"More" than you'll ever know…or want to know
When they first hit video stores in the early 1980s, people were aghast and intrigued. Could it be? Did these films really live up to their legend? Was it possible that the development of the VCR had led us to the point where we'd actually get to see human atrocities like autopsies and actual murders in our very own living rooms? Indeed, that was the promise offered by Faces of Death, a soon-to-be series of on-the-cheap video collections that offered vile vignettes of burn victims, police surveillance footage and occasionally "staged" sagas of people being mauled by animals or killed in accidents. Incredibly popular amongst teens who used the tapes as weekend sleepover double dare fodder, Faces of Death spawned a Rocky-like set of sequels and imitators that created a cash filled coffer of bad publicity. Broadcast news magazines did their standard exposés to prove the films' fakery. Doctors and do-gooders argued about their destructive power. But it didn't stop people from seeking out even more revolting imagery to faux entertain themselves. Soon, disaster footage and the unfortunate incidents of real life slaughter caught on film flooded the marketplace and the public's sleaze beast was appeased.
Sadly, all Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi could do was sit back and watch as their artistic statements about the diversity of the world were lumped together with bad dub copies of psychopaths committing suicide and catastrophe victims missing various limbs. These two Italian innovators were definitely responsible for the foundational films that started and popularized the whole "shock cinema" or "Mondo" genre. Thankfully, Blue Underground has taken it upon themselves to reclaim these titles as true artistic statements of a genuine variety. The Mondo Cane Collection, an eight DVD set, finally shows the Mondo film for what it is: daring, brazen cinema at its most pure and perfected.
Facts of the Case
There are eight separate DVD titles in The Mondo Cane Collection, representing five films and a documentary made exclusively for this set. 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 begins with:
Mondo Cane: 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 (or a Parisian gallery), 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.
Mondo Cane 2: Using the same style as the first landmark film, Cane 2 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, Cane 2 is still a strange look at an even more bizarre dog's world.
Women of the World: 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 (English Version and Director's Cut): 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 (Communists, Fascists) 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 (presented in 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 / Goodbye Uncle Tom (English Version and Director's Cut): 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 (again with Italian narration and dialogue 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: Made specifically for the collection, this 90-minute documentary 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 crewmembers (including the great cameraman Benito Frattari, the exceptional 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.
Reputation can ruin even the most memorable of experiences. For years, people failed to indulge in certain cinema and works of literature because their scandalous or sacrilegious status preceded them. When he wrote The Satanic Verses in 1984, Salman Rushdie could not have expected the public outcry amongst the Muslim nations regarding his depiction, fictional as it was, of the life of Mohammed. Twenty years later and he still lives with a fatwa over his head, a proclamation from Islam's highest spiritual leader that he should die for the words he wrote. Anyone who has read the book, however, will marvel at how lyrical and audacious it is, but not in the way it handles religion. Indeed, The Satanic Verses is more of a Bollywood exploration of angels among us and the age-old battle between good and evil. Still, many view the novel as a one-way ticket to sin, a Necronomicon of instant damnation for all who read it. Similarly, a movie like Necromantik gains a similar sullied standing from the very fact that people have called it the most disgusting and disturbing film ever created. Basically the degenerate tale of a couple who crave corpses for sex, this modest, low budget German joke is not so much a gorefest as a sick toned test of fortitude, depicting necrophilia and vivisection as depressing, dirty, and diseased. The lack of hope and happiness is far more unsettling than the dime store effects, and anyone who has seen it can attest to the movie being more bleak than bold. But still it lives on, like a bad penny constantly turning up on lists of notorious cinema when it should really be relegated to the status of "long since forgotten."
