Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gualtiero Jacopetti (1919-2011)

This blog is named for two Italian movies. The "70" comes from the epic portmanteau film Boccaccio 70. The "Mondo" comes from Mondo Cane ("Dog's World"), a global sensation of the 1960s that set the tone for "shockumentaries" without actually inventing the genre. Mondo movies are distinguished, at their best, by an ambitious global sweep framed by expansive cinematography, a mordant or cynically chiding narrative sensibility that deplores the miseries and mocks the follies on display while maximizing their sensation value, and the opulent music, romantic and opulent at once, of Riz Ortolani. Created in collaboration with many hands, Franco Prosperi most importantly, Mondo Cane expressed above all the vision of Gualtiero Jacopetti, who died yesterday at the approximate age of 92. Jacopetti and Prosperi pushed beyond the anecdotal Mondo format to create two staggering and fearsome films: Africa Addio, a vividly violent chronicle of the aftermath of colonialism, and Goodbye Uncle Tom, an incendiary inquiry into the roots of racial unrest in America. Condemned in their time as exploitative, complicit, counterfeit, irresponsible and outright racist, these features and the work of Jacopetti overall arguably exerted an important influence on more respectable filmmakers. They pointed the way toward full-scale feature filmmaking that at once transcended the conventions of literary narrative and the bare reportage of conventional documentary film. Think of them as essay films, for good or ill, expressing an auteur's interpretation of the world around him. In more sensitive hands, the same approach results in films like Fellini Roma from a fellow Italian, F for Fake from Orson Welles, and so on. The Mondo films are milestones of the vulgar avant-garde, spectacular examples for the future and as liberating in their potential as the experiments of Jean-Luc Godard. If cinema is something other than literature and theater, Jacopetti should loom as a giant -- or, if you prefer, a monster -- in the medium's historical landscape, for broadening our horizon of cinema's potential.

3 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

Thanks so much for this engaging discussion of Jacopetti, who I do know of and appreciate as a driving force in Italian cinema. Your own backround in this cinema makes your blog and naesake a perfect place to honor his passing. Thanks too for the precise explanation of the origin of MONDO 70. As far as MONDO CANE, it will always be remembered for the now overused but still memorable theme "More" and for some of the most ghastly passages like the smashing of the monkey's head by mallet, and the dogs in China being bred as food.

ThatQuebecGuy said...

That was a superb eulogy.

R.I.P. Gualtiero Jacopetti.

Samuel Wilson said...

Thanks for your responses. Sam, I don't actually remember the gruesome stuff most vividly but the eccentric bits like the dyed chicks. And "More" definitely set the tone for the entire genre and established Ortolani as the definitive mondo composer just as Morricone was the definitive spaghetti western composer.