Panic attacks, like most consciousness-altering physiological events, are aggressively cyclical. I was in my sophomore year of college, presenting some hastily researched notes on Pre-Raphaelite art to 15-to-20 listless English lit classmates, when I experienced my first; a bungled exordium that misattributed a Rossetti painting to William Holman Hunt gradually hardened into a pearl sac of mental worry, and after passing out a list of chicken-scratched citations I became light-headed and shaky. My 3×5 note cards fluttered to the floor and, as I glanced down at them, the world melted into white. There were distant voices, and pulsating images of a vaguely violent nature. After a few minutes, the tyranny of blankness abdicated, and an odd, otherworldly coolness replaced it. I was on my back, peering up at my blond, six-months-pregnant English professor, who seemed outlined with piercing electricity, like a psychedelic Virgin Mary.
I’ve rarely seen the blissfully illogical calm that’s followed each of my anxiety climaxes rendered accurately in film, though two movies come frightfully close with sharp formalistic symbolism. In Black Narcissus, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger halt Sister Ruth’s sex-denied frenzy by boiling the screen to a primary red that diffuses into primary blue. (This is panic and self-soothing as cinematographic essence, as Technicolor.) But Lars von Trier’s Antichrist contains more than simply a technical flourish of a breakdown; von Trier dilutes the anxiety-attack cycle and utilizes its fatalistic incomprehensibility as his narrative arc.
Antichrist is one of the cruelest jokes ever produced and unleashed on the film-going public, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a practical one. It’s a deadly serious comedy of excess, a not-quite-camp, not-quite-clinical journey through deeply personal psychoses that flails and rages against modern instruments of wellness (namely pills and therapists) and comes to rest, finally, against impossible contrivance. Its imagery is often resistant to interpretation, yet obliquely menacing. (A chick carcass plummets from a nest to be overtaken first by black ants, then cannibalistic birds of prey.) Much of the dialogue is preposterously heavy-handed (”…you’ll learn the fear isn’t dangerous”), a sardonic illustration of how science can be just as predatory and un-nuanced as the natural phenomena it’s designed to protect us from by way of explication. And, despite a grisly third act, the photography (by digital specialist Anthony Dod Mantle) is gracefully supernal; it’s almost like an entire film composed of the chapter stop-marking, motion-enhanced paintings that endowed Breaking the Waves with calculated, anti-Dogme opulence.
This opening scene contains the movie’s most forcefully satirical content: A young boy dies in an unlikely fall from an apartment window while parents He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) satisfy their carnal desires in an adjacent room. The scene unspools with the deliberate slow motion, coruscating black and white, and gentle, operatic soundtrack of high-end jewelry commercials, a wholesome aesthetic von Trier can’t help but undermine with an obligatory punch-in of hardcore, shower wall-buttressed penetration. But the arrangement of shots subtly, and soberly, foreshadows the pulpy materialism to follow.
Vacant facial expressions are shown pre-copulation, then eschewed in favor of hydraulic limbs and buttocks, displaced water carafes, and congregating snow banks-turned graves; rather than suggestive of connubial affection and filial regret, the framing glorifies impulsive animalism and the chill of dumb chance. The prologue’s literal conflation of sex and death is also the first of several stubborn reversals of natural order that calcify the germ of unthinkable grief (the couple’s intimacy, complicit in the son’s fatal injury due to the neglect it inspires, is anti-reproductive). And the scene’s shimmering, over-the-top beauty, sardonic detachment, and anti-social rancor are eventually revealed as the strongest hues in Antichrist’s palette—watching the movie is like being caught off guard by a sullen atheist barfing up glitter.
Reeling from grief, psychologist/husband He tightens his grip on the downward spiraling She by urging her to confront her botulated guilt in “Eden,” an idyllic yet overwhelming wood where the family keeps a cabin for recreation and isolated study. This shallow plot bears the ironic narrow-mindedness of a prankster playwright’s response to a fatuous “Pen your own Strindbergian drama!” high school prompt, and despite the methodology behind von Trier’s infantilism, he can’t help drawing attention to his mismatched seams. Why bother, for example, dividing the clumsily amorphous story of Antichrist into titled chapters (each drawn from the faux-gnostic abstracts She fixates upon and personifies as the Three Beggars)? In Dogville and Manderlay, the rigid narrative structure mocked the characters’ nihilistic plights with Samuel Johnson-like impishness; here, the act breaks are intermittent plateaus on an upward trail of maleficent weirdness.
