Now on DVD: White Dog
Published December 10, 2008
The last film Sam Fuller directed in the U.S. is also his most disturbing offering, especially as America basks in the glow of its post-racial moment. Unreleased in the United States at the time of its completion (due to inaccurate rumors of its racist content) White Dog (1982) tells the story of an actress who runs over a dog, rescues it, and gets a lot more than she bargained for. This version of man’s best friend is trained to kill black people.
While explicitly critiquing the brutality of racism, White Dog also presents a set of subtle questions regarding our attachment to pets, the hubris of a deprogrammed mind, and the sacrifice of morals by a zealous crusader. And it’s all happening to a dog.
This is Fuller at his best, seizing on subject matter on the fringes of middle class experience, and offering two levels of moral prodding: the explicitly thematic (in this case racism, but in others honor, honesty, identity, insanity, et al) and the subsequent nuances. For Fuller nothing is easy about the nature of man; there are no answers, just observations and statements about shortcomings, strivings, desperation, nobility, cleverness, selfishness and sacrifice. Godard, one of Fuller’s most vocal admirers, implied that in the cinema aesthetics were not very far removed from ethics. If you haven’t seen Fuller’s work, take a look at Shock Corridor (1963), The Naked Kiss (1964) or Pickup on South Street (1953), not only for their complicated moral quagmires, but because of Fuller’s brazen camera-style, sound editing and cutting. He is a master of making the normal extraordinary.
Released last week by Criterion, White Dog was on view for two weeks in New York, in 1991. The DVD also includes a nice documentary about the making of the film and Fuller’s personality, although it doesn’t hold a candle to the wonderful, mid–90s bio The Typewriter, The Rifle and The Movie Camera.