Thursday, July 28, 2016

Blood Of The Beasts (1949)

 Blood Of The Beasts (1949)

Anthology Film Archives in NYC is currently running a series of films under the umbrella title Mondo Mondo.  A Mondo film is basically a documentary, or faux documentary, that is also an exploitation film.  Here is a link to what wikipedia says :

Mondo film

This genre was made popular by the 1962 movie Mondo Cane, which was a surprise hit and yielded a Grammy nomination for the theme song More, from the Mondo Cane soundtrack.  The song was covered by Kai Winding and hit #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Many other films with the word  Mondo (Italian for world) in their titles, including Mondo Topless, Mondo Nudo, Mondo Bizarro, and even Mondo New York.  There were also tons of other movies that employed this shockumentary style over the years.

Blood Of The Beasts is a short that, for this series, preceded Savage Man, Savage Beast.  It was a very early film, from 1949, and a very early example of ultrarealism, where a film is stark and to the point, showing all the unpleasant activities that come with the real world.  Butchering is one of those things, and in this 22 minute short the camera does not shy away.  The first minute of this short is taken up by the credits, and then the next minute and a half is filled with shots of the outskirts of Paris, some very obviously set up shots of things on the beach, a lamp hanging from a tree, a couple kissing.  The music is light and fun, almost like cartoon music from the day.  The music stops, the scene changes to trucks driving, and we get the first shot of the slaughterhouse.  After showing us a few of the tools of the trade, a beautiful white horse is brought in walked calmly to a spot to stand in.  One of the tools is a bear pistol, which has a captive bolt that is amazingly effective at taking a horse down with one shot to the head.  By 4 minutes in, the killing has started. 

I will forego any graphic details in regards to the slaughtering, skinning, and dismembering the animals, as it is unflinching in its view and severely graphic.  Not in any exploitation kind of way, these animals are clearly not killed for fun, not tortured needlessly.  This is a business, and the business is about how quickly they can slaughter and process the animals coming through the plant.  In some ways, this seems way more humane than some of the footage I have seen of more modern plants, where it seems the animals might suffer more, but it is hard for me to say without knowing a lot more about the field. 

As far as the film is concerned, it is beautifully shot and the camera is almost loving in its depiction of the slaughter, and never once do we feel like it is judging or trying to shock, the shock we feel is in ourselves, it is not being produced for us.  I must say, to see that first horse fall to its knees immediately from a tool the size of my forearm was both shocking and impressive, but the rest of the slaughtering was only shocking for me in how quickly they could do it, and how intricate the work is.  One particular scene which stood out was while they were skinning the horse, and explaining how sharp the knife is, and how dangerous the work can be.  The guy who was doing the work so masterfully had once slipped and cut his femoral artery, and had to get his leg amputated.  We next see him hobbling around on what is obviously a wooden "leg", more like what you see on a pirate in a cartoon.  One of the butchers, maybe even that one, was a prize fighter at one point, the other had some other interesting job before as well.  Shows you how different the world was back then, you cannot imagine a successful prize fighter working in a butcher shop nowadays. 

They bring in animal after animal, showing you the differing methods of slaughtering them, and show you the different butchers at the plant, one of them is even a woman!  They are calm, quiet, methodical in their work, and they seem cheerful and comfortable with themselves and what they do.  The film does not judge, it just shows a regular work day at the plant.  It makes some commentary about the fact that this is what it takes to bring meat to the markets for us to buy, so we do not have to kill ourselves, which has always been something that is always at the front of my brain.  Being an animal lover and a life long meat eater, I have had to be aware that these two aspects of my life do not exactly agree with each other, but I feel admitting this fact is better than trying to pretend it does not exist. 

For a short film about a slaughterhouse, it is very thorough and informative, and interesting to watch.  That being said, this film is not only something I would not recommend to most people, I would even say this would seriously disturb many.  For any particularly spoiled sheltered people, you may not want to watch this as you may never eat well again.  For those of you that can handle reality, this film has more reality in its 22 minutes than most reality TV seasons. 

8 out of 10 stars.

Location : Anthology Film Archives, main theater, NYC
Date and time : Sunday, July 24th, 2016 at 8:45 PM
Format : 16mm, in French with English subtitles
Audience : Decent crowd, 20-50, one woman left for a bit, and came back, but no real walk outs or people being horrified from what they saw, but this is NYC.