The Mondo movies are like this. Whispered about by fans and wondered about by the uninitiated for decades after their original release, these long forgotten filmic freak shows were the initial forays into the world of "reality" cinema that would later find its peak in the late 1980s (when the VCR made viewing almost anything a viable commodity). Cursed, condemned, and always castigated as worthless pieces of prefabricated trash, the Mondos get lumped in with Italian cannibal and zombie films as pointless celebrations of animal mutilation and human despair. Oddly, most people jumping on the anti-Mondo bandwagon are riding for one of two very flawed reasons: (1) the Mondo movie itself has a reputation as being a terrible excuse for cinema, thanks in most part to the horrible product that flooded the market in the wake of Mondo Cane and (2) most people just haven't bothered to watch these movies, resolved to believe the urban legends. But what you learn upon viewing the entire Mondo Cane Collection from Blue Underground is that you just can't believe the hype. While they are filled with disturbing images and uncomfortable ideas, The Mondo Cane Collection actually contains some of the most brilliant examples of mise-en-scène—the construction and connection of shots and sequences to create a compelling and complete narrative thread—ever placed on film. Young moviemakers wondering how to link their plotlines or accentuate the emotion in a moment or theme should watch the Mondo movies to understand the power of images contrasted against each other to express anger, sadness, fear, hate, comedy, and joy.
Yes, the reality of the Mondo Cane movies is much more sedate than the stories that have surrounded them for so long. Fanboys hoping to test their intestinal tenacity with these ancient artifacts would find their gag reflex better challenged by any number of Backyard Wrestling DVDs on the market. The Mondo Cane Collection shows that the films made by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi were not just some half-assed cobbling together of stock footage grotesqueries thrust upon a unwitting public at a more innocent and ill-prepared time. In actuality, the Mondo series is one of the more politically biting, socially astute, and experimentally daring sets of films ever created. A scholar on the enclosed documentary says it best: "(Jacopetti and Prosperi) created their own genre of cinema, and not a lot of people can make that claim." Indeed, the duo reinvented the language of the documentary, allowing it to cover everything from the cultural and ritualistic to the political and the fictional. Everything about the Mondo films is unconventional, from the subject matter to the editing and directing style. Aside from one clear failure (the rather lifeless Women of the World) and an incredibly daring re-imagining of pre-Civil War slavery (in Goodbye Uncle Tom), there is nothing remotely sordid about these films. Provocative and shocking? Absolutely, but never in a debasing or pandering fashion.
The Collection begins with the granddaddy of them all, the movie that caused a sensation and started a trend throughout the world: Mondo Cane. Literally translated as "A Dog's World," there is a mixed message to this movie about various bizarre rituals and strange native customs. While many acknowledge its exploitation roots, few confess to the sharp social commentary to be found here. Indeed, Mondo Cane is a very astute skewering of the modern civilized mindset placed vividly along side the old fashioned but seemingly more dignified traditions of the "savage." This is a film of juxtapositions, images, and themes reacting and countermanding each other in a humorous (and occasionally horrifying) display of cultures in clash. For every wealthy pet owner burying their beloved bow-wow in a celebrity style graveyard, there is a nation on the other side of the world braising Bowser for Sunday supper. Scenes of women being "fattened" for their tribal sexuality and fertility are blended with images of the Western hoi polloi indulging in luxury spa weight reduction exercises. Drunken, crude Germans are viewed alongside the neat freak Japanese, and the sacrifice of animals for food or faith is matched to scenes of overindulgent Americans eating gourmet dishes made of bugs. Hilarious (the drunken krauts are a kick), sad (the linger living death of the Chinese elderly, left to rot in eerily named Houses of the Dead while their relatives regale), and gruesome (we witness a bull beheading not once but four times), Mondo Cane is everything you think it is and some things you never expected. The reason it has lived on in cinematic history is clear: it is a very good, very well made movie.
Mondo Cane 2 picks up right where the first film leaves off (in actuality, it is mostly made up of leftovers). It even references the debut of the initial shocking, startling controversial entity (let's face it, our parents and grandparents must have freaked out and had their values shaken by Mondo #1. It was 1962 after all!). But where #1 was a comedy of comparison, #2 wants to center on hypocrisy and the two-faced nature of the world. Sure, it's also funny and ironic, but there is a more serious, sarcastic tone here. On one hand, we have an African tribe so desperate for water than they collect dew off the few leaves of vegetation that grow in their habitat. Immediately, we cut to a shot of a "white" woman literally dousing herself with the crystal-clear liquid, standing under a traditional fountain that is supposed to guarantee beauty and a husband. Glorious, gorgeous flocks of flamingoes fill the sky with their pale pink majesty. Only then do we see that their nesting grounds have been contaminated by sewage from a nearby soft drink plant and we witness the painful and yet somehow noble death of these newborn birds as progress slowly chokes the life out of them. There is less violence here, but when it is used, it has a far more substantial impact. The famous protest over Vietnam by a Buddhist monk who immolated himself is "shown" (one assumes it is a recreation—and we later learn the truth), and a particularly unsettling scene of slave traders and the young victims they have tortured (with all manner of devious devices to cause permanent growth and bodily deformities) makes for rough going. But it's all part of the severe versus ludicrous dichotomy set up in this film. We are supposed to react with sympathy for the simple and repulsion for the over-privileged Westerner (especially Britain: this movie in particular is constantly calling this island nation out). While it can't have the impact of the original, Mondo Cane 2 is still another interesting and intense look at the wacky, weird and worrisome world around us.
