A Fuller Life, opening at the Grand Illusion Cinema on February 27th, details the life, words, and passions of filmmaker, writer, and photographer Samuel Fuller, who gave the world bold, stark, meaty, and sometimes willfully ugly visions of humanity through such films as The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor, The Big Red One, and White Dog. Directed by Fuller’s daughter Samantha, the film’s action takes place inside the late director’s office, with friends and luminaries from Bill Duke to William Friedkin, reading from his autobiography. Excerpts from various Fuller films also join in the conversation. Ms. Fuller took some questions over email.
Seattle Star: What were your earliest impressions of your father? Did he seem more or less intimidating as you grew older?
Samantha Fuller: My father was a man of steel with a heart of gold. I never was intimidated by him in any way. On the contrary, I felt protected by his strong charisma.
Seattle Star: How did your perceptions of your father grow and change over both your lives?
Samantha Fuller: Our relationship evolved like it does when children mature into adulthood. Fairy tale bedtime stories turned into discussions about newspaper headlines. I became more aware of his war hysteria and more sensitive to his violent past.
Seattle Star: Your father’s incorrigible cigar habit was one of his trademarks.
Samantha Fuller: You’re damn right! I can’t remember my father without one hanging from his mouth, or stuck in his hand or pocket. In any case, he always had one ready to fire up.
Seattle Star: Which smokes did he favor over the years, and why would he switch?
Samantha Fuller: He enjoyed Camachos, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo no.1 and pretty much any fat Cuban stogie that came his way. He’d usually obtain a cigar in exchange for an interview. He didn’t have to ask because any clever reporter would already know the shtick.
Seattle Star: Did you father ever advise you directly on film directing, writing, or art? If so, what did he say?
Samantha Fuller: “Give it your best shot” was the advice given from my father, a man who never did anything half-assed. He shared my enthusiasm with everything I got into over the years. A curious and creative mind was his favorite form of intelligence.
Seattle Star: Which of the film’s readers did you know prior to the film, and which did you meet once you started shooting?
Samantha Fuller: Nobody was a stranger.
Seattle Star: The readings range from matter-of-fact (say, Jennifer Beals) to highly dramatic (say, Bill Duke). How did you go about directing each actor for each part?
Samantha Fuller: I asked everyone to channel my father through his words without imitating him. Bill Duke got a little carried away but I really liked it.
Seattle Star: What were the most difficult aspects of the film? How did you work through them?
Samantha Fuller: The entire process of making the film was a blast. I would say that the difficult aspect is when it comes to releasing it. In other words the “show” part was a delight, the “business” side can be quite a fright.
Seattle Star: How much, if at all, did you change your father’s office from how it usually appears?
Samantha Fuller: Of course I had to move a few things around to accommodate the crew. But for most part the office is pretty much in the same state as it was when my father was still alive.
Seattle Star: Your father’s writings never seem to mention his own father. Were they not close? What was your father’s family like?
Samantha Fuller: My grandfather died when my father was 11 years old so there weren’t many memories to share with me. My grandmother never remarried and raised her seven kids by herself. She was a tough little lady and my father always spoke very fondly of her. My father had a close bond with his siblings but sadly, many died before I was born, so I never got to meet them.
Seattle Star: Which are your favorites from your father’s own films, and why?
Samantha Fuller: I love all of my father’s films as if they were my siblings. I will say that my all-time favorite is The Big Red One because it is my father’s most autobiographical film. It always blows my mind when I think about how he re-lived that horrific experience on film.
Seattle Star: How do you think your father’s attitudes adapted to changing times? Did he grow more or less cynical? More or less idealistic?
Samantha Fuller: My father remained an optimist his entire life. He had a great sense of humor and definitely appreciated the absurdities of life. He kept his positive attitude despite having witnessed the dark side of humanity.
Seattle Star: Your web site mentions that your father knew John Cassavetes. How did they relate to each other, personally and professionally?
Samantha Fuller: John and Gena [Rowlands] lived on the same street as my parents. In fact, my mother and Gena still live there. I see many similarities between my father and John. Mostly that they wouldn’t take crap from anyone.
Seattle Star: Was there anyone not in the film that you would have liked to include? If so, who, and why?
Samantha Fuller: There were a couple, but I’m not gonna bother mentioning their names since I don’t care to dwell on that.
Seattle Star: What do you think is your father’s lasting legacy or legacies? How did your family participate in the film?
Samantha Fuller: My mother, my daughter and myself are his living legacies and we proudly keep his name alive. As Wim Wenders recently said when he received his Golden Bear at the Berlinale: “Films last longer than a lifetime”.
Seattle Star: What’s in the future for both you and the film? Any plans to make more films?
Samantha Fuller: As of now the film is being released in select theaters. After that, it will be available on DVD, VOD and TV. This information is frequently updated via social media for A Fuller Life. I’m in the midst of preparing another documentary just time focusing solely on my father’s World War II experience. It will consist of his footage combined with the letters he wrote to his family. I have several projects in the works after that, so make sure to stay posted!