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Schizo Miracles

Schizo Miracles (photo)

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Samuel Fuller had one of the most fascinating of Hollywood careers — a 50-plus-year self-mythologizing rampage that began with scriptsmith work in the mid 1930s at the age of 24, evolving into one of the most distinctive auteurs America has ever produced, writing/directing some 25 movies and having a hand in writing 25 more, helplessly manufacturing himself into a crusty man’s-man Hollywood gadfly in the process, readily available for manic interviews and iconic appearances in young auteurs’ self-conscious films.

There are always corners in his career that you, whomever you are, haven’t yet explored (honestly, any single Fuller film remains half-experienced if you’ve only seen it once), and so the new Sony set of Fulleriania is a prize, beginning as it does with “It Happened in Hollywood” (1937), Fuller’s first screenplay credit, and an utterly freakish, Charlie Kaufman-esque launch of meta-ness that centers on Hollywood’s discomfiting transition from silents to talkies, barely a decade after it happened and 15 years before “Singin’ in the Rain.” Richard Dix, essentially playing himself, is an aw-shucks cowboy star for whom both the demands of dialogue and the moral compromises of early gangster roles proves too much, but it’s clear that Dix is indeed a terrible actor past his dubious prime, playing an inept matinee icon and moseying through a scenario about his own career’s demise.

Though the dynamic suggests “The Wrestler,” Dix keeps to his old westerns’ dull and pious persona, initiating a kind of hall-of-mirrors journey that climaxes, phenomenally, with a huge house party populated with a forgotten class of Hollywood creatures: actual stand-ins, look-alikes playing themselves playing their studio stars in a creepy alternative Golden Age where slightly off Mae Wests, Marlene Dietrichs, Eddie Cantors and Clark Gables wander the rolling lawns of Beverly Hills, like a live version of those Warner Brothers cartoons bustling with caricatured celebrity cameos.

It’s an early clue to the degree of irony and distance inherent in all of Fuller’s work, and it’s a unique thing in a filmography of one-of-a-kinds. The DVD box includes six other films (along with four new interview supplements with Tim Robbins, Wim Wenders, Martin Scorsese and Curtis Hanson), including “Underworld U.S.A.” (1961), an arch, lurid crime nightmare in which every frame is a cluttered knot of perspectives, contrasts and spite, and which, it seems to me, is precisely where film noir, properly defined, died, burned at the stake of Fuller’s psychodramatic hyperbole. But because Fuller’s voice was unmistakably his, the sensibility collisions in the films directed by others are the revelations. “Scandal Sheet” (1952) was directed by Phil Karlson, who was as much of a confrontational, subtlety-immune noiriste as Fuller, but whose style was much more pseudo-documentary.

11032009_ScandalSheet.jpgFuller had no hand in the movie — it’s based on his novel “The Dark Page,” published in 1944 while Fuller was fighting in Europe with the Big Red One. Still, it boils over with his storytelling energy and his signature reflex, the urge to discover, expressionistically, the painful, hard-boiled reality as he knew it within the movie-movie universe of Golden Age Hollywood. The set-up itself is nearly autobiographical: Fuller used to work on the New York Graphic, a screaming-mimi, truth-manipulating exploitative tabloid on Park Row that makes the contemporary New York Post look like The London Review of Books.

Broderick Crawford’s bulldog editor pulls the daily out of its economic doldrums with lurid front pages and invented news; John Derek is his amoral star reporter, the two of them heading a newsroom that has only Donna Reed to recommend it in the way of moral compunction and compassion. The thorny patter and amoral brio proceeds apace until Crawford is confronted at a publicity event by a middle-aged woman, who summons an entire unwanted past that eventually leads to her manslaughter and a hot news story that must be pursued even if Crawford is its last station. It’s a fast-gabbing, meat-eating show, with only one typical handicap: pretty boy star Derek (future husband of Bo) is a baby-faced cipher beside the roaring rockface of Crawford, and even the quick-eyed beauty of Reed. But the story is expertly fashioned, scanning today as a prescient indictment of Rupert Murdoch-style media exploitation.

“Shockproof” (1949) is even odder — a hard-boiled egg of a Fuller script (co-written with women’s-picture foghorn Helen Deutsch), but directed by existentialist-romantic Douglas Sirk, tracking parole officer Cornel Wilde as he attempts to keep smokin’ released murderess Patricia Knight away from her flimflam boyfriend and out of the hoosegow. Of course, the story twists up with romantic passion and another murder, and Knight’s bitter modern woman so bristles with betrayal that we never know who she wants, but it eventually ends up on the road in a kind of domestic hellfire of poverty and paranoia, a year after “They Live by Night” and before “Gun Crazy.” Fullerish in its hidden impulses but Sirkian in its expressionism and moaning self-pity, the movie is a minor and forgotten schizo miracle.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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