5.18.2011

Lightning-bolt cinema


A particularly, um, jolting image from the newly reissued Criterion DVD of Shock Corridor (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1963).  I remember the first time I heard anything about this film or Sam Fuller: it was roughly ten years ago, hearing Martin Scorsese sing their praises in his documentary A Personal Journey Through American Movies, which I had happily caught on cable TV.

Scorsese called Fuller an iconoclast; I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, but I was intrigued, and I knew enough to take any recommendation from Scorsese as something worth checking out.  It wasn’t until 2004 that I first saw the film on Criterion’s original-issue DVD and I hadn’t seen it again since until this week.  I’ll confess to preferring Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964), which I find slightly more deliciously lurid (it was also the first Fuller film I saw—truly mind-boggling), but watching Shock Corridor again I was struck by its particular nightmarishness, and by Fuller’s quite avant-garde surrealistic effects (the above sequence, for example, in which the going-crazy Peter Breck imagines a thunderstorm erupting inside the mental ward in which he’s had himself committed).  Or see the screen grab below, in which Fuller piles on layers of image and sound in order to convey the disorientation and horror of an electroshock therapy session.  As with Fuller’s other films, the effects don’t always work; an earlier scene in which an opera-singing inmate pantomimes a murder feels almost painful in its clumsiness.  But Fuller’s clumsiness was often one of the most interesting aspects of his inimitable style, and this is, of course, a key film, not only because Scorsese and Criterion have each accorded it their seals of approval.  The new DVD also includes an interview with the delightful Constance Towers, who appears here as Breck’s stripper girlfriend, and who is perhaps better known for The Naked Kiss (Criterion has also recently re-released that film in new DVD and Blu-Ray editions).


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