Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who Are the Brutes and Who Are the Savages? An open letter to one Mark Goodall regarding his treatment of the film Brutes and Savages



Dearest Mr. Goodall,

We here at The Mondo Research Laboratories do hereby take issue with your treatment of the film Brutes and Savages (e.g. "a silly charade"), its director Arthur Davis (e.g. "the most monstrous, untamed ego in the entire history of the sub-genre"), and those within the film (e.g. "poorly staged and terribly acted") in your tome on mondo cinema entitled Sweet & Savage: The World Through The Shockumentary Film Lens (2006 [ISBN: 1900486490], pp. 35-38), and hold that through the withholding, manipulating, and outright lying about the various facets of the film you thus present a skewed and inaccurate portrait of the aforementioned director, the film, and the various peoples therein. Whether this is due to 'mere' gross negligence and ineptitude or intentional deception designed to unfairly and inaccurately disparage the film, of course cannot be known with absolute certainty by anyone but you, if anyone at all; nonetheless, the all-too-convenient case being that every time a fact is omitted, its omission serves to benefit your underlying thesis--that Davis is a "fraudster" and the film a "silly charade"--leads us to believe that said omissions, which serve to reinforce a consistent and malignant bias against the film and the involved parties, are quite intentional, indeed. But regardless of what the ultimate cause of these various argumentatively convenient factual gaps and manipulations (which you can find outlined at some length below) may be, if you cannot provide an honest depiction of the film you aim to discuss, then you sir have absolutely no business writing about it. Such despicably erroneous mudslinging masquerading as film critique has no place in a serious study of mondo cinema, and we will not sit idly by and let you attempt to steamroll the mondo landscape into acquiescence with your deluded, ill-informed pontifications on the subject we hold dear.


You'll also doubtlessly note that we generally ask you a number of questions after any number of quotations from your original piece. Though they may at first glance appear as such, do note that our questions are in fact not at all rhetorical, and have instead arisen due to either insufficient evidence presented by you to buttress whatever particular haphazard claim you may be attempting to make at that given moment, or are simply the immediate outburst of our incredulity at your at times jaw-dropping remarks; in either case, rest assured that we would very much like to hear your answers.

Let us then see for ourselves who are the brutes and who are the savages now, as we start off with an excerpt from your opening salvo, being so grotesquely packed with absurdity as it is that it requires us to divide it into a minimum of four digestible portions so as to make way for its subsequent excretion.

[1] Brutes and Savages is crowded by Davis's ridiculous presence [2] but his book of the film, a thin facsimile of John Cohen's Africa Addio account, is also [3] notable for excesses of self-promotion, where he modestly describes himself as an "author, world traveller, motion picture producer and director". [4] In fact, Davis was renowned as an exploitation film distributor and a showman in the grand burlesque tradition, and so his infamous mondo production is merely the ill-advised public face of his self-overindulgence.

[1] "Brutes and Savages is crowded by Davis's ridiculous presence". In order to gauge the exact extent of your peculiar brand of cinematic claustrophobia, we took the liberty of tallying the total amount of time that Davis is present in the film, being sure to count not only any time that Davis is physically present in front of the camera, but also any time at which Davis may not be visible on-screen but at which point he is either referred to by a third party, gives off-screen narration, or is referenced textually (as in the credits of the film, for example). In other words, we counted all possible instances of Davis's audible, visual, and textual presence. After doing so, we subsequently discovered that Davis 'appears' in the film for a grand total of 9 minutes and 39 seconds1. As the film's total runtime is 1 hour 47 minutes and 19 seconds2, Davis's presence thus amounts to just under 9% of the whole film. Just so we are completely clear on this point, this is what you then consider 'crowding'? When the subject of your ire is present for less than one tenth of the film? Very well then, good sir; until we hear otherwise, we will assume precisely this, as it is in fact what seems to be quite directly relayed in your writing. Since you thus consider crowding to amount to less than one tenth of the film, then why pray tell do you not similarly state that 'Brutes and Savages is overcrowded by the llamas' ridiculous presence'? For you see, llamas appear in the film for 13 minutes and 32 seconds3. As this amounts to nearly four additional minutes of 'crowding' the film compared to Davis's presence, it may indeed be termed 'overcrowding' as opposed to mere crowding, and yet for some reason this observation is lacking from your writing, as if Davis's meager not-even-ten minutes impossibly manage to crowd out quite literally everything else! Which is all to say nothing of this most curious omission of a fundamental fact of course having the advantage of allowing you to prop up a straw man of Davis's alleged narcissism which you then vehemently attack throughout your brutal and savage hit piece on the film.

