There's an ice cream truck parked outside and for the past ten minutes I've been hearing a neverending loop of Yankee Doodle, London Bridge Is Falling Down, Oh My Darling Clementine, and the fuckin' Lambada song, among other tunes. It's distracting me but if I don't write this blog now, I never will.
Back in the 60's, there were these two Italian documentary filmmakers named Jacopetti and Prosperi, and they made some sleazy flicks about crazy motherfuckers and their crazy motherfuckin' cultures; shit like Mondo Cane and Africa Addio. Some of it was real, and quite a bit of it was staged, and the only intent was to shock people. They got a lot of attention, both good and bad, and they wanted to take it to the next level, so they decided to make a "documentary" about the slavery period in the good ol' USA. That's how their 1971 flick Goodbye Uncle Tom (aka Addio Zio Tom) came to be.
I wasn't alive yet, but from what I understand this was a pretty controversial flick wherever it managed to get shown. Roger Ebert fuckin' hated this movie, calling it racist and sadistic. I wish I could've been there to see the look on his face when homeboy saw this movie. He must've been watching with his jaw dropped to the floor -- which come to think of it, is exactly how he's been watching movies for the past couple of years.
For this movie, Jacopetti and Prosperi took written documents and recollections from the time and recreated the way everything was done back then. If that's the case, then godDAMN, the shit back then was even worse than you could ever imagine. You have scenes of slaves shitting themselves from dysentery on the ship, and the way the fuckin' fat slave traders dealt with it was by shoving wooden corks up their buttholes. Then they force a slave to eat by hammer & chiseling the poor dude's teeth off and sticking a funnel into his bloody mouth, which they proceed to pour some kind of cornmeal slop down through. You get over two hours of this kind of happy shit to watch. I know it's a really hack thing for a critic to say a particular movie makes a similar movie look like something tame in comparison, but I'm not a critic, I'm a douchebag, so I'm going to say it: Goodbye Uncle Tom makes Roots look like Sesame Street. A-hyuk, a-hyuk, a-hyuk.
This flick was made by Italians, and they're not known for being subtle about anything in their movies. They don't pussyfoot around. I'm reminded of an anecdote in the laserdisc commentary of Il Postino, where the director (an Englishman) talked about wanting to get the great Italian composer Ennio Morricone to score his movie, so a meeting was set up and they had a chat about the movie. The director told Morricone he wanted some subtle tunes for the more quiet moments and Morricone's response via his translator was: "I don't do subtle". That pretty much says it all right there, I think. But I'm going to continue about it anyway.
When Michael Bay made Pearl Harbor, I figured he was going to dial it down a tad to tell a serious story, but that sure as fuck wasn't the case. He went for the awesome CGI point-of-view shots of bombs being dropped onto ships, close-ups of fake bloody heads on the ground (in the R-rated cut, anyway), and worst of all, a cute dog that survives the attack. Bay made the flick the same way he made Bad Boys & Armageddon, and it trivialized the whole thing, keeping you from taking any of it seriously. That's kinda the problem with Goodbye Uncle Tom -- you have a subject that would already fuck a moviegoer up if treated with some restraint, but Jacopetti & Prosperi apparently told Restraint to go fuck itself a long, long time ago. They used the same circus-freakshow approach from their previous "mondo" documentaries, filling the frame with wide-angle distorted closeups of people's faces and playing peppy marching band-style music over it. You have slaves howling and growling like dumb animals and you have long lingering shots of young naked slave women, which is certainly not done in a National Geographic sorta way, but more like DAYUM LOOKIT DOZE TITTAYS!!! Good taste does not exist in this dojo.
What doesn't help either is that this movie was shot in Haiti, which at the time was run by a dictator named Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. If you don't know anything about Papa Doc, well I'll just say that he, uh, wasn't a nice guy to his people, let's just put it that way. The flick was made with his blessing and cooperation, meaning all the slaves in the movie are played by Haitian citizens. So when you watch all these naked Haitians getting pushed around, kicked around, herded up like cattle and being treated EXACTLY like the slaves of the Old South, you start to wonder just how pure Jacopetti and Prosperi's intentions with this flick really were. I mean, this ain't fuckin' Central Casting being used, there's a good chance these motherfuckers were forced to be in this movie. Shit, they probably didn't even get paid. The incentive plan for working on this flick was probably that you wouldn't have to worry about finding your sister's raped & mutilated corpse on your doorstep.