After the one-two punch of the Cane films, it's discouraging to witness a blunder as big as Women of the World. Unfocused, boring, and highly repetitive, this is a Mondo movie in name only. Supposedly narrated by Oscar winner Peter Ustinov (the voice sounds nothing like the distinctive British thespian), many of the segments overstay their welcome going into incredible detail about subjects of little or no interest. Sequences that are supposedly salacious in nature are so non-naughty that pre-teens would be comfortable viewing this material. There are just hints and peeks of nudity, nothing completely exposed or full frontal. And the violence that the Cane films seemed to relish is all but absent here. But perhaps the biggest sin of Women of the World is the lack of an agenda or clear goal for the narrative. Cane had its joking juxtaposition and Cane 2 wanted to point out the duplicity engulfing the planet. Women has no such philosophical bent. Basically it describes different cultures and customs (women who relax while men do all the work—shock! And ladies pose nude and are prostitutes—oh my! no!), teaching us very little if anything new.
Only toward the end, when we witness a comical fashion show put on by French models for African natives, does the movie begin to say something profound. The site of fly-engulfed, heavily ornamented and pierced tribeswomen begging to have their stubby nails polished, while all the time the "white" gals seem mystified and uncomfortable, says a lot with very little. As does the crosscutting of women suffering through modern dermabrasion techniques (their peeled and gristled faces exposed for us to gawk at in gory glory) as ladies in the Middle East smear camel dung on their cheeks, both hoping for the same result (and using similar "rotten" methods). As motherhood is celebrated and the depressing case of Thalidomide babies is discussed, the movie begins to vibrate with that good old Cane magic, but it appears in the final ten minutes of a 100-minute presentation. Women of the World would have benefited from a clearer scheme of how to treat the subject. As it stands, this rarely seen film is flimsy and flaccid.
The series gets back on track with the stellar, electrifying Africa Addio (Goodbye Africa). Basically an exposé about the end of colonialism and the beginnings of civil and ethnic unrest on the Continent, this is a brutal, uncompromising look at the after effects of white rule over black nations following hundreds of years of domination. Freedom leads to revolution. Revolt leads to tribal wars, xenophobia, and genocide. This is a difficult movie to watch, but it is not because of the camera work or images captured. Even in death and destruction, the filmmakers make multiple artistic statements, some so sweeping and grand that they will literally take your breath away. Unbelievable sunsets match against unreal mass graves. The wholesale slaughter of animals (captured in graphic, agonizing detail) is played out against some of the most lush, fertile wetlands ever seen on the screen. Far less careful about its commentary than the other films that came before it, Africa Addio is a complete condemnation of France and Britain's empire policies and the lack of aid and support from nations that, up until recently, had exploited this land for all it was worth (and sometimes, more). This is propaganda of the highest order: virtually none of the blame is placed on the shoulders of the corrupt, power mad regimes that stepped in once the white man has left, and tribes are either viewed as the innocent victims, the noble savage, or merely mimicking their once wicked taskmasters when acting out in deadly ways. And it should be noted that this movie plays all of its "caught on film as it occurred" happenstances completely straight. So either you will accept everything that goes on here and praise the makers for being this brave and uncompromising…or you'll feel like the biggest fool for being manipulated by such simple sequences as the cruel killings of both man and animal. Still, for all its questionable ethics and ethos, Africa Addio is a powerful, potent piece of cinematic muckraking.