[2] "his book of the film, a thin facsimile of John Cohen's Africa Addio account". Let us once again let the raw data speak for itself. While Davis's tie-in travelogue paperback is indeed certainly not as fat as Cohen's--1.4 centimeters (223 pages) versus 2.0 cm (352 pages) in thickness, respectively--are you really calling Davis's tome a thin facsimile of a text that has an extra thickness amounting to a mere 30%? If we have two personages with one weighing 200 pounds and the other 140, ceteris paribus, then does the latter constitute a 'thin facsimile' of the former? In fact, why are you using Cohen's text as the rubric upon which to measure Davis's; why not the other way around? In other words, why do you not instead present your phrasing in a manner perhaps akin to 'his book of the film is a succinctly worded tome in comparison to John Cohen's overly wordy and bulky Africa Addio account'? Once again, as with the aforementioned omission of the fact that the presence of the llamas outweighs that of Davis in the film which has the all-too-convenient function of disparaging the film and denigrating Davis, here too your choice of skewed comparison serves as a detestable attempt to once again unjustly belittle Davis and his work.

But in fact, your peculiar choice of phrasing seems to connote not a physical thinness at all; rather, it seems to present the conceptualization of Davis's text as a 'mere, unsubstantial imitation' of Cohen's. It is here of course true that Africa Addio--the film and the book--both preceded Brutes and Savages, and that both texts are indeed tie-in paperbacks for mondo films. But aside from this mundane factual timeline and superficial similarity in genre and function (to promote the film), the actual content is of course linked to each specific film, with Cohen's account recounting the exploits of Jacopetti and company around Africa, whereas Davis's text--while also mentioning Africa--nonetheless spends the bulk of its pages devoted to recounting the Arthur Davis Expedition's adventures in South America. If, however, you're genuinely putting forth the argument that Davis literally copied Cohen's book--as indeed a 'facsimile' is quite a straightforward charge of plagiarism--then please do present explicit evidence for your claim (citing relevant passages from both, of course) so that it may be evaluated independently of your own presumed research on the matter. In the meantime however, your lack of any substantiating evidence leads us to instead think that you were instead simply making a simplistic temporally-reductive argument--that Davis's text is just a half-hearted imitation of another mondo's tie-in book; and that this is so simply because the latter came first. If that is indeed the case, then why do you not extend a similar argument for mondo films themselves? In other words, why not start off the majority of review of mondo films in your book by stating that '... is a thin facsimile of Mondo Cane (or another ancestral title)'? And for that matter, why don't we extend to you the same courtesy that you extend to Davis (which is to say, none whatsoever) and state that your book is itself naught more than a thin facsimile of Kereke's and Slater's seminal Killing for Culture? The fact that you reserve this 'observation' of yours to Davis's Brutes and Savages yet again highlights your slanted preponderance of undue mudslinging directed at the film and its director.

Though how doubly curious is it that if you do indeed consider Davis's text to be a facsimile of the Cohen one (and since both texts describe their respective films it thus stands to reason that your argument logically extends to the films as well), then why do you offer praise for Africa Addio--"[it] remains Jacopetti and Prosperi's best film, the pinnacle of mondo filmmaking and one of the most powerful cinematic documents ever made" (p. 97)--and reserve your vitriol for Brutes and Savages--"one of the most astonishing, disingenuous and disgusting of all mondo films, standing as a testament to the worst excesses of the shockumentary condition"? If Brutes and Savages is indeed a facsimile of Africa Addio, then it should follow that the two must have similar, if not identical qualities--hence facsimile--and yet for you they appear to be antithetical films, as far apart from facsimiles as can be, indeed.

