Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Mondo Cane Collection (1962 - 1971) * * ¾

"All the scenes you will see in this film are true. If they are shocking, it is only because there are many shocking things in this world..."

MONDO CANE (A Dog's World) is a 1962 Italian documentary film consisting of a series of travelogue vignettes providing glimpses into cultural practices throughout the world intended to shock or surprise the mostly Western film audience. It includes an insect banquet and a memorable look at a practising South Pacific cargo cult. MONDO CANE's shock-exploitation-documentary style started a fad known as "Mondo film".

The original "shockumentary" is a collection of mostly real archive footage displaying mankind at its most depraved and perverse, showing bizarre rituals, cruel behavior, and animal violence. Nominally a documentary, this film combines a number of unrelated sequences both real and staged, including tribal dances and rituals, butchering and torture of animals, images of genocide, dramatizations of African slavery, a most-likely very real execution, and a visit to an ornate pet cemetery--all focused on the lurid, sensational, and eccentric.

There are eight separate DVD titles in The Mondo Cane Collection, representing 5 films and a documentary made exclusively for this set from Blue Underground. Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti created this series that seeks to show the weird, the hilarious, the brutal and the frequently offbeat people, places and events that exist on our planet. Two of the films, AFRICA ADDIO and ADDIO ZIO TOM, are offered in both an original English version and an alternate Director's Cut on their own separate discs. The set follows the chronological release of these movies and represents the best, most complete versions of these films ever offered. The Collection includes:

MONDO CANE (1962): A globetrotting travelogue of unusual customs and rituals from around the world. We witness events as diverse as a native "man" hunt and a lifeguard competition, an Asian woman shopping for fresh snake meat, and the Italian relatives of Rudolph Valentino celebrating the anniversary of his death. The American fixation with the automobile is contrasted with the vehicle's final resting place in a junkyard, and an artist manipulates nude models covered in blue paint to function as "brushes" as he creates another "masterpiece" of modern art. Genuine nature is matched with the man-made metropolis and the taint of the tourist is decried while the purity and violence of the native is celebrated. The purpose of the documentary is clear: it wants to show how diverse, and yet how really interrelated, we all are, the primitive and the privileged, the backward and the Bacchanalian. The movie's great theme song "More" was written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero and was given new lyrics in English by Norman Newell. In 1964 the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.

MONDO CANE 2 (1964): Using the same style as the first landmark film, the sequel wants to further probe the dark and delirious inner workings of the world. It moves from shots of ladies giving up their hair for wigs to the average gal who dons the fake coiffures. We see unbridled worship of God as women and children go completely insane in a lunatic celebration of faith. Art is again under the microscope as a Greek painter spits his medium into jars for his painters to consume and regurgitate onto canvases. Jewelers encrust live bugs with precious gems and gold for high society ladies to drape across their bodices. Parties are depicted as degenerating into celebrations of sexual assault, and the children of Mexico are fed the marzipan body parts of Judas and eat the sugar custard "brains" of the dead in celebration. More political and psychological than the first outing, MONDO CANE 2 is still a strange look at an even more bizarre dog's world. It is also known as MONDO PAZZO.

WOMEN OF THE WORLD (1963): Made in between the two MONDO CANE films, this movie wants to champion and challenge our preconceptions about women. We see the female members of the Israeli military involved in combat training. Models are shown posing for true crime magazine covers, and the "ritual" of topless sunbathing is explored. Around the world, sex is still the number one trade as women are exploited. We follow prostitutes as they ply their trade on the streets and windows of specifically designated districts and hang around nightclubs that feature scandalous shows. Posing in the nude for money is discussed, as is the strange career of being a "professional mourner". From quickie Vegas marriages to the horrors of Thalidomide and the tragedy of Lourdes, this is a film that focuses on how important the female is to the planet.

AFRICA ADDIO (1966) (English Version and Director's Cut): This entry declares "You May Love It! You May Hate It! But You'll Not Forget It!" Tiring of the travelogue approach, the filmmakers headed to Africa to document the unrest that had erupted in the wake of colonial abandonment. In the early 1960s, many African nations gained their independence from colonialist rulers such as Britain, France, and Portugal. For a period of three years, the creators of MONDO CANE scoured the Dark Continent to find proof of the effects of such domination on the population and the policies of these newly freed regions. The truth was harsh and vile. Animals, once protected by strict international regulation, were made available for collective slaughter. Rebels, hoping to gain political power and the land that was "stolen" from them, aligned with outside forces and left a trail of rape and murder across the veldts and villages. The mass graves of animals and people are showcased and atrocities against all species are caught on film. Occasionally, the narrative looks at the poor, deluded white man, living in virtual exile in the Apartheid heaven of South Africa, still feeling forcibly removed from their homeland and mourning their lost way of life. Interestingly, we see how readily the African tribes revert to Western ways and the decadent subservient lifestyle they fought so hard against.