But as the off-kilter and occasionally ridiculous scenarios intensify, He and She go down a slippery slope of panic-inspired anti-rationalism; a stillborn fawn dangling from a doe’s backside and a talking fox leisurely dining on its own entrails are silly manifestations of the rather frightening notion that nature is only a thief and not a gift-bearer of life. When recollected in post-anxiety tranquility, such anthropomorphic spook tactics seem childish; when we’re confronted with them in the midst of a fuzzy-eyed, tremor-inducing anxiety spell, we sweat in their presence. They’re rasping hallucinations, provoked by a seeping adrenaline leak, that mock the suffering and imperiously chortle at the sight of futile Xanax ingestion.
She, who dumps her unnamed meds in the toilet in act one, is often interpreted as a recklessly intransigent “answer” to von Trier’s alleged misogyny; her scholarship concerns the eerily medieval concept of “gynocide,” a macabre reading of classically anti-women texts that devilishly defends distaff violence. But while He becomes incensed when learning of this morally dubious thesis, he misses the bigger-picture assertion, partly implied by flashbacks to She’s casual abuse of their son: that humanity’s nefariousness is not only inherently deserving of punitive mutilation, but tantamount to a kind of black magic. Just as those who may have had the misfortune to experience epilepsy in a socio-religious climate that whole-heartedly believed in—or self-servingly promoted the existence of—mind-controlling incantations, anxiety patients undergo a modern bewitching with an often numinous, if intimidating, tenor. And fittingly, both the first and arguably the most gruesome bloodletting wounds in Antichrist are self-inflicted: She batters her forehead on a toilet bowl until He wrenches her away, sedates her with rough sex, and then hypnotically compels her to “melt into the green” of Eden’s ferociously fern-ridden fields. It’s only after her panic trip peaks with corporeal abhorrence that the final battle royale can occur, and She exacts definitive auto-punishment against her pleasure center.
A stiffly hermeneutic reading might translate He and She as dueling avatars of a single person’s grief, but clean-cut id-versus-superego assignations fall short of von Trier’s gnarled neuroses. If anything, He is the voice of practicality that wants us to trust and follow our therapists’ advice, but who quickly appears despotic, conceited and uncaring when our conditions worsen; She is the urge to surrender to anxiety’s looming crest, to punish the self for giving in and to batter traces of our palpable pain into agents of aid, both internal and external. Cadaverous limbs jut out from and intertwine organically about the erotic tree roots where the two entities intersect peacefully; bloodstained ejaculate marks the border of their internecine conflict. He is the somewhat hesitant master of the physical and the logical, wielding post-paternal optimism and a domineering member; She rules the chthonic symbols of malice that relentlessly betray him. (His subterranean battle with a squawk-happy crow is the film’s funniest, and tensest, moment.)
That He rises to dispatch She once and for all after having his leg driven through with a massive woodscrew and weighted down with a bar and dumbbell mimics the manner in which the senses always return, against all odds, in the final moments of an anxiety attack. But though the wounds heal quickly, we’re left with a gnawing unrest, and the realization that whatever we thought had been holding back the flood of nervous despair is not impenetrable. In the film’s ghostly epilogue, He cavorts among faceless women wandering aimlessly through the forest, any one of who could—any one of who will, perhaps—easily replace the freshly conquered, dominating angst of She in due time. The title Antichrist thus refers not to the arbitration of doom, but the rejection of false saviors—of Freud, of Citalopram, of love. Von Trier and I might agree that while art isn’t much more effective than any of these, at least it has fewer side effects.
“It’s very pretty” were the first words that left my girlfriend’s mouth as Antichrist’s credits rolled, and, indeed, on Blu-ray Lars von Trier’s joke seems far less cruel, at least on the eyes. Between this and their release of Secret of the Grain, Criterion appears to be launching a veritable defense for the otherworldly clarity and glinting colors of high-def video; a few scenes suffer from obvious chroma-key flatness, but elsewhere it’s as if we’re inside the Red Camera, soaking in the lines of resolution. Even when the images blur, they retain an unnerving crispness. The sound seems to have been mastered a tad on the low side, but the uncompressed 5.1 surround effectively encases the viewer in falling acorns and feminine bleats.