[3] "notable for excesses of self-promotion, where he modestly describes himself as an 'author, world traveller, motion picture producer and director'". Seeing as how Davis was indeed an author, world traveller, motion picture producer and director, and since what thusly amounts to merely stating four of one's vocational proclivities (in the 'About the Author' section, no less) apparently constitutes excesses of self-promotion in your eyes, perhaps it would be prudent for us to then take a gander at your own website, wherein you modestly describe yourself as a:

lecturer, BA/MA/PhD degree holder, postgraduate tutor, multiple MA course tutor, mondo film expert, conference paper deliverer, possessor of published material (a full publications list is here of course also available on a separate page), experimental film studies project developer, music and countercultural studies writer, film festival guest programmer, curator, research seminar organiser, periodical editor, external course examiner, film co-director, practising musician with a "body of records, CDs and live shows" under your "leather-studded belt", conference organizer, and finally a holder of various "indicators of esteem".

(The above is in fact naught but a mere shortened paraphrasing of the far lengthier biography on your actual website).

Now what were those terms you deployed against Davis? Ah yes, "monstrous, untamed ego", "excesses of self-promotion", and "self-overindulgence" indeed.

[4] "In fact, Davis was renowned as an exploitation film distributor and a showman in the grand burlesque tradition, and so his infamous mondo production is merely the ill-advised public face of his self-overindulgence". So as to once again fit your twisted agenda of demonizing Davis, you've apparently seen fit to phrase this sentence as if you're presenting a contrasting fact ("in fact" here presumably being akin to 'on the contrary') to the previous quote from Davis himself, as if you're exposing the truth behind his extravagant lies in the sentence prior. And yet, seeing as how the very next part of the sentence you had just quoted in Davis's book in fact states that Davis "is known as 'Mr. International Showman' of the film industry", you're in fact doing nothing more than restating what Davis himself freely admits, not blowing the lid off of anything as your disingenuous wording would attempt to make your readers believe. You further completely fail to explain what exactly makes Davis's mondo venture "ill-advised", as the fact that Davis traveled and planned meetings with various personages (not to mention, you know, writing a whole book alongside the film) all points to the production being quite well-thought-out indeed. What's more is that we are wholly at a loss as to how expanding the realm of one's activities constitutes an act of self-overindulgence in the first place. If a toilet salesman now decides to try his hand at the manufacture thereof, then does the latter likewise constitute a facet of his ill-advised self-overindulgence? Perhaps you could do us the kindness of explaining this apparently specious bit of reasoning (alongside all other similar instances in your text of course, as described herein).

After your protracted initial attack on Davis which functions as your introduction-by-way-of-maddened-shit-slinging, you then finally deem it fit to cast a furtive glance at the actual cinematic content of the film you're ostensibly claiming to be writing about in the first place.

The Brutes and Savages book weakly posits an entirely spurious 'anthropological' motive for the making of the film, a pretence that slips away almost as soon as the film has begun.

While it is indeed true that Davis starts off the tome by stating that "[o]ur adventures in this volume are concerned with various anthropological aspects of human life in wild and primitive settings", towards the end of the text he nonetheless freely admits that "[w]e, of course, are not anthropologists. We are only a photographic crew with a flair for the novel and the dramatic". How odd then that, once again, you don't see it fit to mention this quite pivotal second quotation, which you have either not read and thus are unfamiliar with the subject matter about which you are writing, or--far more likely, as you later quote a passage only a few pages prior to the one in question--have deliberately chosen to suppress through omission, in which case you are a dishonest and manipulative charlatan writing deranged hate screeds based on selectively partial and misrepresentative half-truths irrespective, and in fact in spite of, the actual facts. And this latter passage is quite fundamental indeed, as Davis here is both acutely self-aware and freely expressive of the fact that his film is not, as you apparently thought it would be, purely "'anthropological'", but is instead the anthropological as projected through the lens of the novel and dramatic--in other words Davis is unabashedly admitting that his cinematic venture is in its very essence a mondo film! And yet any discussion, let alone acknowledgement, of this remarkable and utterly fascinating bit of self-reflection is conveniently absent from your vitriolic critique4. Now why is that, we may wonder, if not to yet again attempt to skew the reader's perception of Davis to match your own perverse hatred?

