Saturday, July 31, 2010

#455: White Dog

(Samuel Fuller, 1982)

Fuller's work is always deliriously sensational, straddling the line between deep social commentary and pulpy absurdity, and White Dog, his last film made in Hollywood, is no different. Shelved for nearly ten years, and never released on VHS, the film was virtually unavailable from the point of its completion until the Criterion release in 2008. Having heard about the film in high school, I was immediately intrigued at the idea of a film that dealt with issues of race so forcefully that the studios couldn't bear to release it. However, the finished product is much less incendiary than you might think considering its checkered past.

The best thing about White Dog isn't the plot or any political statement it makes. The story is basically an allegory about people raising the next generation on hate and intolerance, and basically concludes that a. it's the parents who are responsible for the sins of the child and b. hatred doesn't just pass on hatred, but destroys the carrier just as much as the carrier forces their hatred outwards. These are admirable points, and they are made rather well in a movie that is, like all Fuller films, B-level gold. But they aren't particularly earth-shattering, either, and the plotting of the film is both difficult to believe and hard to become totally engaged with.

So what really makes White Dog worth seeing is the stellar Ennio Morricone score. Arguably the greatest composer in film history, Morricone's work in the 80s got progressively stranger and more intense, and White Dog's eerie music is a perfect representation of the style. It makes the suspenseful and emotional moments in the film much more impressive and effective than they have any business being.

The film makes for interesting viewing, certainly, and on paper the film is exactly the kind of thing you hope Criterion puts out. It just that the film isn't that good, little more than a well-executed curiosity. I enjoyed it, and perhaps would even recommend it to a certain kind of person, but it hardly compares to the stronger works by Fuller made earlier in his career, let alone the best of the collection.

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