• The Mondo Cane Collection (Blue Underground) DVD Review



    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: October 28th, 2003.
    Director: Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
    Cast: N/A
    Year: 1962/1964/1963/1966/1971/2003
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    The Mondo Cane Collection – Movie Review:

    The filmmaking duo of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi shocked the world with the release of their 1962 documentary, Mondo Cane. Both critically acclaimed and condemned, the film did well enough at the box office to inspire the pair to keep working within the genre, and to follow up the film with a few equally, if not more, shocking follow ups. Called 'Perhaps the most devious and irresponsible filmmakers who have ever lived' by Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, Blue Underground brings us fully restored versions of five (seven if you include the alternate versions as separate entries) of their films with a ton of extra features and an all new documentary on the team that made them.

    MONDO CANE:

    Mondo Cane literally translates into English as 'dogs world' which is an apt title for this film, the own that spawned the so-called 'mondo' genre of shockumentary filmmaking.

    What it claims to be, essentially, is a series of loosely knit incidents of a bizarre and unusual nature, masterfully edited into a structured documentary film with some narration thrown over top of it to attempt to place it into a social context or some sort.

    What it is in reality is a sort of hybrid between a legitimate study of the strange world we live in, and the crassest of exploitation films. Littered with quite a bit of human brutality, very gratuitous animal violence, and what could be very easily construed as racist overtones, Mondo Cane is, even now over forty years after the fact, still a shocking film. Yes, time has aged portions of it better than others and some scenes, such as a group of senior citizen tourists learning the history of the Hawaiian Hula dance, are actually kind of mundane, there are still enough bizarre and grisly scenes contained herein to make it an interesting film and a historically important one at that.

    Highlighted by a wonderful score by Riz Ortolani, including the song 'More' which was nominated for an Academy Award, we the viewers are treated to such spectacles as an tribe of natives in New Guinea slaughtering a group of pigs for a feast, using blunt clubs to smash them in the heads until the die, or a woman who has lost her child suckling a baby pig who has lost its mother on her breast. We see some European farmers force feeding a group of geese, contained in cages, to fatten them up for slaughter. Likewise, Japanese cattle raisers feed their bovines six bottles of beer a day and then later massage them, to keep them tender so that when they're eventually slaughtered for their meat, they'll become the best possible steaks that money can buy. We witness a Malaysian vendor sell a woman a snake to cook, and after she purchases it, he skins it on camera and then chops off its head for her, to make cooking it when she gets home an easier task. We also see a Vietnamese restaurant housing some caged dogs which will eventually become a meal or two. In Portugal the camera catches the running of the bulls as men are gored and bulls are killed.

    But in addition to the animal cruelty scenes there are bizarre religious rituals as well. A group of Catholics flagellate themselves and tear at their legs with glass so that they can walk the path of Christ as he did before he was crucified. Children are recruited to help clean the skulls of the unknown dead, victims of a plague from the dark ages. Strange scenes of human behavior round out the spectacle as we see subservient Japanese women tending to their men, German beer hall patrons overindulging and feeling the after effects, and a group of female Australian lifeguards demonstrating how they can save drowning swimmers in the ocean.

    It's a bizarre series of events captured on film, that is at times very beautiful, and at other times, shocking, grotesque, and depraved.

    MONDO CANE 2:

    Jacopetti and Prosperi's follow up seems to be made up of leftovers from the first film. This time out we're privy to the backstage antics of a group of French female impersonators, Mexican children eating out of the skulls of the dead and feasting on the replicated innards of a corpse while celebrating the Dio De Los Muertos, a photo shoot in which scantily clad women are photographed in various states of injury for the covers of 'thrillers.'

    There's plenty of animal violence in this entry as well, including a scene of dogs undergoing surgery to have their vocal chords removed so that they won't bark or howl when the undergo vivisection. The Chinese fighting fish, that will, when set in a tank together, go at it until one or both of them are dead, are given the chance to show their stuff, much to the amusement of the group of children watching the bout. An African, which doesn't have much variety in their diet due to the poverty stricken conditions in which they live in, are shown dining on the innards of a crocodile.