Davis's talk of the "tantalising beauty" and "fascination of 'Brutes and Savages'" quickly gives way to homoerotic, voyeuristic, humans-as-animals accounts of tribal ritualistic activity.

Mark, leaving aside the tiny factoid that humans are in fact animals and thus your 'humans-as-animals' descriptor is wholly superfluous (akin to stating 'apples-as-fruits'), can you please be so kind as to explain why you think that tantalising beauty is at odds with, or specifically here "gives way to", homoeroticism? In other words why is the homoerotic here presented by you as being antithetical to beauty? It is of course your prerogative to hold whatever bigoted, homophobic views your hate-filled heart desires, but why must Davis be faulted for not adhering to them?

Davis's approach mirrors the worst excesses of mondo filmmaking where the subjects are there to be exploited and humiliated or at best (secretly) recorded and documented

The exploitation of a recorded subject--and indeed the exploitation inherent within the very construction of a 'subject' itself, a boundary-delineating, and thus imprisoning and suffocating, operation--is unique neither to Davis's film nor even to the mondo genre, but is instead a pervasive issue in (documentary) filmmaking in general. Any film wherein somebodies are recorded constitutes an act of exploitation, whether the particular instance of exploitation is economic--as in filming personages so as to then sell the footage thereof (or, say, writing a book about various films and filmmakers and then selling it), academic--as in filming personages so as to then study them in, oh say, anthropology and/or film departments, or simply filmic--as in the act of filming itself being dependent on having a subject to film, the latter then being exploited to produce the former as the camera congeals a tangible 'subject' through a solidifying process of recording and confining otherwise ethereal flows. The issue of exploitation of the filmed subject is thus a broad-reaching and serious one. Why then do you not talk of exploitation in every mondo review in your book, despite stating that this charge of exploitation apparently applies to all mondo filmmaking? To reserve such a vast criticism for only one film (or at best, a select few films) is to tacitly legitimize it everywhere else precisely through one's silence on the universal applicability of the charge being levied, and to further once again unduly single out Davis and his film. And after all, as you yourself hint, are not mondo films themselves a sub-genre of so-called exploitation cinema? The exploitation is then not so much a 'worst excess' as it is par for the course... To then not only point out, but to chastise, a mondo film for engaging in exploitation is akin to criticizing a horror film for possessing terrifying scares.

In the first pages of his account of the making of his film Davis claims dramatically that the film was made in secret with (telescopic) cameras 'hidden' in dense foliage or up tall trees. However any cursory viewing of the film reveals the dishonesty of these claims: most sequences are professionally shot, with clear and varied perspectives often via tripods.

The same aforementioned point regarding the broad applicability of a charge that's peculiarly levied against a single target further applies not only to the claim of 'exploitation' but of the secret recording as well--but hang on a second! Did you not just criticize the film for having the subjects be--"at best"!--secretly recorded, but are now criticizing it for lying about the secret recording, and thus presumably for unconcealed recording? Sounds like you both want to have your bullshit and eat it too, Goodall. For how can you criticize a film for doing one action, only to then criticize it for lying about said action (and thus not actually doing it, hence voiding the initial criticism)? Further, of course Davis would make such a claim "dramatically", considering that he has openly admitted that he has precisely such a flair for the dramatic. And then there's the (apparently not) all too obvious reminder that you're viewing a mondo film--a genre whose bread and butter is the subversion of any clearly delineated bifurcation between fabrication and authenticity. Unadulterated honesty does not gel with the mondo ex vi termini alone, and to thus expect a confluence thereof is to betray deluded expectations about a genre on which one is a self-declared expert. And if you choose to retort now that you are of course indeed quite familiar with the typical modus operandi of the mondo film, then our old question of why the selectivity towards this particular film and not all other films you review must unfortunately rear its poor, tired, and utterly befuddled head once again.

The technical skill involved in the shock film process are also acclaimed, Davis stating in his text: "It took human hands, trained eyes, and creative skills to have brought the fantastic, unusual pictures and exotic sounds of Brutes and Savages into significant reality".

