Skirting the murky waters of the relationship between ethnographic film and colonization, TIGRERO: A FILM THAT WAS NEVER MADE changes course to become a wonderfully engaging portrait of maverick Hollywood film director Sam Fuller. Fuller returns to the Amazon Rain Forest after filming there 40 years previously and reminisces about his trip and his film...read more
Skirting the murky waters of the relationship between ethnographic film and colonization, TIGRERO: A FILM THAT WAS NEVER MADE changes course to become a wonderfully engaging portrait of maverick Hollywood film director Sam Fuller. Fuller returns to the Amazon Rain Forest after filming
there 40 years previously and reminisces about his trip and his film career to his travel companion, contemporary downtown director Jim Jarmusch.
In 1954 Darryl Zanuck of Twentieth Century Fox hired Fuller to make an adventure film, to be shot in the deepest Amazon. Fuller went off to scout locations, taking with him a load of vodka and cigars and a 16mm Bolex camera. He returned with an hour of stunning footage of the region and its
inhabitants, the Karaja Indians, as well as a story about a couple (Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power) escaping through the rain forest with a tigrero, or jaguar hunter (John Wayne). Zanuck loved the script of the original TIGRERO, but the project was shelved after the studio's insurance company
demanded impossibly high premiums, fearing the location was too dangerous.
Fuller edited some of his Amazon footage into a hallucination sequence in SHOCK CORRIDOR, but most of it remained unused in his living room closet. In 1992, he and his wife met Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki in a Paris bar. (Fuller had a cameo in Kaurismaki's 1987 film HELSINKI-NAPLES ALL
NIGHT LONG.) Trading stories--Kaurismaki had just made AMAZON--the two resolved that TIGRERO would finally be produced, even if it had to carry the subtitle "A Film That Was Never Made." In Kaurismaki's film, Fuller and Jarmusch journey to the Araguaia River region of Brazil's Amazonia, taking
along the 40-year-old footage to screen for the Karaja Indians. To Fuller's delight, the Karaja are enchanted by the film, pleased to see their friends and relatives "alive once again." In this staged documentary, the spirited, cigar-chewing Fuller leads a deadpan Jarmusch around the village while
he ruminates about his film career and the Karaja.
Fuller is saddened to discover that the Karaja now mix Yankee caps and digital watches with their traditional cultural activities. But his sadness stems less from a sense of guilt or regret about white colonization of the Amazon--and his own part in that process--than from a loss of exoticism
and perceived purity. Jarmusch, on the other hand, seems less phased by post-colonial tribal culture, sporting Karaja body markings and a Ramones T-shirt. The film's failure to address obvious issues of ethnology and colonialism is regrettable, but it's forgivable. Ultimately, TIGRERO: A FILM THAT
WAS NEVER MADE is not a movie about Amazonia and its folklore: it's about Sam Fuller and the folklore of filmmaking. (Nudity.)
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