Tigrero

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

TIGRERO – A FILM THAT WAS NEVER MADE

5/10

Tigrero -Elokuva Joka Ei Valmistunut
Finland 1994
Mika Kaurismaki
75 mins

A fantastic title – and, unsurprisingly, it’s the best thing about this one-of-a-kind tribute to legendary wild-man director Sam Fuller. In his later years, Fuller visibly revelled in his mentor status to a new generation of directors – particularly Wim Wenders, who seemed to (almost) turn Fuller’s death into an appropriately cinematic event with The End of Violence. Here, accompanied by another acolyte, the only mildly skeptical Jim Jarmusch, Fuller returns to the Mato Grosso region of the Amazonian jungle. 40 years before he’d gone there to shoot preliminary footage for Tigrero!, an action movie starring John Wayne, Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power. Insurance problems nipped the project in the bud on Fuller’s return to Hollywood, but the resourceful Fuller made sure the footage wasn’t wasted, eventually splicing it into his crazed classic Shock Corridor to illustrate the demented confusions of asylum inmates.

Jarmusch (who appears as if dressed for a night at CBGB in shades, Ramones T-shirt, Phillies Blunt baseball cap, black jeans and motorbike boots) shoots some of his own footage with a portable camera, and Kaurismaki switches between his own images, Jarmusch’s and Fuller’s, with predictably uneven results. The movie mainly sticks to rambling conversations between the oddball pair of directors, but occasionally slips into slightly embarrassing scripted ‘banter’ that reveals Jarmusch to be a terrible actor and Kaurismaki to be even worse as a writer. He isn’t much of a director himself, either, as his botched feature LA Without A Map (1997) also indicates, but this is such an endearingly shaggy dog of a picture his shortcomings don’t really spoil things too much.

The rituals of modern-day Karaja are presented in a rather square National Geographic fashion, but there’s no denying the unique power of the sequence – accompanied by poundingly atmospheric background music – where they watch Fuller’s 1954 footage and spot old relatives, spouses and, on occasion, their own younger selves, as the evening light gradually fades to blackness. It’s illuminating to hear Fuller reminisce about the machinations of Darryl Zanuck’s production techniques and explain his own idiosyncratic style of story development. In the end, Tigrero will be only of major interest to Fuller buffs, who’ll find it an invaluable appendix to the more orthodox documentary The Rifle and the Movie Camera, as well as all the other late fragments of the Fuller mythology.

March 10th, 2001