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Fantoma Films presents
Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made (1994)

Samuel Fuller: We've got to take a crack at it.
Jim Jarmusch: Sam, I think you're on crack.

- Samuel Fuller, Jim Jarmusch

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 05, 2004

Stars: Samuel Fuller, Jim Jarmusch
Other Stars: Karaja
Director: Mika Kaurismäki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:16m:30s
Release Date: May 18, 2004
UPC: 695026704126
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-B-B- B+

DVD Review

In 1953, iconoclastic rebel director Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor, The Big Red One) was signed on to make a film for 20th Century Fox called Tigrero. As the title of this documentary reminds us, the film itself was never made, but it sure sounded like it would have been a good one; it was to have starred John Wayne, Ava Gardner, and Tyrone Power in some sort of rugged South American jungle adventure flick full of big cats, alligators, and bad girl Gardner wooing big game hunter Wayne to help her spring her imprisoned hubby Power from a Rio jail.

Fuller was shuttled off on a fact-finding mission to Mato Grosso—the so-called "jungle heart of Brazil"—by Fox head Darryl Zanuck to scout locations and to develop the story. Once there, Fuller shot some 16mm Cinemascope test footage, drank vodka, noodled around some preliminary plot ideas, and above all, crossed paths and formed friendships with the local Karaja Indians, whom he filmed performing all sorts of ceremonial dances. Fuller returned to Fox full of vim and vigor, but the project eventually died on the vine.

Flash forward to 1993, and we come to Tigrero: The Film That Was Never Made, a combination travelogue/documentary from Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki, in which he lures the quirky duo of 82-year-old Fuller (who passed away in 1997) and equally iconoclastic modern-day rebel director and all-around art house hipster, Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Mystery Train) back to Mato Grosso on a pilgrimage to not only see if things have changed, but to give Fuller a chance to perhaps close an unfinished chapter in his life.

It's an obviously weird mix putting the two directors together as buddies, though it's obvious that Jarmusch holds Fuller in high regard. With his bushy gray hair and everpresent cigar, Fuller is almost a caricature of a crusty, old school director, and his recollections and anecdotes are immensely enjoyable to listen to, though Jarmusch, who almost seems to cool for the room here, is, I imagine, supposed to be the draw for young hipsters to connect with the bygone era of 1950s Hollywood. Sporting a Ramones T-shirt (ok, I'll give him cool points for that), Jarmusch seems even more out of place in Mato Grosso than I suspect I would be, and his purpose here is to act as a sounding board for Fuller to draw out stories from the past.

Fuller chattering on is when Tigrero: The Film That Was Never Made seems its most relaxed. Those sequences, unfortunately, are sandwiched in between a handful of staged "dialogues" between Jarmusch and Fuller that are supposed to appear unscripted, and only reinforce the adage that directors are not meant to act. Kaurismäki uses these scripted segues rather clumsily, including one that closes the film that is so goofy and ridiculous in tone that it made me question most of what I had just watched.

But this return to the jungle was really supposed to link 1953 with 1993, so armed with the 16mm footage shot 40 years earlier, Fuller and Jarmusch eventually screen the old footage for the wide-eyed local Karajas, and that is when this often uneven doc reveals its most genuine moments of cross-cultural connectivity, all based on the magic of flickering images. While Fuller recounts his friendships with some of the Karaja, the reactions of the locals become truly heartfelt, as a man sees a clip of his long-dead father, or a woman watches her deceased husband dance. It is the closest thing to true, unfettered emotion that exists here.

It seems a shame that the original Tigrero never was made (though some of the original test footage did end up in Fuller's startling Shock Corridor), but I'm sure Hollywood is littered with stories of concepts that never saw the light of day. This documentary sounds like one of those great ideas—teaming up the left field old (Fuller) with the left field new (Jarmusch), but Kaurismäki's use of staged transitional sequences diffuses that to the point of distraction.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Kaurismäki's film looks about as good as a low-budget documentary would—meaning it's decent, but far from perfect. There is quite a bit of grain, and the print has more than a few instances of speckling. Colors are a bit muted, but tolerable.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a simple, unpretentious 2.0 stereo mix; being a documentary there's understandably nothing flashy or sparkly here. Understanding dialogue is never an issue, and the haunting original music from Chuck Jonkey and Nana Vasconcelos comes across equally well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
9 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jim Jarmusch, Mika Kaurismäki
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. A Collection of Jim Jarmusch's Personal Photos
  2. Booklet
Extras Review: I can only imagine how enjoyably the full-length commentary could have been had only Sam Fuller still been alive when it was recorded. That guy could tell a story. Instead, we are left with Mika Kaurismäki, with his thick Finnish accent, and Jim Jarmusch, with his monotone delivery, mostly rambling on, often about things that have nothing to do with the production. I suppose if you are a Jarmusch-head, you'll appreciate his dry musings, but when combined with a heavily accented director, it makes for a challenging listen.

Thankfully, Fantoma has included some of Sam Fuller's Original 16mm Cinemascope Test Footage (13m:59s), which strings together what is really the underlying heart of this entire documentary. The footage has some understandable age issues, but there is a hypnotically weird feel to viewing this, especially after reading the enclosed booklet which features the first six pages of an August 30, 1955 First Draft Continuity treatment, written by Fuller, including his proposed wild opening sequence he discusses in the documentary concerning birds and alligators. These two purely cinematic historical bits alone earn this release high marks, despite their relative brevity.

There are nine separate scenes entitled Outtakes and Additional Footage (21m:54s), and while most are as unremarkable as most deleted scenes are, the small gems come when Fuller gets a chance to talk, talk, and talk. And closing things out there is a watchable collection of Jim Jarmusch's personal photos.

The disc is cut into 12 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

This lopsided travelogue hooks up Samuel Fuller and Jim Jarmusch and plunks them in a South American jungle to recall the glory days and connect the past with the present. Director Mika Kaurismäki uses some glaringly out of place scripted scenes that water down the flow, but when Fuller gets on a roll the stories are a treat.


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