts becomes so much more than the whole. The image is beautiful, staying in your head forever.
Sometime soon, the Austin Film Society will host a screening/wake. Sam Fuller -- great filmmaker, industry legend, and truly unique individual -- is gone, but his films remain.