I’m torn. The hour-plus behind-the-scenes Antichrist documentary featured here offers invaluable production insight, but it also demystifies much of what makes the film so ineffably rancorous. Either way, it’s nice to have the option of watching the thorough supplements here, even if Antichrist’s principal photography seems to have gone smoother than that of von Trier’s last three or four films combined. There’s also a featurette covering the movie’s controversial premiere at Cannes, a slew of interviews with von Trier, Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Anthony Dod Mantle, and an intermittently fascinating director’s commentary that reveals which of the film’s images were drawn from dreams. Von Trier governs the glut of extras with an oddly relaxed, roly-poly, “What me worry?” demeanor.
One of the most personal films ever made about anxiety, Antichrist is hitting retail stores just in time for the holiday season. Let your loved ones know that you care by letting chaos reign…in their Blu-ray player.
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg Director: Lars von Trier Screenwriter: Lars von Trier Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 108 min Rating: R Year: 2009 Release Date: November 9, 2010 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Julien Duvivier’s Panique
This dynamic and balanced restoration makes a significant case for the film as one of the most moving and beautiful of unjustly neglected noirs.4.5
Julien Duvivier’s Panique informs small-town life with rich menace, suggesting a correlation can exist between vicious gossip and physical violence, as people seek to assert dominion over the reputations of their neighbors out of boredom and resentment. Throughout the film, a doubling motif links classism with atrocity, and rumor-mongering with the tragedy it incites—such as linked images of two funerals, one of the murder victim that drives the film’s plot, the other of a person framed for the murder, essentially for being an eccentric outcast. As in many a film noir, Panique has, at its center, the structural rigidness of a mathematical equation, which it fleshes out with macabre comedy, piercing pathos, and a mad blend of realism and rococo expressionism.
The outcast is Monsieur Hire, played by Michel Simon, in casting that recalls Jean Renoir’s La Chienne. In both films, Simon plays a frumpy, lonely, and artistic man stuck in his own head, who falls for a beautiful woman who exploits his affections with the encouragement of her true lover. Renoir allows us to understand from the outset that Simon’s character is trapped, by his self-loathing as much as by his manipulators, while Duvivier offers a panorama that gradually closes in on Hire. In fact, one of the driving pleasures of Panique’s first act is in attempting to discern where it’s going, as Duvivier studies the respective habits of a baker, a prostitute, a shifty young man, a hypocritical accountant, and so forth. The film’s foreboding emphasis on daily life sometimes suggests The Marseille Trilogy by way of Shirley Jackson.
Hire initially appears confident, accepting his status in this picturesque country as the resident weirdo. After resisting the butcher’s attempts to talk with him, Hire orders a bloody pork loin and proceeds to the cheese shop to search for its “ripest” Camembert. Such details, which are plentiful in Panique, are amusing for their own sake while revealing that Hire fashions himself a ghoulish aesthete who’s somewhat difficult for the sake of being difficult. (The emphases on blood and ripeness also suggest a rechanneling of thwarted sexual hungers.) Unlike the immediately pitiable hero of La Chienne, Hire allows the audience to enjoy his loneliness. Perhaps this is a man who’s figured out how to live apart from society with dignity intact. In other words, Hire, who possesses the gifts of Simon’s own inherently introverted magnetism, flatters similarly-minded people in the audience.
This narrative misdirection mirrors Hire’s fooling of himself, underscoring how he’s attempted to transcend his human need for companionship—a nuance that renders his fall from grace all the more moving. As Hire becomes intoxicated with Alice (Viviane Romance), Simon’s physicality becomes subtly heavier and more awkward, as the actor understands Hire to be reverting to a vulnerable state that’s been long suppressed. Duvivier’s compositions complement this notion, particularly when Hire is framed in his cluttered apartment, regarding Alice’s residence from below as carnival lights luridly illuminate him. The carnival isn’t only a metaphor for the “show business”—the manipulations, the play-acting—that govern everyday life, but for how society always requires freaks for projection and ostracizing.
A beautiful and merciless film, Panique has been read as an allegory for Vichy France’s complicity with Nazis, which is apparent in the way the conspiring villagers are shown to unify against a diseased cause that’s been engineered by a third party. And such an association is complicated further by the controversy of Duvivier leaving his country for Hollywood during WWII, which is helpfully illuminated in the essays in the booklet included with this disc. But humankind has so often betrayed itself—honoring its irrational base instincts above issues of morality or common sense—that Panique now operates as a free-floating nightmare of persecution, one which offers a vividly haunting victim. As Hire ascends a building to his doom, fleeing his vengeful neighbors, one may think of Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong, only in this case there’s no mythical creature to offer one the distancing assurance of the fantastic.
