Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's a Dog's World, all right.

I've been watching MONDO CANE! A film so spectacularly advertised back in 1962 that, after seeing the trailers and TV spots for it, you too will shout the title, MONDO CANE!, at every given oppurtunity. Or even at random. It's especially fun during sex and while having wounds checked at the hospital.

"Is there any pain?"



As I said earlier, Mondo Movies were the original discovery channel, so to speak; documentaries that combed the globe looking for rare, new, unique, terrifying, gross, and awesome things to bring back home to Italy - and the rest of Europe and the United States, all in due time. Mondo Cane - or "It's a Dog's World" in Italian - was basically the first of such films. It also started a beloved tradition of making the fact mix seamlessly with the fiction, where the real horror and beauty of the world was intercut with re-enactments (or sometimes outright bullshit) with little regard for "preserving cinematic integrity". More than anything, Mondo movies were about making the audience have fun... even at the expense of legitimacy.

Mondo Cane, the original and often claimed to be the best. It's a hard film not to like; with footage that ranges from real shark attack victims working dilligently to sell shark fins to badly faked scenes of a rubber shark being tortured. From real footage of a man dressed in drag for ceremonial reasons cutting off a cow's head to clearly BS footage of a man in Italy wounding himself with coasters on Good Friday... what can I say, s'all good in da' hood, and all that. Mondo Cane doesn't hold together as a serious documentary, between the outrageous narrator who seems to make shit up on the fly and the fact that as much of the footage that's real is intercut with the fake, but it doesn't matter. It's fun, exploitave film that could only have come out of the 60's, and I like it just the way it is.

Following that was Women of the World, a film which is a bit less sleazy than the title would imply. With footage ranging from Chinese women who bathe in white cloth overalls to keep their skin nice and white to Malaysian women who's husbands emulate their wives' birth pains, it shows the woman and how she's treated the world over. Most of the footage here looks genuine - even if the narrator is hilarious, saying the Chinese girls "don't tan - between you and me, if they stay in the sun they get as yellow as a ripe mellon!" A few of the bits - particularly the women in the middle east collecting weapon fragments in mine fields to sell it as scrap - seem all too well shot to be the real deal. But again, what does it matter? The film is entertaining on a light, bawdy sort of level, and despite a few mildly disturbing chunks - in paticular a Japanese girl having her eyes widened and rounded to look more 'Western' and kindly German mothers playing with their deformed, flipper-armed babies - it's really a "nice" film in the end. Something almost heart warming and sweet. Almost. Perhaps good if you have a girlfriend and want to convince her Mondo isn't so bad after all.

Then, there's Mondo Cane 2. Prostitutes in Hong Kong, African girls sold as slaves, cows being force-fed beer and massages for their tender steaks, an artist surrounded by beauties who spit paint on his canvas... it's definately made from the left-overs of Mondo Cane, but it's pretty entertaining none the less. The opening scene - in which a dog is given surgery - basically sums up the film's intentions; "if you didn't like Mondo Cane, well, fuck you." Not to say the film is any more brutal than the first. It isn't. But it's a lot crazier, a lot funnier, and - in my opinion - has the best final scene ever with a crying, bleeding midget about to get bitch slapped. Don't ask. Just watch it. You'll thank me later. In the US it was later trimmed of it's graphic Vietnam footage - including the infamous footage of a buddhist monk comitting suicide as a protest of the war - and was re-released as "Mondo Pazzo" (It's a Crazy World).

