Saturday, February 26, 2022

White Dog, Samuel Fuller

Second text on Samuel Fuller translated in collaboration with Andy Rector. My personal favourite.

White Dog, Samuel Fuller

It’s the story of a racist dog. A good opportunity to revisit Fuller and what he talks about: precisely racism.

The study of racism is not more racist than knowledge of sugar is sweet. Yet, Fuller has always been suspected of being “contaminated” by his topic of predilection: the stupidity of racist delirium. Today, we tend to clear him of that view entirely. Fuller, racist? Of course not, we say shrugging our shoulders, exasperated. We are right to shrug our shoulders, but not to be exasperated. When a filmmaker doesn’t content himself with anti-racist discourse but looks deeper into the question and, acting like the old anarchist mole that he is, creates fiction, philosophy and cinema from it, one has the right to take what he says seriously. 

White Dog (which I can’t bring myself to call by its French title: Dressé pour tuer [Raised to Kill]) is not only his most beautiful film in a long time, but also a sort of pure sketch. A rundown of the question. And an overwhelming rundown, making current American film production appear empty and fussy by comparison. In White Dog, the action film and the philosophical fable progress together. What is physical is never not allowed to become intellectual, and vice versa. By dint of didacticism. 

I am not telling the story of the film. I am laying out its initial equation. It is necessary. A white man conditions a puppy to attack black people. The white man is racist, the dog becomes so. It sees the human species divided into two colours and becomes a “white dog”. One night in Hollywood, the lost dog is hit by the car of a young actress. Julie takes in the dog, saves it from extermination (the pound), heals it. The dog loves the actress and it’s his turn to save her, from a rapist. And then, one day, drama: we discover that the dog is a “white dog”.

A black anthropologist-trainer-maverick works in a sort of mobile zoo for Hollywood. Significantly, he is called Keys. He has made the deconditioning of white dogs his business. What threatens him as a black person has become his passion as a researcher. He needs a “white dog”. “This dog is the only weapon we have to destroy racism in the world”. Guinea pig, stake in the experiment, subject of the cure, bag of symptoms, the dog becomes all this. It all happens in the gaze. Keys, the black man, manages to decondition it, with ninety-eight percent success. 

For Fuller – all his films vouch for this – racism is a matter of education. Nobody is (or was born) racist. Many become so. Fuller doesn’t believe in natural violence, he knows it is nurtured. Since he is a violent filmmaker, he was always considered instinctual. This is an error. Violence in Fuller’s films (and this is why he is modern) is what exists between beings, the consequence of mimesis, the space between bodies, the space of news and media. Paradoxically, this “dyed-in-the-wool anti-communist” has an almost Pavlovian, “mechanistic Marxist” conception of racism. If all evil (or good) comes from education, it must be possible to re-educate. 

Fuller is not left-wing, but an old anarchist who believes in the primary innocence of beings. Outside: mimetic violence, inside: definitive childhood. Angels, children, beasts: men. Another danger: there is only a small step from innocence to purity (and we know that racism is a delirium based on purity). The line is thin, but Fuller has never crossed it. 

Sam Fuller loves victims, there lies his ambiguity. Including victims of racism. The scene is sublime when the real owner of the dog shows up with his two little girls and a box of chocolates. This pig is a kind old man. Sublime the way Julie doesn’t say anything to him (she insults him) but talks to the terrified little girls: “Don’t listen to him, don’t believe a word of what your grandfather told you!” Fuller is clearly in the same line as Griffith, some place in the scenario of the “massacre of the innocents”. 

How to overcome racism? How far do Fuller’s illusions go? White Dog seems to journey toward a happy ending, with the thesis of deconditioning seemingly satisfying everyone (even though it is worrying and suspicious: haven’t we seen recently the “de-conditioning professionals” of the Moon cult?). Keys achieves ninety-eight percent success. The final test: to unleash the dog (in a kind of arena) in the presence of Julie, Keys and his associate, Carruthers, a big, friendly (and white) man. I will not say what happens. 

Fuller doesn’t believe in deconditioning any more than a psycho-analyst believes in curing in a matter of days. The script is good but lacks time. Even cured, the dog is not cured of its violence, but of the racist dimension of it. It must learn not proceed through generalisations, and the only way to manage this is to teach it the “singular” aspect of each human being. One by one. And when it comes to capturing the singularity of beings, there is no one like Fuller, a fervent individualist. The dog has learned to love Julie who saved it, and then Keys who “tamed” it. The dog loves two beings in the world = the world is reduced to two beings. There remains the others, the much larger group – of white and black persons – that it doesn’t know, that it no longer knows. The dog will not manage to accede to the concept of “the human species”. It has switched from a bad generalisation (racism) to the inability to generalise. Its violence is no longer automatic and cold, it is transformed into a violence of love, which only knows those who love it. Who ever thought that love isn’t also a form of violence? No one. Not Fuller anyway. This is why the film is overwhelming. This is why the dog must be put down. For Fuller there is, side by side, an unabated optimism (he believes in good education, in science) and a modest certitude: the violence of love is already superior to the violence of racism. Love is a form of progress over self-hatred. But it too can kill. 

First published in Libération on 9 July 1982. Reprinted in Ciné journal 1982-1986, Cahiers du cinéma, 1986. Translation by Andy Rector and Laurent Kretzschmar.

1 comment:

  1. WHAT AN AMAZING TEXT,,,,massacre and innocence


Comments are moderated to filter spam.