    Probably the most notorious scene in the second film though, is the one in which a militant Vietnamese government beats on rioting civilians, leading into a scene in which a monk douses himself in gasoline and lights himself on fire, burning to death, as the ultimate protest. Though it was later found out that this scene was in fact faked, it's a convincing effect and even armed beforehand with the knowledge of its authenticity (or lack thereof), it's still a powerful and disturbing scene, especially considering that it was based on a well-known real life event.

    And much like the first entry, Mondo Cane 2 has its share of odd religious and ceremonial practices as well. A group of estranged Catholics wail in a deconsecrated church for no known reason, though local speculation gives weight to the theory that they may be doing it because they've been bitten by tarantulas, which are the devil incarnate. We see some unusual funeral rites from Spain, some men running across hot coals in Eastern Asia, and the Sardinian Festival of Hard Heads, in which the men of the town run their heads into a garage door in an attempt to knock it down. And then there are the strippers who are clothed only in colored toilet paper and later hosed down with seltzer bottles by the patrons of an unusual establishment.

    Probably the most disturbing aspect of the film though is the inspection of devices used in Africa to imprison children, and the all too real effects that these devices have had on some of the victims.

    WOMEN OF THE WORLD:

    The third film in the series is essentially a voyeuristic exploitation film, once again presented in the guise of a legitimate documentary. Women Of The World is a study of, well, the women of the world.

    We being with a look at the women of the Israeli army and follow this with a peek at a different kind of army, this one lead by a deaf and mute Scottish man named Col. Hopkins, who has his own personal army of native women that he trains to be not only soldiers, but his wives as well, on a remote island near New Guinea.

    We follow this up with more drag queen/female impersonator fun, and then we take a look as some pretty Chinese girls bath outdoors with outfits on, covering them from head to toe, so that they can avoid turning their skin 'as yellow as a ripe melon.'

    Catholic women dressed all in black mourn the loss of loved ones, while some Tahitian women teach some others to Hula dance so that they can get jobs as show girls across the ocean in Europe.

    One of the strangest aspects of this documentary, which is much tamer than the two Mondo Cane entries, is the scene in which some Asian women go to the doctors to have surgery on their eyes to make them more 'western' looking and less slanted. This is followed with a scene in which a doctor injects a woman's breasts with some fatty liquid to make them bigger, noting that this won't last forever and that eventually her breasts will deflate.

    Female hitchhikers are all too common in Sweden if what we see on camera is any reflection of reality, as the lovely blonde Scandinavian women thumb for rides across the land, while miles away in Sydney, Australia, we see the Sporting Widows Association engaged in a riveting game of lawn bowling.

    In Hong Kong, women are trained as police officers who gallop about town keeping the world safe from prostitution while in Africa a pair of nuns zip across the continent in a jeep, past lions and birds of all kinds, to go baptize the Masai. In another part of Africa we see some Bedouin women using camel dung and water as a beauty cream, to keep their skin fresh for their men who are out hunting, while back in Europe we see women undergoing a facial treatment that burns off the skin on their face so that it can grow back newly refreshed and as pretty as ever. The narrator concludes that this procedure is 'highly recommended to all fashionable women at least once a year.'

    The show ends with a few women going through the pain of giving birth, followed by some footage of some dedicated mothers caring for their children who have been born with some odd birth defects in a scene that feels very out of place among the rest of the film, which is fairly light and comical compared to the rest of the material in the set.

    AFRICA ADDIO:

    The Mondo Cane Collection features two different versions of Africa Addio - an English cut, the one that has been available before in North America, the one that played theatrically, and an all new Director's cut that restores nearly twenty minutes of never before seen footage back into the film with narration in Italian only which differs from the English narration, and a different editing scheme in certain scenes.

    Jacopetti and Prosperi apparently spent almost three years in Africa, capturing the amazing and horrifying events that were engulfing the country as it went from a colony under British rule to its own country under its own government. When the British left power, the country fell into chaos as it went through the growing pains of trying to setup its own government despite the persistence of rebel factions, religious and civil turmoil, insane racial issues and the continual rape of the country's wildlife by poachers.

