White Dog (USA, 1982)

8RlQm9MVJMsCxJTedHckVgLsKHcDirected by: Samuel Fuller. FULL DISCLOSURE: my family dog growing up was a white German Shepherd and he was the best dog in the world, and he was very friendly to everyone and not racist at all and I miss him very much. So maybe this isn’t a great way to begin my acquaintance with Sam Fuller, who is, from what I gather, one of the great names of cinema. My first impression within the first five minutes was that the “pulp sensibilities” alluded to on the Criterion box are little more than a euphemism for crude pulp filmmaking. Films like this really confront me with my whole philosophy of film, reminding me that—as regular readers of this blog might have noticed—I still don’t really have a well-defined rubric for weighing high art and low art beyond some pretty arbitrary personal preferences. Regardless, I am a human being with opinions, and I’ve seen more movies than most, so I’ll go right ahead and form an opinion. This appears to be a pretty sensationalistic film—JAWS with a dog, a generally liberal anti-racist take on trashy, conservative late-70’s/early-80’s social cynicism. Even though the film is superficially liberal in concerning itself with a metaphor for white racists—a terrifying dog (and is this the best way to approach this topic in the first place?)—the film is so damn pessimistic in its outlook, it smacks of all of the other cynical 70’s hate films: Death Wish, Dirty Harry, et al. “The world is a rotten place, full of scumbags, and you can only fight fire with fire.” The character of the black dog trainer, played by Paul Winfield, so fanatically devoted to “curing” this dog of racism—B.F. Skinner would approve—is an interesting character but the whole project is folly from the get-go. Is wrestling with a dog and showing him your black skin enough to end racism? And when, at the tragic finale, it is revealed that the cure hasn’t worked, that the dog’s violence has just shifted towards a white target (the loveable but creepy Burl Ives), and he has to be shot, and the folly of the whole project is revealed, I’m not sure what conclusion we’re supposed to draw. I suspect that it’s little more than a variation on that same gutter 70’s cynicism. This is what academics call the primordialist thesis, an idea often deployed under the guise of right-wing populism but which amounts to little more than: “Everything sucks, people are overall, deep down, really rotten, and only violent repression can stem the tide of inevitable violence inherent to our rotten nature.” In this movie, whether good old Sam Fuller wanted it or not, the thesis seems to be even more cynical than that: “Deep down, people are just rotten, and the only way to stop them is with a gun—and dogs too!” If this film has a redeeming point though, it’s the opportunity to see this cute puppy for 2 hours of screentime.

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3 responses to “White Dog (USA, 1982)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: The Big Red One (USA, 1980 / 2004) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Der Amerikanische Freund (West Germany/France, 1977) | Offhand Reviews·

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