The Mondo Cane Collection also gives us the golden opportunity to witness the "Director's Cut" of this film on a separate DVD. Many critics of Africa Addio argued that the movie failed to make a great deal of political sense while focusing almost exclusively on the death and destruction inherent in the continent's upheaval. When viewing the Director's Cut, one begins to understand the reasons for the English version. Most people coming to a Mondo-style movie back then probably weren't interested in the political agendas and fights that lead to the bloodshed. They just wanted the geek show theatrics and the shock value. Africa Addio, in the director's version, is a lesson on the implosion of African governmental and social systems after Europe ended its colonial practices and the displays here are as painful as they are ironic. It's startling to see how this director's cut, with the simple rearranging of scenes, simplification of the narrative, and the adding of historical context totally changes the film. The same material is here, but it is magically transformed in tone, in shape, and in message. The English version shows the Dark Continent as a land swarming with mindless upheaval and irrational acts of destruction. The Director's Cut explains the devastation we witness and then adds even more details to create a linear path from Western influence to tribal chaos…and the crimes that come with the struggle for power.
The last film in this box set series is the pseudo-fictional self-proclaimed "documentary" Addio Zio Tom, or as it is translated in English, Goodbye Uncle Tom. The premise for this film is as unique as the movie itself is unrelenting and disturbing. The filmmakers, wishing to turn their twisted cinematic eye on the mayhem committed against African slaves in the antebellum South of the United States, recreate the time and temperament in controversial detail. Following a cargo of human chattel as it is bartered, sold, tortured, debased, and coveted, Goodbye Uncle Tom is a searing indictment of the mentality that allowed one human being to own another as it exploits and exposes the very racist individuals that declared blacks as "inferior." Filled with haunting scenes of exquisite beauty and gut wrenching injustices that bruise the soul, this movie walks a painfully difficult tightrope. Some may find it outlandish and shameful, even as it tries to champion the poor oppressed Africans. For them, scenes of animalistic "breeder" slaves housed in cages like drooling animals, good old-fashioned fat-assed Mammies "ya-sa"-ing the "massas," and scientific speeches about the overall substandard attributes possessed by all minorities just adds fuel to a politically incorrect firestorm. The "n" word is heard here, but not as frequently as one would suspect. The terrible philosophical ideals that accepted slavery as an everyday necessity of life, no matter the physical or moral cost to the "property," is more prevalent and painful that any inflammatory language. Jacopetti and Prosperi obviously abhor the entire idea of segregation, discrimination, and slavery, and their highly propagandized point is well taken and sincere. But their methods are a tad extreme. They do rely on horrid stereotypes in an attempt to illuminate the heinous feelings of the rightly ridiculed Southerners in the film. But this film is far from racist. Actually, it's more telling than many modern mediations on the history of black oppression.
If it indeed is telling the complete truth—remember, this is a staged film, scripted and created from scratch, not merely recorded as the events happened—then it should fill every white American with untold amounts of shame. Some of the ideas expressed here are as backward and illiterate as the notion that the world is flat or that the Holocaust never occurred. The ways in which slaves were transported, treated, and terminated are unbelievably cruel. One has to believe that our Italian storytellers are jacking up the jaundiced view of plantation life and rich Southern gentility for the sake of a point, but again if only a portion of it is true, it is equally disgusting and repugnant. And the link between the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s and the pre-Civil War South is more completely explored in the Director's Cut of the film. Indeed, over thirty minutes of the movie have been restored, much of it dealing with the ethnic tensions in the US up to and following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Much of the Gone with the Wind style stupidity and Southern gothic bizarreness has been removed (completely missing are scenes with a weird "veterinarian" covered in cloth like a mummy to avoid "black" diseases) and in its place are horrendous scenes of modern protests and race riots. Instead of being an incendiary version of North and South like the first version, the Director's Cut wants to make its point very clear and often: blacks were horrendously treated by whites during slavery and the Caucasian population has no rational excuse for it, especially when they still seem to hold the same view in modern America.