    "What the camera sees it films pitilessly, without sympathy, without taking sides" we are told. And what we see is one of the most amazing, disgusting, and fascinating films ever made. Documenting a series of inhumane massacres, big game hunting practices, and horrifying living conditions, the filmmakers captured history as it unfolded in front of their very eyes, at times putting their own lives at risk to capture the moment. We witness an angry soldier pull them out of their car at gun point, only to be let go for one of two reasons: the English cut claims they were released because their Italian passports meant that they were 'not white' and the director's cut claims that they were released for a 'reason that would be reported on later in the newspapers' and leaves it at that.

    Some of the atrocities captured on film include the hunting of gazelles and elephants, which are harvested for their ivory tusks and then left to rot in the sun to be picked at by the vulture. Hippos are also slaughtered, and one pregnant beast has its unborn baby torn from its still warm dead stomach. The wholesale slaughter of animals in this film is simply unreal, and absolutely horrifying.

    But whereas we'd seen animals slaughtered in some of the director's earlier work, Africa Addio brings things a little bit further and pushes the envelope as we also witness actual executions, beatings, and the after effects of a massacre at Zanzibar, where from the safety of a helicopter we witness the shore littered with the bodies of the dead, being carried away in trucks that are literally filled with the dead bodies of those unfortunate enough to have had to give their lives, willingly or not.

    By the time that United Nations eventually intervenes, racial and religious tensions between the warring factions of Africans, Muslims and whites has reached a fever pitch and innocent men, women and children are burned to death (thankfully we do not see this happen on camera) and left to rot in the sun like the animals that were slaughtered before them.

    The trailer for the film claims it to be both dangerous and important, and I tend to agree with those sentiments. Hardly an easy film to watch, this one will stick with you for days to come whether you want it to or not. Those with less stern constitutions are advised to look elsewhere as this is one of the hardest films I've ever had to watch despite its historical significance, regardless of how much of the footage is authentic or simulated.

    GOODBYE UNCLE TIME (ENGLISH CUT) & ADDIO ZIO TOM (DIRECTOR'S CUT):

    Once again, just like the two versions of Africa Addio, Blue Underground has dug up an alternate version of the extremely controversial Addio Zio Tom, or, as it was known in North America, Goodbye Uncle Tom. The English version is the one many of us have seen before, and as it stands, is quite an impressive piece of shock filmmaking but the newly unearthed Director's Cut of the film, with roughly thirteen minutes or new footage and a completely different editing scheme, is the real winner of the pair.

    After sitting through the film I had to sit down and think about how I intended to review these two films. Being fully aware of just how sensitive this subject matter can be to certain people and knowing very well that many people do in fact consider the film to be blatantly racist, I even considered skipping it entirely and leaving this review up to someone else, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that the film isn't racist at all.

    The basic premise behind both versions of the film is this: Jacopetti and Prosperi wanted to 'accurately recreate the American slave trade atrocities.' By doing so with period costumes, and instances of whites brutally oppressing blacks, forcing them to work in the fields, using them more as animals than anything else (see the picture to the right of the white aristocrat feeding the two hungry young black boys under the table like dogs for a shining example of this kind of despicable behavior). In turn, this footage would be contrasted against footage of the modern day, at the time at least, racial tensions growing in America during the time the film was being made, the early 1970s. The films depictions of the white oppression of black slaves are, to be quite frank, revolting. It's horrific. What some of the white slave owners do to what they see as 'merchandise' is enough to make anyone want to lose their lunch. Applying this against depictions of more modern oppression would make for an interesting comparison of how far, or not so far depending on your point of view (and the filmmakers make theirs quite obvious in their end product) North American society has come. Certainly not an easy point to make without stepping on a few toes in the process, but that's not anything that Jacopetti and Prosperi were afraid of doing anyway.

    Anyway, what came out of this idea was the end product, dubbed Goodbye Uncle Tom, in title alone, extremely inflammatory. The English version of the film, which differs greatly from the director's cut, even more so than the two versions of Africa Addio, has been long condemned by many critics, film historians, and fans alike as trashy, racist, exploitation. And it's not that far of a stretch for me to say I can see why people might come to that conclusion. Blacks are, after all, treated worse than most animals throughout the duration of the film by their white oppressors.

    This newly found director's cut, though, is a very different film. As I mentioned before, it's edited much differently and includes quite a bit of additional footage that fleshes out the ideas and themes behind the original intent of the filmmakers to a great extent.

