You may not have heard of Italian filmmakers Jacopetti and Prosperi, but chances are you’ve heard of their surreal ‘shock-u-mentary’ Mondo Cane, and perhaps even seen it.
A surreal blend of real and staged footage. I was fortunate (if a little scarred) to catch this and other mondo movies at a tender age, and they taught me a very important lesson that unfortunately seems lost on many, at least in regard to documentaries and other news sources: don’t believe everything that is presented to you as above-board journalism. In short, they taught me to question everything presented as fact.
Prosperi and Jacopetti’s stock-in-trade was in making intriguing documentaries that were well seasoned with strategically staged sequences. There were always kernels of truth and a few all-too-real sequences, but these seldom overshadowed the entertainment value. In hindsight, these crazy mondo movies prepared me well to cast a cynical eye over documentaries and news sources to come that many accepted as gospel without question.
In their own way, Bowling for Columbine, Supersize Me, An Inconvenient Truth, and other documentaries were just as emotively staged as any of the Italian mondo movies. And realistically, there isn’t a lot of difference between John Oliver or Waleed Aly’s skewed version of reality and this carefully staged sequence from Brutes and Savages.
Perhaps the most interesting film that Jacopetti and Prosperi made was Africa Addio. Obviously it has more than its fair share of shamelessly staged sequences, but it’s the frankness of the film that is so remarkable. A warts-and-all look at African independence that refreshingly doesn’t moralise, but merely observes. An admirable trait among these Italian mondo-movie makers, even if they weren’t averse to salting the mines with some dramatic staged sequences.
The film is gruelling and tough to watch, no doubt about it. But I think that it is required viewing not only for XYZ readers, but for those who are perhaps less discerning about the media they consume. They definitely don’t make ’em like this any more. Africa Addio is not only a frank, nuanced, and unflinching look at a turbulent time for the cradle of civilisation, but an important lesson in how easily even the most apparently straightforward media telegraphing its own integrity can be heavily manipulated to illicit a desired response and public sentiment.
It’s your XYZ.