AFRICA ADDIO is also presented in a Director's Cut that deeply politicizes the events depicted in the English version, rearranging them and adding more scenes of governmental rallies and crackdowns. The narration (Italian with English subtitles) is also more factually accurate and detailed, explaining certain power struggles and the bloody results of tribal conflicts. We still see the wholesale slaughter of wildlife and the death of human beings, but the tone is now more newsworthy and less inflammatory. Perhaps the most telling moments come when, in South Africa, the ghettos of Soweto are juxtaposed against the metropolis of Johannesburg, predicting the collapse of Apartheid two decades before it would occur.

ADDIO ZIO TOM (1971) (Goodbye Uncle Tom: English Version and Director's Cut): It sports the tagline "300 years of hate explode today!" Hoping to show a nation in denial just how horrendous the slave trade was prior to the start of the Civil War, this "documentary recreation" of the social, political, and moral environment of the Deep South is both pointed and powerful. Our filmmakers seem to travel back in time as they arrive in Louisiana to make their movie. They film the vile treatment of Africans as they are shipped, processed, and passed about like wholesale inventory, complete with humiliating physical and psychological tortures. The gentility of the slave owner is matched only by their bravado and abhorrent behavior. Blacks are killed, castrated, raped, and ravished by their white owners. Auctions are attended, the life of the house slave is explored and a Mengele-like scientist is shown "experimenting" on his "camp" full of natives, trying to decipher their "primitive, animalistic" tendencies. After we see the capture and massacre of hundreds of runaway slaves and the farm-like "breeding stables" of a slave "stud service," we jump to modern America, to see how eons of mistreatment still seethes in the unconscious daydreams of the supposedly "equal" black man.

Like AFRICA ADDIO, ADDIO ZIO TOM is presented in a Director's Cut that plays as a completely different, equally compelling cinematic experience. Deleting much of the old South footage and inserting more modern scenes of Black Panther rallies and the riots that resulted after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Director's Cut (Italian with English subtitles) tells a more political and divisive story about black and white relations in the United States. Gone is a great deal of the fictional recreations and the film has been reedited to tell a more fact based, historical story of slavery and its practices.

THE GODFATHERS OF MONDO (2003): Made specifically for the collection, this 90-minute documentary directed by Blue Underground's David Gregory covers the history of the films in this series and the collaboration between Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi. From their individual roots in documentaries (Jacopetti) and naturalism (Prosperi) to the breakthrough epiphany of MONDO CANE, these aging Italians are full of life and wonderful stories. Not shy to express disgust at the terrible Mondo mutations that came in the wake of their success, they are also quick to point out their own failures (MONDO CANE 2) and genius (AFRICA ADDIO). Other crew members (including cameraman Benito Frattari, composer Riz Ortolani, and production manager Giampaolo Lomi) provide outside insights into the process of making this new kind of movie. Filled with editing theory, discussion on the importance of music, and the overall impact of this kind of film on modern media, this documentary is a very special look at an infamous set of films and filmmakers.

The Mondo Cane Collection is an 8 DVD set that shows the Mondo film for what it is: daring, quirky, and brazen cinema at its most pure and perfected. All the films in the collection may look real, but some things are obviously staged. The damage of MONDO CANE is done early on with its sensationalist, up-close style and in its choice of dialogue for the narrative. As we watch, we know that some of the things we witness are real and true, yet far too often there is doubt about authenticity. Sound is also a very important part of the Mondo movies, and the Dolby Digital Mono here is superb. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the music score never overruns the narration. And speaking of the music, the Mondo films have some of the most beautiful and lush accompaniment ever included in documentaries.

But where is MONDO CANDIDO (1975)? The last collaboration between Jacopetti and Prosperi, this lost film would have been the perfect last piece in the Mondo puzzle from the two filmmakers. Blue Underground must have been unable to secure the rights, find a pristine print, or decided it is not a documentary, but its lack of inclusion here makes The Mondo Cane Collection incomplete. With the wealth of material here and the glorious versions of the movies that are offered, the lack of MONDO CANDIDO is excusable, but the fact that it is not included as part of the box set means that while it is a comprehensive look at the Mondo trend, The Mondo Cane Collection still has a final piece missing.

MONDO CANDIDO is based on the cynical satire "Candide" by Voltaire. Candide (Christopher Brown) is a nice innocent young man who is raised in a castle of a noble family in Westphalia during the middle ages. Dr. Pangloss (Jacques Herlin), a teacher of metaphysics and philosophy educates him and tells that he lives in the best of all possible worlds and that any apparent absurdity, misery and conflict are actually all parts of a greater good that mortals cannot perceive. The happy life of Candido changes drastically when he falls in love with the Baron's daughter Cunegonda (Michelle Miller) and is caught with her. Candide is banned from the castle and starts traveling into a timeless world, searching for his lost love. Candide attempts to stay optimistic as unbelievable horrors unfold in a world full of brutality, war, slavery and sickness.

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