Many are fans, few know of their origins, the mondo film no matter how obscure, shocking or obviously fake, can always manage to attract a crowd. Even though the word "mondo" has been misused many times over by the copycats, let's still refer to them as "mondo films" for the sake of consistency. By today's standards with everything reality TV, these flickering images may not pack as neatly a punch as they once did. However, Blue Underground aims to remedy this with their recent 8-Disc set, The Mondo Cane (pronounced "connie") Collection. But first, let's finish our quick refresher on the mondo film. Even if you think you've never seen a mondo film, chances are that you have. Mondo Cane, Africa Blood and Guts, Faces of Death, Traces of Death, Faces of Gore, hell even Girls Gone Wild can be technically considered a mondo film. The mondo film stands to document bizarre elements of life (or sometimes death), or at least glimpses of it. Quite odd, considering that many mondo films (most notoriously Faces of Death) feature staged scenes as much as they do those of reality. Trying to separate the fact from the fiction can be part of the fun though and a definite part of the real appeal of the mondo film in general.
I'm keeping descriptions brief here, as there's really no story to tell except for that within Goodbye Uncle Tom. If you've seen these films, you know what to expect. If you haven't, then it's best to go in fairly fresh and let the fascinating imagery take you on the ride of your life. Image montages range from the beautiful to the beautifully grotesque. From women on boats in bikinis to tribal rituals deep in the jungle. From making beautiful music by slapping the faces of different sized men to an overpriced restaurant that caters to high society serving ants and worms. Mondo Cane and Africa Addio broke a lot of ground in their own rights, but all of the films featured here could fill up a time capsule of sickness and depravity, beautifully choreographed.
When Blue Underground first announced that they were going to release a box set of mondo films from infamous filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi pallets began to salivate. However, as time went on and new negatives were being discovered, Blue Underground's box set just kept on growing. The set would soon reach the size of a mammoth 8-Discs, featuring two complete cuts of Goodbye Uncle Tom and Africa Addio in addition to Mondo Cane 1 and 2, Women of the World and a brand new feature length documentary on Jacopetti and Prosperi entitled Godfathers of Mondo. This is indeed the set that we now have presented before us, limited to 10,000 units with an MSRP of about 150 bucks (most places selling it at around 100). Turns out that at the time of this writing, each set has been shipped to retailers, so whatever the stores have, they have - looks like there will be no re orders. Let's take a look at this most impressive collection, like we needed one more reason to give Blue Underground another big ol' hug anyway, this set is awesome!
The first three discs represent Mondo Cane 1 (1962), Mondo Cane 2 (1964) and Women of the World (1963). We're given the audio options of a mono track in either Italian or English, with optional English subtitles (for those of us who don't speak a lick of Italian). The content of each film ranges from grotesque to fascinating. Still, with the constant airings of TV shows like Cops and our youth's overexposure to real life violence on TV today, current audiences probably won't be all too shocked. Not that everything presented within these films is meant to shock, there's more to it than that, but shock value is an important part of these films, without a doubt. Presented uncut and as immaculate as they are, you'd be hard pressed to not look at these films in a whole new light. While there's no doubt that these films originated as exploitation, meant to "shock and amaze," somehow the filmmakers managed to exhibit some semblance of filmmaking talent. As exploitative as these films are - they could easily fill a time slot on the Discovery Channel today.
Each of the first three films look simply fantastic in their full screen transfers. Print damage is minimal (Women of the World has the worst, if you even wanna use the word worst, with a few recurring scratches) and colors are extremely bold and sharp. There are absolutely no compression artifacts to be found, and grain, while present is still quite minimal and not a distraction. Filmed in the 60's? Quite often, it's hard to tell - these films have never looked better. The mono audio tracks fare equally as well, with no evidence of background noise or hiss, simply stunning all around. Also of note are the exceptional collaborated soundtracks for Mondo Cane 1 and Women of the World by Nino Oliviero and Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust) while Oliviero went solo for Mondo Cane 2.
Extras on the first three discs range from trailers (theatrical, TV) to comprehensive still galleries. The original Mondo Cane also features a ton of rare on location stills and a text essay on the "Mondo Phenomenon" by David Flint. The appropriate and fun menus only stand to enhance the entire package, this is truly only the start of a fabulous box set as it only gets more exciting from here, so let's move along.
