Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Mad Masters a/k/a Les Maîtres Fous (1955)

The Mad Masters a/k/a Les Maîtres Fous (1955)

 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.

The Mad Masters is a short film directed by Jean Rouch.  It predates the Mondo thing by about 7 years, but it is the inspiration for the whole shockumentary thing.  Now, please do not judge me on my history skills, this is not my area of expertise.  But from what I can gather this short is about how the natives in a place called Accra, in Ghana, Africa dealt with their own issues and feeling about British colonialism in their area.  You see, in 1927 the British came over to help advance the African people.  While they brought over technology and a more "civilized" way of being, this clashed pretty hard with the African way of life.  So they started a ceremony that was called the Hauka Movement.  It was a ceremony where they mimic the British Colonial leaders, and dance, imitate, and recreate the motions and actions of the Colonial leaders.  They did this in a trance like state, and while some felt this was just a ceremony, others have felt that it was to mock the authority, and to try to steal the powers of the Europeans, in their own way revolting against the system. 

In these ceremonies the people dance, use fire on themselves, spew a white foam from their mouths, perform rituals, and imitate the Europeans.  They also do some ritualistic sacrificing, so for those of you who do NOT have the stomach to witness animal abuse, even if they eat said animals, then this movie is not for you.  This movie was not well received when released, and basically disappeared as no one would release it.  Over time it has become very sought after, and now there are versions of it on youtube, which is nice, as so many films like this have been lost to the ages. 

While it is technically hard to review a Mondo movie, it is even harder to review a short, but the best thing I can say is that it is very interesting to watch, and the version I saw had some pretty shitty subtitles.  The ones on youtube were better, and since I read up on the movie I have more of an understanding of what was going on.  All in all it was shot beautifully, had some interesting content, and minus the animal abuse it was pretty good, and worth seeing if you can stomach the unappealing stuff. 

7 out of 10 stars. 

Location : Anthology Film Archives, main theater, NYC
Date and time : Saturday, July 23rd, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : 16mm to digital, in French with English subtitles
Audience : Decent crowd, 20-50, audience seemed a bit confused