Shockumentaries Volume 2
By: Julian on October 2, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Blue Underground (USA). All Region, NTSC. 2.35:1 & 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 341 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosper, David Gregory
Starring: Sergio Rossi, Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
Tagline: "Searing! Shocking! Savage!"
Country: Italy/USA
Year: 1966/1971/2003
The mondo cycle was started by Italian journalists and directors Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi and Paulo Cavara with the seminal 1962 film Mondo Cane, or 'A Dog's Life'. Essentially, mondo films were pseudo-documentaries that used a blend of authentic and faked footage for the primary purpose to shock, and this intention made such films known as (you guessed it) 'shockumentaries'. This set is the second volume of Blue Underground's Shockumentaries series and contains the Jacopetti and Prosperi (no Cavara this time around) films Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom, as well as David Gregory's feature-length documentary on the two filmmakers The Godfathers of Mondo.

First up is Africa Addio, Jacopetti and Prosperi's follow-up to one of their lesser-received docos Women of the World. Jacopetti and Prosperi worked on Africa Addio for three years, risking life and limb to document a continent in crisis, in which certain nations were undergoing a transitional period from colonial rule to independence. The film begins as a run-of-the-mill Discovery Channel documentary – we are shown general African culture and the occasional scene of tame fighting and brawling, all very par-for-the-course. However, as the picture progresses, it morphs into something increasingly nasty. The real turning point of the film is when we arrive at a game reserve, where two jeeps joined by a rope drive parallel through a herd of zebra in order to catch the animals for their skins and meat. It's cruel and nauseating, but it's only the start – we are told that all animal sanctuaries have been dismantled, with poachers free to hunt in what was once sacred territory. Cue a number of incredibly graphic set-pieces of animal cruelty, the most devastating of which concerns a pregnant hippopotamus, shot and flayed to reveal her unborn young.

We move away from animals and towards human conflict, and it is these scenes in the film's final fifteen minutes that generated the most controversy. While traveling through a war-torn African town, the filmmakers' car is smashed by soldiers, they are hauled out and are literally seconds away from execution before it is revealed that, 'they aren't white…they're Italian!' Jacopetti and Prosperi then take us into the ugly world of the mercenary, and a group of Anglo-ex-pats launch an attack on an African village. It's difficult to ascertain what is real and what is not in these scenes; the juxtaposition of real-life animal cruelty with these scenes of violence gives them a dubious quality, although Jacopetti, cinematographer Antonio Climati and production manager Stanis Nievo were put on trial for organising the murder of African natives. They were acquitted, narrowly avoiding a charge that would make them international war criminals, however it is still rumoured that the mercenaries postponed the invasion for twenty-four hours at the filmmaker's request.

As disgusting and morally corrupt as the content is, there's no doubt that Africa Addio is the work of two master filmmakers at the top of their game. It's blunt, direct and adopts an uncomfortably macabre quality, but the sensational direction, editing and cinematography by future mondo director Climati, as well as Riz Ortolani's fantastic score, makes this one of the finest documentaries in cinema history.

It should be noted that there are a number of releases of this film, the most butchered being Africa Blood and Guts, which removes all political content of the film and markets it as a blatant exploitation picture. A director's cut is also available.

Goodbye Uncle Tom, aka Farewell Uncle Tom and Addio Zio Tom, is a different film to Africa Addio. It isn't a documentary but a recreation, recounting the events of the slave trade in America in the 1800s. We follow every facet of the reprehensible treatment of Africans as they are transported on ships to America, sold to 'wholesalers' and then re-sold to families and businesses. The content here is particularly disgusting, and the treatment of the Africans in this picture is thoroughly revolting. There are times, particularly during the voyeuristic look at 'cleansing' the female infants (made more disturbing by the fact that Jacopetti had a penchant for underage girls), where I genuinely questioned the motives of the film. However, regardless of Jacopetti and Prosperi's techniques, it is clear that the duo have a specific purpose beyond merely 'shocking' the audience. Blatant visceral confrontation, as well as the 'bulls-by-the-horn' attitude adopted by the duo, is what such a controversial topic needs, despite the fact that this exact approach has been avoided wholesale by every other film that deals with the issue. Goodbye Uncle Tom is a clear condemnation of the slave trade, though its ending does add an element of uncertainty with regards to knowing what Jacopetti and Prosperi's attitudes were – the uneasy revenge montage unsettles us further and is very powerful.

