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Sam Fuller's Legacy Lets Viewers Decide

B king's early '60s movies 'Shock Corridor' and 'The Naked Kiss' to show at the Port.


Sam Fuller: "Third-rate American filmmaker," as film historian David Shipman maintains? Or "authentic American primitive," as film critic Andrew Sarris contends?

Decide for yourself at the Port Theatre in Corona del Mar, where Fuller's "Shock Corridor" (1963) and "The Naked Kiss" (1964) play on a double bill Friday through April 16. (2905 E. Coast Highway) $4.50-$7. (714) 673-6260.

Without question, Fuller ranks high among the "kings of the Bs," a title bestowed by many film buffs and scholars on Fuller and such schlockmeisters as Roger Corman, Russ Meyer and Nicholas Ray.

Just about everyone from critic J. Hoberman to director Martin Scorsese has had something to say about Fuller, who made about 20 pictures between 1949 and 1979. Yet it is primarily Manny Farber--the always prescient, contrarian critic who championed Fuller in the early 1950s--to whom we owe the first major appreciation of his low-budget work.

"The low budget appears to economize the mind of a director, forcing him into a nice balance between language and what is seen," Farber wrote nearly half a century ago. "Given more money and reputation actors, Sam Fuller's episodic, spastically slow and fast film would probably dissolve into mouthy arrogance."

On bigger budgets, Fuller, who died in October at 85, would have created hidebound, self-justifying characters, "burying in words the skepticism and energy" found in his best pictures, Farber argued.

Yet even when not at his best--as in later pictures such as "Shock Corridor" and "The Naked Kiss--Fuller invented "combustive characters in close face-to-face confrontations where they seem bewitched with each other," Farber wrote. Moreover, "Fuller is one of the first to try for poetic purity through a merging of unlimited sadism, done candidly and close up, with stretches of pastoral nostalgia in which there are flickers of myth."

"Shock Corridor" (about a crack reporter who feigns madness to investigate a murder) and "The Naked Kiss" (about a reformed hooker who tries for a fresh start in a small town) exhibit the sort of "sociological justification" that film critic-historian Charles Flynn claims for B movies in general.

Flynn writes that "shlock/kitsch/hack movies," as he terms them in his and Todd McCarthy's anthology ("Kings of the Bs," Dutton, 1975), offer a vivid "panorama of American life . . . more compelling and more accurate than that of their Oscar-winning counterparts."

The three most reliable signs of a s/k/h movie are "(a) budget (low), (b) intention (mercenary), and (c) generic/formulaic structure," Flynn notes. "We might find that such movies as 'The Third Man,' 'High Noon' and 'Ben-Hur' are kitsch, but they are neither schlock nor were they made by hacks."

Fuller said in a cameo appearance in Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou" that his films--the best known are "I Shot Jesse James" (1949), "Pickup on South Street" (1953) and "Underworld U.S.A" (1961)--provided "love, hate, action, violence, death: in one word, emotion."

There's no question about action, violence and death. You'll have to decide whether the emotion he purveys is real.

Also at the Port, the "Charlie Chaplin: Between Laughter and Tears" series wraps up today with "The Gold Rush" (1925), 5:45 and 9:55 p.m., and "Limelight" (1952), 7:15 p.m. $4.50-$7. (714) 673-6260.


Also screening in Orange County:

The UC Irvine Film Society presents Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's "The City of Lost Children" (1995) on Friday, 7 and 9 p.m., at the UCI Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium (Pereira and West Peltason Road) on the UC Irvine campus. $2.50-$4.50. (714) 824-5588.

This surreal movie centers on an evil scientist, Krank, who steals dreams from children because his own inability to dream ages him prematurely. The picture, which has a cult following, talks about cloning, brain versus soul, the power of dreams and "the goodness of the heart."

Also at UCI, "Mexican Cinema of the '90s" begins Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Film & Video Center (Humanities Instructional Building, Room 100) with "Recipes to Stay Together" (1997), a comedy by Rafael Montero that was a box-office hit in Mexico, and "The Music Tree" (1994), a short by Sabina Berman. $4-$6. (714) 824-7418. The series, to run every Saturday through June 13, will celebrate a rebirth of Mexican filmmaking.

"Not since the 1970s has the Mexican film industry seen such a resurgence of quality films," series curators David R. Maciel and Jacobo Sefami say. "A new generation of directors [has introduced] new themes, a novel artistic discourse and innovative approaches to filmmaking."

Garson Kanin and Carol Reed's Oscar-winning, World War II documentary, "The True Glory" (1945), will be screened Tuesday, 10 a.m. at Mackey Auditorium in the Ruby Gerontology Center (Gymnasium Way) at Cal State Fullerton. Free. (714) 278-2446. "The True Glory," presented by CSUF's Continuing Learning Experience, covers Operation Overlord, the final phase of the war in Europe with the invasion of Normandy.

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