The image has a few minor blemishes but is generally quite sharp and rich in tactile detail. Throughout the film, this superb clarity particularly emphasizes the relationship between the various foregrounds and backgrounds of the frames, underscoring the vitality of tracking shots that elaborate on the various connections between the characters, emphasizing how small this troubled community really is. Blacks are rich, and whites are delicately soft, the latter of which is important in rendering characters’ flesh, particularly in the surprisingly erotic images of a woman teasing her male voyeur with glimpses of her body. The monaural soundtrack expertly preserves the film’s intricate soundstage, which often pivots on a contrast between the sounds of everyday work (carpentry and butchery) and those of the carnival, which physicalize the lurid thoughts driving the narrative’s action.
“The Art of Subtitling,” a new short documentary by Bruce Goldstein, founder and co-president of Rialto Pictures, offers an unusual and fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day challenges of translating foreign dialogue into English text. Like a lot of things many of us take for granted, subtitling requires an exactitude and discipline that’s invisible at first glance. For instance, a subtitle must disappear before one image segues into another, so as to not jar the audience. And, for the sake of flow, subtitles must also summarize dialogue rather than literally transcribe it, so that an audience doesn’t spend a film’s entire running time reading. Goldstein also examines the process of updating and improving subtitle tracks over the years as films are restored, including the production of the new track of Panique that was commissioned for this release, as modern audiences have grown to crave a precise rendering of the slang and humor that give characters and narratives texture.
A new interview with author Pierre Simenon, the son of legendary Belgian novelist Georges Simenon, offers an inside look at how Julien Duvivier altered one of his father’s novels to arrive at the screenplay for Panique, while providing a short overview of Georges’s life, particularly during WWI and WWII. (Georges wasn’t especially fond of the many films made from his work, though Pierre has high praise for Panique.) Meanwhile, a conversation from 2015 between critics Guillemette Odicino and Eric Libiot succinctly covers a variety of topics, especially the rocky reception that Duvivier received when he returned to France after working in the United States so as to dodge the Nazi occupation. French audiences, somewhat understandably, were resistant to a critique of mob justice from someone who managed to avoid the danger and turmoil of the mob altogether. The essays by film scholar James Quandt and Duvivier expert Lenny Borger also discuss the political context of Panique, while reveling in the film’s brilliant melding of realist and expressionist textures. The theatrical trailer rounds out a slim but informative supplements package.
With this dynamic and balanced restoration, Criterion makes a significant case for Panique as one of the most moving and beautiful of unjustly neglected noirs.
Cast: Michel Simon, Viviane Romance, Paul Bernard, Charles Dorat, Louis Florencie, Max Dalban, Émile Drain, Guy Favières Director: Julien Duvivier Screenwriter: Charles Spaak, Julien Duvivier Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 98 min Rating: NR Year: 1946 Buy: Video
Blu-ray Review: Brian De Palma’s Obsession
Brian De Palma’s showy Vertigo tribute gets a significant A/V upgrade from Shout! Factory.4
Geneviève Bujold was a little bit like the Björk of late-‘60s, early-‘70s cinema. She worked between predominately pop-minded American films and hermetic, aggressively Euro productions, coasted a long way on adorably pliable looks, and kept you perpetually off-balance with her off-kilter line readings and interpretations. She was a sterile cuckoo with a voice whose grit confirmed the darkness in her eyes. Paul Schrader may have ended up having to capitulate Obsession’s original (ridiculous) scripted ending to the will of Brian De Palma, but the casting of Bujold in what is essentially Kim Novak’s role in Vertigo results in a literary emphasis not seen in De Palma’s work again until the strong-arm showboating of Oliver Stone and David Mamet.
Obsession is, as far as De Palma’s tributes to Hitchcock go, half-baked and far-fetched without even the benefit of being audacious-unto-tasteless. It’s the film in which the only dearth of a metaphoric “double” is the comedy mask that ought to complement the dour visage of tragedy. (Is that the reason that it’s Obsession, and not any other De Palma film up until Femme Fatale, that’s included in the top 1,000 film list of Jonathan Rosenbaum, who sneered at the director for delighting in audience reactions to Dressed to Kill?)
While Bernard Herrmann’s rapturously funereal score (with at least four separate dirge leitmotifs swirling around the opulent, central “Valse Lente”) ratchets up Obsession’s metastasized, polluted doom-gloom, Bujold takes her role in the opposite direction, at least initially. (The character is a screenwriter’s “pitch” if there ever was one—e.g., “What if we took the idea that Kim Novak was practically young enough to be James Stewart’s daughter and just ran with that?”) Within minutes of meeting Cliff Robertson’s sad sack Michael, Bujold’s Elizabeth bites heartily into Schrader’s symbolic dialogue about the ethical implications of discovering an original draft of art and restoring the revision.