The final film in the collection, The Godfathers of Mondo, is directed by David Gregory, who helmed a number of similar film docos including the Texas Chain Saw Massacre retrospect The Shocking Truth. Gregory's documentary is an excellent addition to the collection and gives voice to two of the most controversial and reviled filmmakers of all time. The doco comprehensively covers the careers of Jacopetti and Prosperi chronologically through in-depth interviews with the men themselves, as well as composer Riz Ortolani, cinematographer Benito Frattari and film critics David Flint and David Kerekes. Candid and insightful, this is definitely the definitive source on the Jacopetti/Prosperi mondo films. A fitting finale to a wonderful set.

The biggest criticism Jacopetti and Prosperi received from their mondo films, aside from the murder controversy of Africa Addio, were allegations of racism. Roger Ebert wrote in his 1967 review of Africa Addio that the film was 'brutal, dishonest and racist'; and Pauline Kael described Goodbye Uncle Tom as being 'the most rabid incitement of the race war'. These attitudes have become synonymous with these films, and mondo pictures in general. However, it seems to me that no judgement is passed – or at least not as much as the aforementioned reviewers describe. Both films tackle difficult subject matter using techniques that could certainly be considered unorthodox and un-PC. While Africa Addio may position the viewer to somewhat doubt the efficiency of a black-governed continent, Goodbye Uncle Tom is overtly against the slave trade and glorifies not one shred of racism. As the old adage suggests, 'don't shoot the messenger' – while both films depict racist people, they certainly haven't been made by racist people, regardless of how questionable the content may be.

Over-the-top, violent, perverse and grisly but driving home a vitally important point, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi have directed one documentary masterpiece, an equally sensational recreation and been the subjects of one of the best film retrospects ever made. Blue Underground must be applauded for putting so much effort into such a release.
Video
Absolutely sensational. Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom are presented in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio and the picture of the latter looks very crisp. The quality of Africa Addio is slightly less with the colours marginally duller, but it is still exceptional quality for a film that has long been considered the cinematic-Black Plague. The Godfathers of Mondo is presented in the 1:78:1 ratio and the picture is as good as you'd expect from a modern film.
Audio
All three films have one Dolby mono soundtrack. Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom have the English tracks (whose translation Jacopetti vehemently opposed), while The Godfathers of Mondo has Italian language for most of the interviews and film clips (with optional English subtitles). The sound on all three is sharp, with dialogue clearly audible.

Again, Riz Ortolani's scores for both Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom must be noted. Since having been co-nominated for an Oscar for the piece 'More' in Mondo Cane, Ortolani was a mainstay in the Italian exploitation industry, scoring dozens of pictures including Cannibal Holocaust, Castle of Blood and House on the Edge of the Park. His work with these two films, particularly Goodbye Uncle Tom, employs masterful use of his trademark string orchestral scores and their more upbeat rock derivatives. Simply fantastic.
Extra Features
Africa Addio's disc offers theatrical trailers, a TV spot and a poster/still gallery. Most notable though is the DVD-Rom US press book. It's a classic relic of the past, comprehensively chronicling the history and release of the hugely controversial picture.

Goodbye Uncle Tom offers a theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, as well as an additional gallery of photos from second assistant director and production manager Giampaulo Lomi. It also showcases fifty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage shot on 8mm, with an audio commentary by Lomi.

There are no features on The Godfathers of Mondo disc.
The Verdict
Shockumentaries Volume 2 is an amazing release of two films that unashamedly tackle content which is considered beyond taboo by most filmmakers, as well as one of the most complete chronologies of the mondo cycle. Blue Underground should be commended for their courage in releasing such edgy films and bringing them to a wider audience – the pictures are certainly well deserved.

These films were previousy released by Blue Underground in the 'Mondo Cane box set', along with the films contained in the Shockumentaries Volume 1 (containing Mondo Cane, Mondo Cane 2 and Women of the World) and Shockumentary Extreme Edition (containing the director's cuts of Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom) box sets, however, there is quite a difference in price, and buying the three seperate collections individually actually works out to be far cheaper than buying the box itself.

As the tagline for Africa Addio states, "Love it or hate it, but you won't easily forget it". I can't recommend this set, or these films, enough.
Movie Score
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