    The juxtaposition between the period footage and the more modern footage flows much easier, driving the point of the film home in a far more direct and easier to understand manner. It comes off far less exploitative (though still contains plenty of nudity and violence intended to shock) than it's edited counterpart.

    It plays more, as the back copy on the DVD case claims, a 'cry of black anguish and rage.' Now, as a 'White Anglo Saxon Protestant' I could be very well way, way, way off base in my assumptions, but I fail to see how anyone could see the director's cut as a racist film. Does it portray blacks as mistreated? Yep, it sure does. And to a very extreme degree. It is, as I've said, horrifying. But where some of the film's detractors misread the movie is in its depictions of the white slave traders. These are not people we should look up to, it's made very clear in the film. These people are scum. The lowest form of scum, trading and getting rich off of oppressing their fellow man. If anything we should feel pity for the way that slaves are treated in the film, and anger towards the way the white man has treated them. And that, right there, as simplistic as it may sound, was in my humble opinion, the point of the film, finally made clear in the director's cut.

    I like to think of myself as somewhat jaded. I'm not afraid to proclaim my love of all things sleazy, violent, gory, and exploitative. I think Ilsa The Wicked Warden is funny in its own special way and I think that the Guinea Pig films are very artistic and have far more to offer than just blood and guts, but regardless, I love them for the blood and guts that they do so graphically show us.

    But I'm sorry, the last two (or four, depending on how you see it) films in this set are just plain disturbing. While the Mondo Cane films contain a sense of perverse naivety to them, and Women Of The World is a campy and semi-trashy look at some interesting aspects of feminine culture, Africa Addio and Addio Zio Tom are extremely disturbing and thought provoking works of art that deserve to be reevaluated and elevated from their 'trash film' status that they don’t necessarily deserve.

    The Mondo Cane Collection – DVD Review:

    Mondo Cane, Mondo Cane 2, and Women Of The World are all presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratios. Having only ever seen these on VHS before, the restoration done on these titles is a real eye opener. No compression problems at all, and only one or two minor instances of edge enhancement. There is some print damage noticeable in all three of the films, but it's hardly distracting in all but the briefest sense of the word. Once or twice I noticed a vertical scratch or two or some speckles on the prints, but other than that, these three films look wonderful. Blacks are deep and rich and the colors are razor sharp and very vibrant.

    Africa Addio, both the English version and the director’s cut, are presented in anamorphic 2.35.1 transfers that, for the most part, look pretty good. There is a bit more noticeable grain present on this one than in the first three films but that aside, colors are reasonably strong and once again, there are no problems at all with the transfer in regards to technical defects such as artifacting or pixelation.

    Both versions of Addio Zio Tom are presented in their original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 and are also enhanced for anamorphic sets. Colors are very strong, blacks are rich and deep, and compression or pixelation is almost none-existent. Some mild print damage and grain rears its head here and there, but the key word here is minor and it never detracts from the movies.

    Mondo Cane, Mondo Cane 2, and Women Of The World are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono tracks in your choice of an English or Italian language track, with removable English subtitles (which do differ slightly to the English narration provided on the three films). Hiss and distortion are never a problem and it's never a chore to follow the narrators as they guide us through sites never before seen. The wonderful scores are balanced perfectly in the mix and never overshadow anything, making all three films easy to understand and easy to follow.

    Africa Addio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. The director’s cut is in Italian only with removable English subtitles while the English cut, is in English only. Once again, both tracks are nice and clear and there are no problems at all understanding the narration overtop of the nice musical score that compliments the film quite well. Addio Zio Tom is presented the same way and sounds roughly the same.

    Overall, these mixes, while primitive in a few spots by today's standards, accurately preserve the mono mixes as they were intended to be heard, and with wonderful clarity and minimal hiss, background noise, or other distractions.

