Mark Goodall – Sweet & Savage: The World Through The Shockumentary Film Lens (2006)

The Back Cover wrote:
Mondo Cane in 1962 was the blueprint for a shocking, controversial and influential documentary film cycle. Known collectively as “mondo films” or “shockumentaries,” this enduring series of films is a precursor of the reality TV show.

A box-office draw for three decades and now a staple of the video rental market, these explosive “exposés” would often pass fabricated scenes as fact in order to give the public a sensationalist, highly emotive view of the world.

Sweet & Savage is the first-ever English-language book devoted exclusively to the mondo documentary film. A study of mondo as a global film phenomenon, it includes a detailed examination of the key films and includes exclusive interviews with the godfathers of this cult genre.

Manfred Zeichmann from Amazon wrote:
SWEET & SAVAGE (the title refers to a 1983 Antonio CLIMATI and Mario MORRA directed mondo film of the same name, which is actually quite good) is a great (unfortunately too academic) account of the popular mondo film genre. The name mondo stems from a Tuscean colloquial phrase (a dog’s world or a world gone to the dogs), which was used as the title of the film that started it all: MONDO CANE. Helmed in 1962 by Gualtiero JACOPETTI and Franco PROSPERI MONDO CANE became an instant world wide success and would spawn a whole genre – the mondo (or shockumentary) movie.

The book is a precise study of the genre. It examines how the shockumentary relates to the classic documentary, exploitation and arthouse film. Often ridiculed by traditional documentary filmmakers and critized for the use of faked material and staged sequences the mondo film nonetheless shares aspects of the documentary film.

Another interesting aspect is the relation between arthouse film and mondo. While mondo films routinely mock modern art (evidenced e.g. in a sequence in MONDO CANE, where famous artist Yves KLEIN is derided for using naked women as “brushs” for painting), the frequent use of a stream of consciousness (anti)narrative or juxtaposing images indicate that the mondo genre is not averse of using arthouse techniques.

I also found the chapter regarding animals in mondo films particularly interesting. One of the more unpleasant aspects of the shockumentary is the frequent depiction of animal cruelty, regularly as social metaphor (c.f. “dog world” ), but more often than not as a cheap shock effect.

A wide variety of mondo films are reviewed in detail, ranging from the JACOPETTI/PROSPERI directed classics (MONDO CANE, LA DONNE NEL MONDO, AFRICA ADDIO, GOODBYE UNCLE TOM and MONDO CANDIDO) to the Italian imitations of the 1960ies (like I MALAMONDO and GO! GO! GO! WORLD), cheap US imitations (MONDO FREUDO), the gruesome, but beautifully photographed films directed by Antonio CLIMATI and Mario MORRA with their emphasis on animal suffering (like SAVAGE MAN, SAVAGE BEAST) and parodies (MR. MIKE’S MONDO VIDEO). It goes without saying that FACES OF DEATH is reviewed as well.

I have seen a lot of the movies under review and can assure you that they are spot-on and insightful, e.g. when it is pointed out how immensly the infamous horror movie CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST was inspired by the mondo movie THIS VIOLENT WORLD or the author elaborates on the contributions of famous writer Alberto MORAVIA to several mondo films.

SWEET & SAVAGE is lavishly illustrated with movie stills, posters, lobby cards and pictures of directors. Great!

Another aspect of the book that found favour with me is the appendix on mondo soundtrack, entitled “bittersweet symphonies of death”, which is very insightful and full of interesting trivia (for instance, I did not know that the well-known cheesy 1969 hit single “Mah Na’ Mah Na'” was composed for the mondo film SVEZIA: INFERNO E PARADISO aka SWEDEN: HEAVEN AND HELL) I also strongly agree with the author’s assessment of composer Riz ORTOLANI (academy award nominee for “More”, the MONDO CANE title song). ORTOLANI is a true genius; his score for ADDIO ZIO TOM (aka GOODBYE UNCLE TOM) is in my book the best score ever composed for a motion picture, period!
The second appendix is an essay by Mr. Gualtiero JACOPETTI himself, originally written in 1966, nicely accompanied by pictures of the man himself.

My main critism regarding the book is that it is unnecessarily academic, which can be a bit frustrating for the general reader (e.g. “It is this reflexive quality of the mondo film that creates the most transgressive moments, which when refracted through a post-modern aesthetic continues to shock and surprise.”, p. 11) I understand the need for more thoughtful writing on genre film than fanboy ravings, but I honestly think that one can write accessibly without compromising the intellectual quality.

Unfortunately the author Mr. GOODALL once or twice veers towards political correctness, e.g. in his review of the movie MONDO CANE 2000, when he complains about the mocking of homosexuals in the film narrative. (PC is out of place in a mondo movie or a mondo review.)

I would also have liked to read more about Mr. JACOPETTI`s life. It is for instance briefly mentioned that WOMEN OF THE WORLD is dedicated to British actress Belinda LEE (Mr. JACOPETTI’s girlfriend), unfortunately we are not informed about the car accident that claimed Belinda LEE’S life and left JACOPETTI injured.

no pass

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