Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source Blue Underground DVD (English cut and director’s cut)
Features: Stranger Than Truth: Mondo Movies
The outrageous mondo films of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi — a joint catalogue that exhibits prevalent interest in taboo, controversy, hostility, and women of all nationalities — are typified by the detached, sardonic voice of a narrator. Whether the topic be libidinous tribal rituals or graphic animal killings, the incidental comments express sarcasm, and are alternately hilarious and offensive. Perhaps this is only a casualty of American dubs; each of the pair’s films available in the Blue Underground boxed set contain optional Italian soundtracks, crucial to the films attempts towards legitimate documentation. I find these films much more entertaining as campy artifacts of exploitation.
The pair’s debut, Mondo Cane, benefited by this patronizing humor. It is enhanced by camp, whereas in Goodbye Africa the topic is wholly incendiary. The film documents the fight for independence in 1960s Africa: the violent rejection of British rule in the west, the retained formalism of the south, and, curiously related to all of this, the graphically (and repeatedly) detailed practices of animal poachers. This is a topic worthy of defense, to be sure, but it is inclusive to the point of incoherence (this film is in need of a more discriminating editor). More so than any effort between Jacopetti and Prosperi, Goodbye Africa affords some journalistic integrity, which is sacrificed, as per usual and at most every opportunity, to find graphic animal deaths and women — here, in bikinis and on trampolines in gratuitous slow motion.
To its merit Goodbye Africa is an extensive document, an assemblage of three years’ worth of footage and travels throughout Africa during a caustic political transition. It may be an honestly chronological document, but it inherits the filmmakers’ every meandering distraction; in most every case, the distraction is death (of which this film contains many in varying types), each of which is photographed identically: a wide view includes a poised rifleman at either side of the frame, and the view quickly zooms forward as the bullet is launched to find in closer inspection the moment of death, emphasized always by a spurt of blood. This occurs with incessant repetition throughout the film. What taste and legitimacy the film affords it is abandoned once it displays a stillborn fetus removed from a slain elephant.
The film employs an interplay between exceedingly graphic and comic episodes, used in tandem to cleave the viewer’s instinctive emotive responses: sex will immediately follow violence, comedy will immediately follow drama; the viewer’s spectrum of responses is polarized. Goodbye Africa is partial to bullying its viewer in this manner, using the same scare tactics of a horror film.
There is little merit in Goodbye Africa’s manner of telling, but this is not to say the film does not possess individually successful scenes, however few. Although I renounce what integrity Jacopetti and Prosperi claim in their filmmaking (in this and especially in their subsequent Goodbye Uncle Tom) I should note that Goodbye Africa attains, quite sparingly, true drama and humor. (This film is recommended solely for a scene in which underpants are distributed to African tribes.) Significantly, there is a harrowing scene in which the filmmaking pair rides in a jeep through a crowded street. A soldier thrusts the butt of his rifle through the windshield, and the passengers are taken to be executed. The camera remains on. It is the most arresting episode Jacopetti and Prosperi may boast in their career.