But again, the filmmakers take a very controversial, and some would say racist approach, to making this point. Many of the slaves are seen as passive, enjoying their servitude with a crude, animalistic joy. Whites are also portrayed as stupidly happy, unaware of how absolutely nauseating their viewpoints are. The conceptualization is sound: after all, how many everyday people at the time understood the ramifications of the genocidal practices going on. But such a statement tends to protect, not protest, the policies and, after all, slavery and blatant prejudice have no defense, not even lack of awareness. The missing moral within Addio Zio Tom will cause many people to consider it unconscionable and the exploitative elements do not help the matter. But the Director's Cut does makes the cleaner, sharper point. It positions itself as a direct document of the modern times (not some twisted retelling) and then uses the staged material as a counterpoint to the broken promise of freedom and equality. In essence, Addio Zio Tom is a historical allegory for the reluctance of 1960s America to address the issues that the nation in the 1700 and 1800s held as perfectly acceptable. Either version is still dazzling, vicious filmmaking with an artistic flair and a real eye for compelling imagery. The narration in the Director's Cut is far more erudite and factual, arguing its many points with less rhetoric and more real case histories and examples. It may be an uncomfortable experience, but this lost statement on the United States' 400 years of shame is something that should definitely be seen.
Basically, Goodbye Uncle Tom is the missing link between the Mondo movies and the Italian cannibal jungle films that would usurp their notoriety during the middle and late '70s. The notion of recreating atrocities to simply record them as "real," and then to add a specific narrative agenda to the filmmaking, describes films like Cannibal Holocaust perfectly. Yet people have mistaken this "sloppy realism" with complete fabrications ala Faces of Death. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, in the bonus DVD documentary The Godfathers of Mondo, both Jacopetti and Prosperi get a chance to defend themselves against long-standing accusations that they invented material for their movies to make them more explosive. Both men are older, wiser, and more in tune with the impact their films have had over the years, and they come clean in wonderfully passionate anecdotes about traveling the world to collect these now notorious moments in time. We learn that up until Mondo Cane 2, there was no staged footage in any of their films (the monk martyr setting himself on fire was indeed special effects). They discuss how they wanted to show actual "neo-realism" in express contradiction of the artistic aspirations of the other famous directors from Italy. Both champion Africa Addio as their favorite and Addio Zio Tom as their lone "misguided" movie. We get details about the accusations of murder surrounding the filmmakers after the release of Africa, and their eroded partnership is given a strange, cursory discussion. Filled with incredible interview insights and some rather sober revelations, this is a great documentary and an ideal end to a spectacular, shocking near perfect DVD box set.
Without a doubt, this is one of, if not the best DVD box set to come out recently (yes, even with the less than stellar Women of the World included). If just one more item had been included (see below), it would have warranted a special place in the overall hierarchy of the new digital domain. The Big Blue U has managed to unearth the actual negative elements for each film and have remastered them to near perfection. Movies of this nature from this time period should never, and frankly never do, look like this. Each film is a masterwork of DVD transfer. Only Women of the World has any kind of print degradation, and the only issue there is an occasional faded color image. Its 1.33:1 full screen image is the least impressive in the collection. The other prints in the series more than make up for it, however. Mondo Cane and Cane 2 are presented in 1.33:1 full screen and dazzle the eye. Colors are vibrant and sharp and the detail is incredible. Both versions of Africa Addio are offered in superb anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen images that showcase the beauty and the brutality in this film magnificently. The same can be said for both versions of Addio Zio Tom, again in magnificent 2.35:1. Made this year, The Godfathers of Mondo offers a 1.78:1 anamorphic image, and considering the mixed mediums involved (film, video, old stock footage, and newly produced elements), it looks great.
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 score never overruns the narration. And speaking of the score, the Mondo films have some of the most beautiful, suggestive, and lush accompaniment ever produced. Mondo Cane was even nominated for the Best Song Oscar when its main lyrical theme, "More," became an international hit. Riz Ortolani, who worked on all the Mondo movies except Cane 2, has a distinct style. He creates one or two main themes and then presents them in as many various forms and musical settings (jazz band, child's toy piano) as he can. While this may seem like cheating, stretching a couple of melodies over an entire film, it really helps to make these movies cohesive statements and it's an interesting exercise in how the same set of notes can produce polar opposite meanings.
