Directed By: Mika Kaurismäki
Starring: Samuel Fuller, Jim Jarmusch
Trivia 1: "This entire film was shot on-location in Brazil"
Trivia 2: It was Samuel Fuller's wife, Christa Lang Fuller, who came up with the idea for this film
Along with being an exemplary screenwriter and director, Samuel Fuller was also an amazing storyteller. With his raspy voice and straightforward delivery, he could spin a yarn better than most filmmakers of his generation, and his version of what occurred when he and Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck met with FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, to review the script for 1953’s Pickup on South Street, remains one of my all-time favorite Hollywood anecdotes (you can hear it yourself on the Criterion DVD release of that great film). His 2004 autobiography, A Third Face, contains many similarly intriguing stories, and while I was reading it a few years ago, I tried to imagine that Fuller himself was narrating it (which made an already fascinating book even more entertaining).
Tigrero (subtitled A Film That Was Never Made) follows the legendary filmmaker as he and fellow director Jim Jarmusch (Mystery Train) travel to Brazil, specifically the small village of Santa Isabel Do Morro (situated along the Araguaia River), which Fuller, while scouting locations for a motion picture, had visited 40 years earlier. Armed with only a 16mm camera, Fuller got to know the native Karajás quite well during that initial trip, and as a result, they granted him unrestricted access to their village, and even let him film some of their ancient rituals. Ultimately, the picture was scrapped by Fox president Darryl Zanuck, but the footage Fuller shot still survives. Joined by Jarmusch, Fuller revisits this remote locale, and recalls fondly the unproduced movie that brought him there in first place.
Though primarily a documentary, 1994’s Tigrero (written and directed by Mika Kaurismäki) does feature some scripted scenes (including the opening sequence, when Fuller and Jarmusch are discussing their upcoming trip). Once they reach Santa Isabel Do Morro, however, Tigrero is in full documentary mode, with Fuller commenting on how the village and its people have changed over the years (much of the foliage that surrounded the area has been cut down, and the Karajás now enjoy such modern luxuries as TV and telephones). Then, in what is easily the best scene in Tigrero, Fuller shows the Karajá the decades-old footage he shot when he was last there, during which a few of them recognize friends and relatives that have long since passed away.
Most of Tigrero, though, consists of Fuller recounting his initial visit to the area, and offering a few details about the motion picture he was planning to make there (titled Tigrero, it was an action / adventure that was going to star John Wayne, Ava Gardner, and Tyrone Power. Unfortunately, the insurance company, nervous about the location Fuller had selected, demanded $16 million in advance, causing a frustrated Zanuck to shut it down). In addition, Fuller interviews the Karajá, asking what they thought of the footage he had just shown them (one woman spotted her late husband in a scene, and reflects on the good times they had together). Interestingly enough, some of these images would appear in Fuller’s own 1963 movie Shock Corridor.
Tackling topics such as culture, progress, and the art of filmmaking, Tigrero is a thought-provoking documentary starring one of the most charismatic storytellers of the 20th century.