    Mondo Cane has, underneath its excellent menu design, three trailers - a U.S. trailer, an Italian trailer, and an international trailer designed for export markets. There is also an American TV spot included as well. In addition to this is a lengthy still and poster gallery that showcases tons of promotional posters, press books, lobby cards, stills, soundtrack album covers, and video releases for the film. A 5 minute lobby promo audio clip is also provided that plays overtop of a still taken in front of a theater that was playing the film. Lastly, David Flint provides an informative text piece entitled 'The Unofficial Mondo Phenomena' which is an interesting read on the influence that the film had across the world and how it spawned so many imitations.

    Mondo Cane 2 has, underneath it's equally appealing menu design, an international and a U.S. trailer, the same American television spot as the first film, and an equally generous still and poster gallery that showcases a great deal of promotional artwork, press material, newspaper ads, and articles on how it was purported that the film caused an heiress to the Zenith fortune to commit suicide!

    Women Of The World has pretty much the same extras as Mondo Cane 2, and another set of killer menu designs that house a U.S. and international theatrical trailers, and a third still gallery, once again focusing on the promotion of the film at the time of its theatrical release.

    The director's cut of Africa Addio is barebones though it does contain the aforementioned almost twenty minutes of heretofore unseen footage, while the English version contains both a U.S. and an international trailer, an American TV spot, another generous still and poster gallery, and for those equipped with a DVD-Rom, the chance to view the entire U.S. press book in pdf format.

    The English version of Goodbye Uncle Tom contains a theatrical trailer and another great poster and still gallery, but in addition, there is also a behind the scenes photo gallery included on the disc as well as a few minutes of 8mm footage that documents the making of the feature that was shot by Giampaolo Lomi. The Director's Cut is barebones.

    The real icing on the cake of this set, at least as far as the extra features are concerned, is the almost ninety minute documentary, The Godfathers Of Mondo, directed by David Gregory (The Joe Spinnell Story). Not only does this piece interview Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi but it also involves famed composer Riz Ortolani (who also composed Cannibal Holocaust and Day Of Anger) on his involvement, who goes into quite a bit of detail about his work on these collaborations, and talks about how the song 'More' became such a hit not only in Europe but especially in the United States. Cameraman Benito Frattari is likewise quizzed about his work with the two Mondo-men, and he divulges a lot of great information on the shooting of the films and some of the grislier scenes contained therein.

    David Kerekes, David Flint, and Dr. Jeffrey Sconce are on hand to put the films into their historical and social perspective and all three of the gentlemen offer some interesting insight into the works in this set that might just make you think about them in a slightly different light than you previously had if you were under the impression that these were nothing more than simply base exploitation films with a penchant for real death and international oddities. Kerekes in particular, who co-wrote the invaluable film book Killing For Culture (truly a book that belongs on the shelf of any fan of this type of film) lends some nice insight into the discussion. Sconce, a professor of Media Studies at Northwestern University lends a welcome academic slant to the proceedings without coming across as pretentious and is in fact, quite interesting to listen to.

    The real stars of the show though, are the culprits themselves, Jacopetti and Prosperi. The bulk of the interviews are with the two cohorts, who speak in great detail about the shooting of all of the films included in the set, the countless imitations that were spawned by the success of Mondo Cane (see Arthur Davis' Brutes And Savages for a perfect example of this), and about the controversy that all of their films seemed to cause and that would follow them for the rest of their lives because of it. The two men are frank and candid about their work, and what it represents, even if at times the two totally contradict each other on a couple of specific details.

    Overall, The Godfathers Of Mondo is an excellent addition to this set, and if you have any interest in the movies contained herein, then this documentary should be required viewing.

    The Mondo Cane Collection – The Final Word:

    The Mondo Cane Collection is an absolutely exhaustive endeavor. Parts of the films are still very hard to watch and despite the dated aspects of a few of the entries in the set, they still have the power to shock after all these years. Blue Underground has done an amazing job on the restoration, the packaging, and the presentation of the films. The set, which is limited to only 10,000 packages, comes very highly recommended for those with a strong constitution and an open mind. Never has the polar opposites of both the beauty and the horror that the world has to offer been show with such an unflinching eye as this set.






















































































































































    Comments 2 Comments
    1. funkvader's Avatar
      funkvader -
      Goodbye Uncle Tom is really something else. And it's currently streaming on Tubi.tv for free (until someone realizes what it is.)
    1. funkvader's Avatar
      funkvader -
      Actually, all these films are on tubi.tv