Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - HOUSE OF BAMBOO on Blu-ray ""

Friday, September 4, 2015

Twilight Time - HOUSE OF BAMBOO on Blu-ray

HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955; Samuel Fuller)
The first few times I heard Sam Fuller's name it just kinda washed over me, but I know that the name stuck with me enough that I had to investigate it further. The first time I think I heard his name mentioned was in the wonderful "American Cinema" series which was made for TV circa 1995. I remember there was an interview segment with Quentin Tarantino in there and he was talking about RESERVOIR DOGS and his influences as a filmmaker. He said something along the lines of, "My heroes are like Sam Fuller, Mario Bava...Nicholas Ray. You know, cinema guys". That immediately caught my attention. Who were these "cinema guys"? I had to know. And so I was on the case. I started to look into his filmography on VHS down at my local indie video store in Madison, Wisconsin where I was going to school. I worked at a Blockbuster at the time, and even though we were an on-campus location and considered ourselves progressive, we had not much in the way of Fuller films. So at some point when I was renting movies from the indie video store, I came across
Noah Baumbach's 1995 movie KICKING AND SCREAMING. I rented it and absolutely loved it. Watched it like three times in two days. In that movie there was a scene where Carlos Jacott interviews for a video store job with Dean Cameron. At the end of the interview, Cameron asks him for his "influences". I thought that was hilarious. Carlos Jacott's answer to the influences question was, "Samuel Fuller. All the other ones. All the good ones". There was that name again! I had already seen a few of his movies at that point, but that just made me all the more intrigued to delve deeper. There was a whole confluence of things drawing me to Fuller at that time. Not only Tarantino and Noah Baumbach, but also Danny Peary. I was totally transfixed by his Cult Movies books then and they made mention of Mr. Fuller too. 
HOUSE OF BAMBOO was one of his movies that I got to a little later I believe. I had scene the way Fuller framed and edited in this beautiful, visceral way in things like SHOCK CORRIDOR and THE NAKED KISS (which has one of the more unforgettable openings in cinema) but not in Cinemascope. That was something of a revelation. I mean I had seen widescreen movies before (this was the time when "letterboxed" VHS tapes were starting to become a thing), but I hadn't seen anyone use the "scope" frame like Fuller did. HOUSE OF BAMBOO was this remarkable film noir that just busted out of the 4x3 frame and captivated me on a whole new level. I had seen LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and other such spectacle movies, but not a gritty crime film like this done up in the widescreen way. Fuller could do the spectacle and the frantic equally well inside of that frame. Based on something mentioned in the commentary, the Cinemascope ratio that HOUSE OF BAMBOO was shot in was actually the widest "scope" ratio at a stunning 2.55 to 1. This 2.55 ratio apparently only lasted a short time before Cinemascope became the more standard 2.35 to 1.
Fuller frames a dead man against a backdrop of Mount Fuji.
Another thing HOUSE OF BAMBOO taught me was about the range an actor can have. To that point I had only seen Robert Stack in AIRPLANE so it was totally unexpected and delightful to see him play something dramatic like this. And HOUSE OF BAMBOO was an early introduction to Robert Ryan for me as well. I didn't know what to make of him at the time. I thought he did a good job in the movie, but I was still trying to wrap my head around him as far as the type of actor he was. I still find him to be a pretty unique fella as far as the kinds of roles he played and what he excelled at. He brought this emotional undercurrent to his characterizations that was not really like too many actors I'd seen. I loved hearing Stack and Ryan delivering Sam Fuller-speak. I had also seen Fuller's PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and that one had me head over heels for the stylized dialogue that was woven deeply into his universe. It was not the prototypical hard-boiled chatter I had heard in other film noirs. It seemed to come from another place. Another planet almost. I can only imagine it was born out of the years of real-life, on the street work that Fuller did as a crime reporter early in his life. I think that was something that always made his stuff stand out. There was a street-wise experience behind the talking and the filmmaking. Fuller was never formally trained and that shocks me because he had such a natural gift for filmmaking. He was certainly one of those people that was put on Earth to do just that. HOUSE OF BAMBOO is Fuller firing on all cylinders and it's a lit firecracker of a movie. Great stuff.

Special Features:
This gorgeous looking Twilight Time Blu-ray has not one, but TWO commentary tracks. The first is with Twilight Time master commentators Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. Julie is particularly excited to discuss this movie and the whole track is their usual hot cup of awesome. The second commentary is from Film Historians Alain Silver and James Ursini who are big time film noir experts and who have written several books on the topic. Both great commentaries, both packed with enough information to fill a survey course on Sam Fuller. 

Bonus: Here's a great clip of Film Noir Master Eddie Muller introducing a screening of HOUSE OF BAMBOO back in 2012:

The Twilight Time HOUSE OF BAMBOO Blu-ray can be purchased here:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Re Screen Ratio; House of Bamboo like all the original Cinemascope Films was made in 2.55:1 ratio with four track magnetic stereo. This arrangement required smaller sprocket holes on the print, known as "fox holes" with magnetic tracks either side which allowed for a bigger picture area taking up what would have been the optical track area. When theatres didn't re equip to show films in this format prints were made which shaved the side of the picture area to make room for the optical track. Later films and releases, like Woodstock used both the optical track and the magnetic tracks so the films could be presented mono or stereo but with the 2.35 rather than the full 2.55 ratio. This meant that the Scope framing of the original Scope films was compromised by having one edge missing and the framing off centre as a result. In an era of digital restoration it would be nice if companies returned to the original elements and presented the films as originally intended.