Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sky Above And Mud Beneath aka Le Ciel Et La Boue (1961)

Sky Above And Mud Beneath aka Le Ciel Et La Boue (1961)

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.

Sky Above And Mud Beneath is another precursor to the Mondo film, but follows the same format that developed over time.  Amazingly this won an Academy award for best documentary, something the other films that followed did not do.  The basic premise of the film was for a documentary film crew to go to explore the uncharted wilderness of New Guinea, where they spent months traveling through the wilderness, meeting tribes who had rarely even seen other people, let alone white people, and trying to make it to the other side. 

Watching a film like this can really do a number on your head.  Realizing that just 55 years ago this whole area was virtually unexplored and unmapped is ridiculous, let alone the fact that there were major rivers not even named yet.  The vastness of the country is astounding, the time they spent trying desperately to get across it for no reason other than to just do it seems insane, but the footage they captured is extraordinary.  The fact that they were actually welcomed by some tribes seems insane, but from what it looks like this documentary, unlike many mondo films that succeeded it, seems to be on the up and up.  The footage does not look like they were trying to make it seem worse, I am sure all their fears were founded.  The fact that headhunters were commonplace there is enough to scare most people away.  Add in the bugs, dangerous rivers, alligators, sharks, distrusting natives, malaria, and other diseases and you have a recipe for disaster, which shows in the film.  At least 3 of the people were dead by the end of the production, and others had to be airlifted out so they could possibly survive.  Food had to be pushed out of a small airplane that could not land most of the time they did this.  Everything about what they did was dangerous. 

I won't go into any more detail, but overall it is an astounding film to watch, even more so thinking about how primitive the world was in 1961 for white people, let alone the natives there.  I have never appreciated my first world status more than while watching this amazing struggle to go from point A to point B.  This was truly a treasure to watch, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

8 out of 10 stars.

Location : Anthology Film Archives, main theater, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : 35mm, English language version
Audience : Decent crowd, about 30 people, they seemed to enjoy it.