23 gennaio 2013

Django Unchained and Goodbye Uncle Tom: a dangerous liaison

Us Trailer Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)

Goodbye Uncle Tom is one of the films which inspired Quentin Tarantino in the conception of Django Unchained.

Samuel L. Jackson talked about this in The Hollywood Reporter almost a year ago but in Italy majority of press pretended to not have heard of it. They preferred to believe in a spaghetti-western homage, specifically to director Sergio Corbucci.

But why this embarrassment? Maybe because Goodbye Uncle Tom's director Gualtiero Jacopetti - who died two years ago in Rome - was always blamed as racist and fascist, while he was simply a free spirit.

In the 1971 he directed together with Franco Prosperi a pseudo-documentary that documents the racist ideology of the American antebellum South. Hugely controversial because of its commitment to (perceived) accuracy in depicting the horrors of slavery, Prosperi and Jacopetti’s film is extremely difficult to watch.

Q&A after screening of Goodbye Uncle Tom in London (2009)

Jacopetti became famous all over the world for his film-manifesto Mondo Cane (A dog's world), the first so-called shockumentary.

What is left of the Mondo-Movies that were born more than 50 years ago with Mondo Cane?

Definitely a good portion of "TV in the Global Age" which, both offline through newscasts and special reports, and online on the web, has inherited its main stylistic feature: the idea of shaping reality for spectacular purposes and constantly digging the news, trying to push them further.

The first Mondo Cane was shot in 1961 and, while today the sarcastic moralism of its voiceover commentaries may seem somehow ridiculous, the same cannot be said about its violent, bizarre and extreme imagery. The two directors believe that human actions may not be explained through some superior principle or law, or through some special dignity of mankind, but rather through their nature as animals. A humanity in front of which these two directors question themselves, in order to understand the social system laying behind the rituals and behaviours, totems and taboos. According to Jacopetti and Prosperi, the wild and civilised populations have the same tendency to violence, in a world that is the same everywhere, which cannot and does not want to change, and is inhabited by human beings who are waiting for nothing else, but to be tamed.

Us Trailer Mondo Cane (1961)

It is a cynical vision of the world, unquestionably dubious, but which never serves ideology. An ideology which has instead always been called upon by their opponents, who had an easy time labelling these two directors-adventures as fascists and racists, whereas maybe they were simply ahead of their time. And surely they were so from a technical point of view (the grandeur of their films cannot be questioned), but also at the content level, for example in terms of contamination of genres through the mocking of serious documentary, the use of the combat - film style similar to the one used by the American operators filming Second World War, and the anarchic and visionary satire that approaches in the same way white and black, rich and poor people.

The Mondo Movies had a great influence on TV and have opened the way to a huge number of extremely successful formats, such as all the Real Tv, the disastertainment and reality games, whose participants have to compete in extreme ways.

Gualtiero Jacopetti
Gualtiero Jacopetti and Luca Martera (2009)

Click here to read my paper in English about the relationship between Gualtiero Jacopetti and the Italian movie censorship.

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