After Mondo Cane 2 did less at the box office, the directors Jacopetti and Prosperi - whom I've grown to love so much from these films - decided to try a different tactic. One that was more in-depth... more shocking and amazing than even their imitators that had a whole slew of "Mondo" movies up their sleeve. The resulting film was AFRICA ADDIO (Goodbye, Africa), a film that took them 3 years to complete. With Brith Rule finally ending in Africa circa 1963, they were there to capture the revolutions, the chaos, and the violence first hand. Bodies litter the streets, mass graves are filled, elephants and hippo's are taken down both with rifles and spears; it's really an unpleasant film to sit through, particularly the extended Italian cut. But it's also one of the most amazing films I think I've seen yet. Any director can make a great movie... these guys survived the real deal and brought it home in a 35mm film can, which is more impressive than any adventure film - or horror film - could ever hope. The authenticity of this film has been brought in to question however, with some of the (human) gore possibly being fake, and many of the film's detractors accused the directors of paying the soldiers to "act", conning them in to executing people for the camera. I have no doubts that the overwhelming majority of the film is real... wounded cows, elephants shot in the head, and some shockingly brutal executions fill the screen and make me wonder... is it for real? I'll admit I even went back to the up-close execution and watched it frame by frame to be sure; I'm not sure. The reaction seems almost delayed... but there's definately a hole in the man's belly, something that would have been almost impossible to fake 40 years ago. All I can say is I'm looking forward to seeing what these two have to say on the disk I'm saving for last: The Godfathers of Mondo, a new documentary on Jacopetti and Prosperi.

I'll also admit to having watched AFRICA ADDIO in English. Why? For one thing, the English version - running 127 minutes - was a very controversial bit of cinema in the US when it was released back in 1967. I decided to see what raised the ire of so many critics in this abridged version. There's plenty; released before the MPAA started demanding that films be rated, this film must have been a shocker, showing a great many people the first actual human deaths on the big screen. The film isn't shy, though the edited version does skip some scenes solely for pacing, and cuts much of the tribal animal violence. So watching a white man shoot an elephant in the head is OK, but seeing a tribe of natives taking one down with spears isn't? I guess the gun is more humane; one shot and the bull goes down, while the spearing... well, it's not pretty. Regardless, it astounds me what Americans find "offensive". 'Cause remember, guns don't kill people. Even though if people didn't have guns there'd be a lot less killing. Same with Gods, but I digress.

While I haven't watched the Italian cut all the way through - though I plan to after seeing how different the narration is - I've watched the material that was actually cut from the US release. It helps the film, I think; seeing white men shoot animals in the head is unpleasant, but hardly educational. Seeing black tribal warriors taking down an elephant with some sticks? Now that's something you've never seen before. As with all of the Mondo films of Jacopetti and Prosperi, they're all tied together with the moving, whimsical scores of Riz Ortonali, a favorite of Italian exploitation cinema ranging from the not-so-subtle satire of mondo films CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to PAPRIKA: LIFE IN A BROTHEL and even THE NEW GLADIATORS: ROME 2072 A.D. Say what you will about the films he worked on, Ortolani's compositions are always beautiful, orchestral when other composers went with synthesized garbage. He did make a disco soundtrack for HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK... but let's not hold that against that fun, sleazy piece of crap.

GOODBYE UNCLE TOM - a whole new ball of wax that has barely even been attempted since - was the last film that Jacopetti and Prosperi would make together, though one of them (can't remember which) would make MONDO CANDIDO in the early 80's. Africa Addio has been hailed by some as the ultimate Mondo Movie; a film that shocks, educates, lies to, and entertains it's audience in ways it never knew was possible. While the films that would come later - Faces of Death, Shocking Asia, and so many more - were more graphic and sleazier, nothing could ever quite match what we see in Africa Addio. Never before had documentary film-makers tried to do something this big, this epic, and release it on a world that wasn't already jaded by TV shows like COPS and JERRY SPRINGER. This was a peek in to a world the average white man didn't even know existed; and I think if this film ever got the mass audience it deserved, even now, that it deserved I think that the film would probably still raise plenty of eyebrows. After all, millions of people flock to see PASSION OF THE CHRIST... but that was fake. This is as real as showmen get; and wither or not everything is 100% genuine, it's realer than most people would be comfortable with.

What can I say? The second I have $40 I'm buying the German DVD's of SHOCKING ASIA 1 and 2. Shame they're only in German... but the covers on those new releases just scream BOOTLEG. If I wanted a cheap VHS sourced transfer I'd buy one and encode it myself, thanks.

Oh yeah - I also got THE VENTURE BROS. season 1... but the package shattered in transit. I'm trying to get over this packaging fetish, but when it arrives snapped in half... well, that's the line, damnit.

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