There's an interesting approach to this flick. The idea here is that our two filmmakers have somehow time-traveled back to the antebellum South (in a helicopter!) and are filming everything you see. Everyone knows that they are being filmed and interviewed, and have no problem with it (or in the slaves' case, don't have a choice in the matter). We never see Jacopetti or Prosperi, but we do hear their voices off-camera. They mostly just observe all the shit going on, but at one point, one of them is offered an underage slave girl to BOW-CHICKA-WOW-WOW with -- and he does! I think this was the same dude who earlier in the flick went off on one of the Uncle Toms, sounding all outraged and shit. I wished I could've seen either of the filmmakers, that way I could've found out if their balls were as huge as I thought they were.
In the last fifteen minutes of the flick, a sudden change is made and the documentary approach and narration from the filmmakers is abandoned. The film jumps forward to the 1970's and follows a black dude (who I think is supposed to be a doctor but is dressed like a priest -- maybe he's both) around as he strolls through the city while reading The Confessions of Nat Turner. He sits under a tree at the beach, reading his book and imagining the white people around him getting brutally murdered. It's pretty funny, which I don't think was the intention of the movie, but there you go.
I saw Goodbye Uncle Tom back in 2004 and knew there was a director's cut around, but I didn't get around to watching it until last night. It's called Addio Zio Tom and it's in Italian with English subtitles (Goodbye was English dubbed). Some of the scenes from Goodbye have been deleted from this cut, but since there's new footage added, this version actually comes out about twelve minutes longer. The new footage is stuff from the 60's, like riots and civil rights marches. It gives this version a whole different feel from Goodbye, intercutting the slavery scenes with stuff about modern-day race relations.
Supposedly, the filmmakers had to cut all this modern-day stuff out for the English-speaking release because the distributors didn't want to release something so incendiary. I'm not sure I buy that, because if anything, the shorter version felt harder to me with its relentless non-stop scenes of slaves going through all that dehumanizing and humiliating shit. Plus, the longer version actually feels more disjointed, like Jacopetti & Prosperi had shot the new stuff AFTER the fact, to deflect accusations of racism.
Maybe it's because my copy had dodgy subtitles or maybe it's just because I'm a dumb motherfucker, but it seems like the narrator of this version is upset that modern-day black people have not taken up arms to kill Whitey yet. The beginning of this version begins with a intriguing scene of black dudes using modern machinery to pick cotton, which I guess is the movie's way of saying that things don't ever really change. Then one of them hears a news bulletin on the radio that Martin Luther King Jr. has been shot. Then we cut to the sounds of what I'm guessing is a black militant on a loudspeaker declaring MLK as an Uncle Tom and that the time has come for bloody revolution.
Later on, in another modern-day scene, the narrator chastises upscale wealthy black people for not telling Whitey to go fuck himself, but since it's all in Italian, it comes off like some foreigner is telling American blacks what to do -- which is exactly what it is! That bothered me. Not the idea that black people should rebel against white society, but by Jacopetti & Prosperi's gigantic balls. You mean to tell me that these European motherfuckers are telling American blacks what's best for them? The same high & mighty motherfuckers who had no problem doing business with a murderous dictator just to get their stupid movie made? Nigga please!
Questionable filmmakers aside, you can't deny the horrible fucked up shit that happened back then and as far as recreating that period, Goodbye Uncle Tom/Addio Zio Tom works. You'll see shit here that you can't unsee. Depending on your point of view, you might cry, you might laugh, but you'll definitely feel something.
I don't feel like making a Not-So-Random Moments video out of this, since I save that for movies that are more fun or goofy. Also, I'm just lazy. Besides, if you know where to look, you can find Goodbye Uncle Tom to watch online or you can just borrow it from me.
But I will post up a scene from another movie. You see, for whatever reason, Jacopetti & Prosperi went their separate ways after this flick. I think Jacopetti made one more movie on his own, but Prosperi made a few afterwards. One of them is called Wild Beasts, and it's a horror film about escaped zoo animals on PCP. For reals, yo. Enjoy.
3 days ago