That’s clearly an expression of self-deprecating guilt from a writer who felt a little dirty turning Vertigo into a teary-eyed sick joke. But Bujold’s enthusiasm as a performer redeems the entire picture, especially when she’s asked to perform flashback scenes that shouldn’t work, but, thanks to her, represent another of De Palma’s fearlessly experimental whims.
Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography has looked too washed-out on previous home-video editions of the film, but it finally looks right on Shout’s Blu-ray. Colors are natural and the exaggerated lighting dazzles when refracted off of mirror surfaces. Even more impressive is the surround-sound remix, which amplifies Bernard Herrmann’s bombastic, swelling score to deafening levels while leaving all dialogue clear in the center channel. The original mono track is also included and sounds every bit as crisp despite the lack of separation.
On his commentary track, Douglas Keesey offers a drily academic breakdown of the film. The author of Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film sounds too much like he’s reading from a script, but he still provides intriguing observations on the director’s stylistic flourishes. Interviews with producer George Litto and editor Paul Hirsch see both men reminiscing about their careers and work with De Palma, with the former more gregarious about his own life and the latter more specific about the details of his work on Obsession. An archival documentary on the film features interviews with De Palma, Cliff Robertson, and Geneviève Bujold, who all reflect on the film’s production and how well they worked together. The disc also includes a trailer, radio spots, and an image gallery.
Brian De Palma’s showy Vertigo tribute gets a significant A/V upgrade, highlighting the dreamy haze of Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s score better than any home-video release of the film to date.
Cast: Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow, Sylvia Kuumba Williams, Wanda Blackman, J. Patrick McNamara, Stanley J. Reyes, Nick Kreiger, Stocker Fontelieu Director: Brian De Palma Screenwriter: Paul Schrader Distributor: Shout! Factory Running Time: 98 min Rating: PG Year: 1976 Buy: Video, Soundtrack
Blu-ray Review: Forty Guns
Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.4.0
Though shot in a drum-tight 10 days, and on a low budget, writer-director Samuel Fuller’s raw, punchy noir-western Forty Guns isn’t a film of half-measures. As it acquaints us with Tombstone, Arizona, the parched Cochise County town where its action takes place, the 1957 film does so with an unbroken dolly shot that runs the entire length of main street, taking in something like 50-plus actors in choreographed motion and encompassing both an exposition dump and a startling zoom-and-pan reveal.
When Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck), the territory’s domineering land baroness, conducts her daily business via horseback, she does so with all 40 of her grizzled hired hands in tow, a thunderous spectacle trotted out for matters both large and small. And when a tornado rips over the hills, realized by Fuller and his crew as a high-powered dust storm that renders the landscape a grainy, swirling abstraction, Stanwyck is right in the middle of the fray; the script called for Jessica to be dragged along with the hoof of a runaway horse, and Stanwyck insisted on performing the daredevil maneuver herself, much to the chagrin of producers.
Bold expressionism and brawny physicality were staples of Fuller’s filmmaking career—qualities surely indebted in some part to his experiences as an infantryman and cameraman during World War II—and in Forty Guns the entire cast is synchronized with that sensibility. The film is possessed of an earthy eroticism, evident in a number of scenes dedicated to watching Tombstone’s men bathe openly under the afternoon sun, as well as in an insistent streak of sexual innuendo in the dialogue, wherein any talk of a man’s gun is quite transparently an allusion to his cock.
Upon the arrival of pacifistic U.S. Marshal Griff Bonell (Barry Sullivan), carrying a warrant for the arrest of Jessica’s rotten brother, Brockie (John Ericson), in town with siblings Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), the townsfolk’s dormant sexual energies are expulsed, with Wes angling for local gunsmith Louvenia (Eve Brent) and Griff himself going after Jessica. In a place where gunfire is the prevailing expression of emotion, violence and sex thus become intimately entangled—a link visually represented when Wes and Louvenia’s mutual desire is consummated by an eccentric down-the-rifle-barrel POV shot that Jean-Luc Godard would crib for Breathless only three years later.
This suggestive visual punnery aside, the structure of Forty Guns ultimately accommodates a shift from lewd flirtation to emotional vulnerability, with the at-first caricatured threat of violence becoming a real and deadly threat indeed, as new bonds are sewn and prior allegiances are fissured. Griff, having vowed to retire his six-shooter, awakens Jessica’s sensitive side in the process of spending time with her, breaking down her desperado roughness with his nonviolent, levelheaded enforcement of the law.