In the mid sixties, Jacopettie and Prosperi spent a considerable amount of time in Africa documenting the drastic and violent changes that were taking place. The result was Africa Addio (1966). Presented here on two separate discs Blue Underground has provided us with the English Version (128 minutes) and the extended Italian "Director's Cut" which runs 139-minutes. Most of the footage added or cut between versions is left to scenes of animal violence. Both shocking and mesmerizing, Africa Addio as with Mondo Cane is able to transcend the label of pure exploitation simple for the sake of exploitation as presented here. The scope framing adds a tremendous amount of cinematic beauty to the grotesque onscreen images, as once again, it's evident that we're dealing with a couple of true filmmakers. Most notable is the fact that Africa Addio presents frightening footage that almost took the filmmakers lives at the hands of a firing squad.
Both versions of Africa Addio are presented in 16X9 widescreen transfers and they both look equally as nice. There is some grain (more so in the Director's Cut) and some slight print damage, but overall - I'd have to say that these transfers look simply amazing. The English version obviously only features an English audio track, while the Italian version features Italian audio with optional English subs. Audio on both discs is clear with no evidence of distortion. Aside from the excised footage in the English version, the dramatic changes in overall tone when you compare the English narration to the English subs, is quite outstanding as well.
Extras on the Director's Cut are nil, but extras on the English version include trailers, TV spots, stills and a DVD ROM feature of the US Pressbook. The reason that we're not given the true US version (Africa Blood and Guts) which featured about 45-minutes or so of cut footage is unknown. Whether or not the 11-minute runtime difference warrants two separate discs is debatable, but I suppose if we weren't given them individually, then there would have been reason to outcry and people probably would've.
The next two discs feature the film that has really increased interest in this set, the DVD presentation of Goodbye Uncle Tom AKA Addio Zio Tom (1971). Goodbye Uncle Tom is not a straight documentary, but a film told in a documentary style. The premise being, what if a couple of journalists landed on a plantation during the time of slavery? Equipped with their cameras, the captured footage would be known as Goodbye Uncle Tom. A film that's probably loved just as much as it's hated, there is no doubt that this is extremely strong stuff here.
The major differences between the English and Director's Cut are some excised footage at the start and end of the film, along with the re ordering of a few scenes throughout. I recently attended a theatrical screening of Goodbye Uncle Tom and if I'm not mistaken it was an even shorter version of the film than either one presented here. Still, the differences do change the experience of watching the film as the ending and time shifts do affect the overall tone. Whether or not you find Goodbye Uncle Tom to be an offensive piece of trash, or a quality period piece with revoltingly honest imagery remains to be seen, there's certainly only one way to find out.
Goodbye Uncle Tom looks simple OUTSTANDING in its uncut form. There is virtually no evidence of print damage, hardly any noticeable grain and colors are extremely sharp and vibrant. This film looks so good, it's as if it could have been shot yesterday, and that is no joke. The English version of Uncle Tom fares just as well, but I'd still give a slight advantage in visual quality to the Director's Cut. Mono audio on both DVDs is sharp, with really no evidence of noise or distortion. The English cut features English audio (natch) while the Director's Cut is presented in Italian with optional English subtitles. No extras after the Director's Cut, but check out what we're given on the disc that houses the English version; Aside from extensive still galleries and a trailer, there is also about 50-minutes of behind the scenes footage (super 8) with commentary by Giampaolo Lomi, great stuff.
Disc 8 presents us with a feature length documentary (90-minutes) entitled The Godfathers of Mondo (2003). Director David Gregory (TCM: The Shocking Truth) takes us inside the minds of Jacopetti and Prosperi with onscreen interviews, behind the scenes stills and footage along with interviews of collaborators including composer Riz Ortolani. This is a fascinating and honest piece that compliments the entire package exceptionally well. Conflict, friendship and scandal are all brought right up to the front-line here. Hear how the crew was almost gunned down by a firing squad, learn of the charges brought against them upon the completion of Africa Addio, and hear of the filmmakers eventual split, complete with reactions from friends and collaborators.
The clear cut winners here are the original Mondo Cane, the director's cut of both Africa Addio and Goodbye Uncle Tom, along with the brand new Godfathers of Mondo documentary. Mondo Cane 2 and Women of the World come across as just filler, loaded with unused Mondo Cane footage. Mondo Cane and Africa Addio shine through because of the obvious heart and effort that went into them in order to create something different. Through visual montages and editing techniques, along with an incredibley effective muisc track, Mondo Cane and Africa Addio become unforgettable experiences. Blue Underground has presented us with one of the most impressive box sets (in both selection and content) I have ever laid eyes on. Each of these films, no matter how harsh or abrasive will give you a renewed appreciation for those behind the scenes. The love, care and respect that went into this set truly shines, if ever there was a savior for the cult film fan, Blue Underground is it. Grab one of these while you can folks, I can guarantee you that they won't be on the shelves for long.