Raw Knuckles on Film

celluloid heroes

There are some obscure places in Boston where a modest fee can buy an evening of bold, seldom offered film experience. The White Knuckles Cinema series, presented this summer by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, is screened in an improvised movie theater three elevator flights atop a former Boston fire station, and it seats only about 150 people. But for $2.50, the ICA offers to the public films which are generally excellent but virtually never seen anywhere else.

White Knuckles Cinema screens its features every Thursday and Friday, three times a night. They are thrillers and horrors and suspense films, but they are less distinctive for being frightening or suspenseful than for being tough, violent and fanatical. Most of the films are cheaply made and American--throwaway B-pictures produced from a collaboration of unruly talent. Nearly all of them fit into what critic Manny Farber has called "the termite range" of art, art which is characterized by stubborn, quirky, all but brainless energy.

Gun Crazy (1949), a Bonnie-and-Clyde-inspired story, screens this Friday. Shock Corridor (1963) will be screened on Thursday.

Shock Corridor was written and directed by Samuel Fuller, whose work--confoundingly--is seldom shown around Boston.

Fuller, whose first film in five years is due in December (a war movie called The Big Red One) has a keyed-up, pulp-writer's sense of poetry, an incredibly imaginative and powerful manipulation of cutting rhythms and camera movement--and a wide streak of sadism. His films have been highly influential to Godard, among others, whose praise and tribute has lifted Fuller to a sort of cult status. Shock Corridor--starring no one you've ever heard of before--concerns a journalist who, in hopes of earning a Pulitzer prize, disguises himself as a patient in an insane asylum to discover the identity of a murderer hiding there. Other patients include a nuclear physicist, a Tennessee boy convinced he's in the midst of the Civil War, and a roomful of scantily clad nymphomaniacs, all of whom give the hero something to think about. If you imagine that the film's basic situation, and its episodes of violence (a riot, a rape, an attempted lynching) have possible metaphorical significance regarding the American soul, you're right, but it's a good idea not to think about it too seriously.

It would be worth riding an elevator up 100 flights and sitting on the floor to see a movie like this.