The moment when Jessica seems to have fully emerged as a more complicated woman than she initially appeared is among the film’s most beautiful: When she and Griff find shelter from the aforementioned tornado in an abandoned barn, a lilting crane shot descends from the rafters to find the lovers entangled from head to toe in a pile of hay, the camera finally landing in an intimate two-shot to survey their nostalgic exchange without a single cut. It’s a scene of aching tenderness in the midst of bawdy farce and jolts of brutality, but such a commiseration of souls proves fleeting in a land of hardened alliances and quick triggers, and it’s this very union that acts as the catalyst for an accumulating body count.
The film’s tonal swing from goofiness to severity is best exemplified in the three Tombstone ambushes conducted by Brockie. The first, seemingly the result of a drunken whim, is a maniacal shooting spree played mostly for shock laughs (save for the mood-puncturing casualty of an innocent blind man), and concluded by Griff’s swift pistol-whipping of the terrified Brockie. Mirroring this is a more coordinated attack later in Forty Guns when a wedding is interrupted by a surprise bullet, immediately throttling the mood from revelry to tragedy—and leading to a hymnal-led funeral scene to rival those in John Ford westerns. Finally, the third ambush in Tombstone finds Griff again marching calculatedly toward a menacing scene, only this time unsure of the whereabouts of the aggressors. Fuller stages the scene as a high-wire standoff between three disparate points of threat, juicing the dramatic irony to a breaking point until Griff expertly diffuses the situation, but not without preventing another death.
Shot in black-and-white CinemaScope at a time when the format was largely reserved for color productions, Forty Guns‘s deep chiaroscuro anticipates the characters’ deadly impulses and the grave directions that the drama takes. It all leads to a climactic showdown of remarkable savagery that seems to confirm an irrepressible violence within the hearts of even the most upstanding among us—though it’s followed then by a studio-mandated corrective to it, a scene that partially aims to clear the dust churned up by such a bleak capper. Fuller includes a line of dialogue that complicates the uplift, but even if he hadn’t, Forty Guns‘s damning treatise on gun infatuation and the incapacity to transcend one’s nature had already landed its heaviest blows, leaving a bitter aftertaste that no smearing of schmaltz could quite undo.
Studio-shot interiors are granted a superb degree of contrast, with the deep, inky shadows doing full justice to the film’s celluloid origins, in addition to mirroring the bottled-up anxiety and rage in the characters. Meanwhile, location work in the foothills of Arizona is awesomely vivid. When Barbara Stanwyck or Barry Sullivan ride across the landscape on horseback, the subtle gradations and tones of the arid ground are as compelling as the action being depicted. And suitably for a film at least partly about the destructiveness of firearms, the howling gun blasts heard on the audio track are enough to get the attention of the neighbors, if not too loud to overwhelm the at-times hushed dialogue and gentle desert ambiance.
The meatiest supplement here is “A Fuller Life,” Samantha Fuller’s affectionate feature-length tribute to her father’s experiences as a journalist, infantryman, and filmmaker, unconventionally presented as a series of readings from his autobiography, A Third Face, by directors and actors who knew him. Not all these participants seem equally enthusiastic about the project, and the documentary consequently has some dry, overly wordy passages. But the access to Fuller’s treasure trove of personal material—clips from his old bylines, footage from WWII, and production files—makes it never less than a fascinating excavation for acolytes of the artist.
Similarly rewarding in this regard are the three other bits of deep-dive Fuller content: an entertainingly candid 1969 interview with the director that can be played as a commentary track, a printed excerpt from A Third Face that goes into some detail about Forty Guns‘s production, and a newly shot interview with Fuller’s second wife, Christa Lang Fuller, and daughter that plays like a heartfelt stroll down memory lane. Rounding out the package is an essay by film scholar Lisa Dombrowski and a new interview by critic Imogen Sara Smith, who, in a welcome pivot from all the attention lavished elsewhere on Fuller, conducts a fairly thorough examination of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Forty Guns, hailing it as an impassioned summation of a career that was on the decline by the late ’50s.
Samuel Fuller’s libido-fueled, feverishly stylized B western gets a lavish reincarnation on home video courtesy of Criterion.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Jidge Carroll Director: Samuel Fuller Screenwriter: Samuel Fuller Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 80 min Rating: NR Year: 1957 Release Date: December 11, 2018 Buy: Video