As for extras, the most compelling bonus is the complete documentary The Godfathers of Mondo on the box set only DVD. As stated before, it is a wonderful walk through the entire Mondo movie history and the filmmaker's backgrounds and ideologies. As an instructional look at where "Mondo" comes from, this bonus disc is enlightening. Except for the two Director's Cut discs (which again function as standalone DVD extras of the English versions) and Godfathers, each has a wealth of bonus material to view. All have trailers and poster/still galleries. Some have TV spots. Cane offers some of Benito Frattori's still photos from various locations around the world. It also has a fascinating essay about the whole Mondo phenomenon. Other bonuses of note are the DVD-ROM pressbooks on Africa Addio and some very rare behind the scenes footage of Addio Zio Tom's production in Haiti by cinematographer Giampaolo Lomi. The nearly one hour of additional footage show Papa Doc Duvalier addressing the cast and crew, many of the special effect sequences, and how much of the naked "slave" footage was created. Narrated in fairly good, but occasionally broken English, by Lomi himself, it's a rare look behind the creation of this anomaly in the Mondo movie series.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is only one negative comment to make about this collection and that is this: Where is Mondo Candido? The last collaboration between Jacopetti and Prosperi, this lost film would have been the perfect last piece in the Mondo puzzle from these two extraordinary filmmakers. Blue Underground must have been unable to secure the rights, or find a pristine print, 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 (it was a similarly staged "fictional" Mondo movie based on the famous story Candide.) means that while it is a very comprehensive look at the Mondo trend, The Mondo Cane Collection still has a final piece missing.
Sometimes, seeing something for what it really is becomes a disappointing proposition of unfulfilled expectations and shameful realizations. Most times, when the veil of hype is lifted, the truth is simpler and more subdued. The movies made by Jacopetti and Prosperi are not filled with vile racism, human oddities, and factual fallacies. The Mondo Cane Collection presents the world, every aspect of the planet and its history good or bad, in a voyeuristic, realistic light. Sure, some of it is sensational. Some is exploitative. But more than any other collection of documentaries, pseudo or otherwise, the movies in The Mondo Cane Collection paved the way for opening up society to the difference in cultures, customs. and traditions amongst the citizens of the world. While it could be argued that their zeal and passion occasionally made these movies heavy-handed and blunt, there is no denying their impact, their invention, and their legacy. When one wanders into their local DVD rental shop and picks up a tawdry, tasteless video diary of human decadence dressed up in high tech trappings, the sad lingering legacy of the duo's warts and all approach is further sullied. Yes, The Mondo Cane Collection is responsible for everything from Death Scenes to the earth-in-motion movies of Godfrey Reggio. But unlike everything you've heard about these shockers, they are not snuff films parading around as art or excuses to see human and animal suffering onscreen. They are cinema at its most unadulterated and potent, and without a doubt, The Mondo Cane Collection is one of the best DVD box sets ever to be produced. Truly they offer "More" than you'll ever know…or perhaps want to know.
The Mondo Cane Collection is found not guilty by the court and is declared one of the best DVD box sets of all time. Blue Underground is also found not guilty and the care in which they went about presenting this series stands as a testament for all other DVD manufactures to follow.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice, Mondo Cane
Perp Profile, Mondo Cane
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Mondo Cane
• Theatrical Trailers
Scales of Justice, Women Of The World
Perp Profile, Women Of The World
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Women Of The World
• Theatrical Trailers
Scales of Justice, Mondo Cane 2
Perp Profile, Mondo Cane 2
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Mondo Cane 2
• Theatrical Trailers
Scales of Justice, Africa Addio
Perp Profile, Africa Addio
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Africa Addio
Scales of Justice, Africa Addio (English Version)
Perp Profile, Africa Addio (English Version)
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Africa Addio (English Version)
• Theatrical Trailers
Scales of Justice, Addio Zio Tom
Perp Profile, Addio Zio Tom
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Addio Zio Tom
Scales of Justice, Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) (English Version)
Perp Profile, Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) (English Version)
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) (English Version)
• Theatrical Trailer
Scales of Justice, The Godfathers Of Mondo
Perp Profile, The Godfathers Of Mondo
Studio: Blue Underground
Distinguishing Marks, The Godfathers Of Mondo
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.