Friday, July 29, 2016

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)

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.

In 1966 the two directors of this film were accused of making a racist film with their mondo movie Africa Blood And Guts.  This 1971 film of theirs seems to be a big FUCK YOU to anyone who said that.  This is one of the most racist films ever made, making Django Unchained look like a Disney film.  It is also a masterpiece.  You see, you cannot make an effective movie about slavery and the slave trade without showing racism.  And it cannot be some white washed (pun intended) version of racism, where someone says a few racist words here and there.  It has to be full on 100% off the chart racism.  The kind that existed when blacks were literally thought of as property, and even worse, like animals. 

According to the film makers, the scenes in this film were based on slave's diaries and journals kept while they were slaves, describing the condition they lived in and how they were treated.  I cannot be sure that is true, but nothing I saw in this movie would surprise me if I found out that it all did really happen.  All I need to think of is how people treat their animals, even today.  Many people think it's fine to abuse their animals, even their children for that matter.  Imagine if they grew up believing that black people were not actual human, but were subhumans, worth as much or less than an animal?  They would treat them terribly. 

Now, this film shows horrible acts, brutal acts, things that make you feel bad inside.  But that is the point, to show you what slaves went through, and how people acted towards them.  Keep in mind, there is also a lot of dark humor in this film, sarcasm, and relative abuse as well, as these actors were not paid much and obviously were treated less than well.  But not enjoying the film is like looking at the pyramids, also built by slaves, and not being able to recognize its beauty. 

Purely focusing on the technical end, the movie looks amazing, depending on how you see it.  I saw a faded 35mm print, but this is the second time I am seeing it, the first was a sparking new digital production that had amazing colors and was completely restored.  Obviously this was lovingly made by people who knew how to shoot a film.  Some of the shots are amazing, especially since some of them are filled with dozens to hundreds of people.  The sound is great, and the music, although not exactly what you would think belongs in a movie like this, is EXACTLY what you wanted, whether you knew it or not. 

Oh, one very important thing about this movie.  It functions much like the episode of The Boondocks where the premise starts that Martin Luther King Jr. didn't die when he was shot, but was in a coma instead, and woke up in the present.  The premise of this film is that there are movie cameras in that age and they are doing a documentary on slavery, one that is anti-slavery, to be precise.  So they are there filming the slave trade from beginning to end. 

By the way, there are multiple versions of this movie, so be very careful if you are buying one.  There is an updated director's cut which supposedly cuts out some of the more violent things, but adds in more sexual things, while the American print I saw cut out a good chuck of the ending where it switches out to modern times, with a modern black man reading a Nat Turner book.  I am pretty sure that Blue Underground has released a proper version of this film and that it is readily available. 

All in all, no matter the way it was made, the reasons, or the intent of this movie from the beginning, what it has become in my eyes is a masterpiece of showing the world the horror of what was actually going on at a time when we did not have the ability to expose the horrors the way we can now. 

9 out of 10 stars.

Location : Anthology Film Archives, main theater, NYC
Date and time : Sunday, July 24th, 2016 at 6:15 PM
Format : 35mm, faded print
Audience : Decent crowd, 20-50, not sure how the audience felt, but one guy I know did not like it