What exactly, is the point of this little segment? Particularly peculiar is that you yourself have just similarly finished 'acclaiming' the technical prowess of the film (do here recall "most sequences are professionally shot, with clear and varied perspectives often via tripods"). Other third parties similarly describe the technical care that went into making the film, albeit without the disparaging snark alluding to some presumed narcissistic overtones in the film (as we can only presume is your reason for mentioning that Davis mentions the technical skill that went into the film, as that would be in full accord with your initial act of shoving freshly expunged excreta into the mouth of Davis's corpse at the outset of your hysterical hate screed). See, for instance, a Variety article which describes the special 'Brute sound' system developed for the film:

works on a single track and can be played through existing playback systems. Effect of Brute sound is to vary the intensity of a soundtrack. Seemingly, it can jack up the decibels by some 400% if necessary, or cut back the sound to a whisper5.

And why exactly should Davis not allude to the skills of his crew in bringing the film to life, as it were? Which isn't of course to say that you come out and directly say that Davis should not do so, but the whole tone of your denunciation oozes this sentiment regardless; thus, are we incorrect in supposing that for you merely talking about the effort that went into creating the film amounts to a gross manifestation of unbridled narcissism?

Brutes and Savages claims some form of ethnographic/documentary honesty in the project from the outset, firstly by presenting a red text on black screen caption "A Factual Report". Secondly, by noting that the film was made with the support of 'The Institute of Primitive Arts and Cultures', an organization which in reality may or may not exist.

First of all, our dear Goodall, may you please be so kind as to provide us with any filmed example of 'ethnographic/documentary' honesty that does not suffer from any manipulation in relation to its content, narrative, and editing process? In the meantime, our position is that such an unbridled paragon of cinematic virtue simply cannot exist; bias and hence distortion is an inescapable artifact of filmmaking, and as such it is once again unfair to reserve the critique for this film alone. To project such an illusory ideal onto your reading of the film's opening caption is merely delusional at best, and malignant--intentionally setting up the film to fail--at worst. And this is to say nothing of the already-twice-mentioned quote from Davis's tie-in travelogue which, to repeat once more, clearly states that that "[w]e, of course, are not anthropologists. We are only a photographic crew with a flair for the novel and the dramatic".

And then there's the little inconvenient fact (inconvenient for you, at any rate) that the film's original copyright entry is registered to a 'Factual Reports Corp.', plainly seen during the opening credits as white text over the filmed footage--and here though we're mentioning the color of the text only because you did so, this does not mean that we actually understand why you did so, but we figure the color must have some highly salient significance, or why else mention it? At any rate, the initial opening caption can thus equally be read as being a simple allusion to the film being a product of the copyright claimant, that is to say that the film is indeed a Factual Report in as much as it is a product of the Factual Reports Corporation.

Furthermore, what a delightful (which is to say not delightful at all, but more along the lines of pathetic and lazy) tautology you bring up in relation to the question of the Institute's existence. Why, of course the Institute of Primitive Arts and Cultures "may or may not exist", this is self-evident from its mere mentioning, and hence the only thing your statement brings to the fore is your ignorance of the facts regarding the Institute's potential existence. In place of doing--gasp!--actual research on the matter, you resort to an ineffectual hand waving that does nothing but waste the readers' time and tests their (our) patience with your hollow attacks against the film and filmmaker. For what it's worth, a cursory web and book search did not reveal any mention of such an institute, though Davis does pay a visit to the existent National Institute of Archaeology, to which perhaps the Institute of Primitive Arts and Cultures is an allusion6, but then again we are not the ones bringing the Institute into the discussion in the first place; no, the burden of rationalizing your tautology is all on your blood and shit-stained hands, we're afraid.

Many of the scenes veer into hallucination aided by the sporadic appearance of Davis himself, bedecked in a series of increasingly camp and ridiculous outfits. Davis is a 'filmmaker' happy to appear in front of the camera dressed in an Armand Denis-style colonial safari outfit if for no other reason than to underline the film's subtitle, "The Arthur Davis Expedition". This is a visual parody, the imagined representation of a 'mondo film director'

"[S]poradic appearance"? Have you by this point already forgotten your earlier bemoaning of the film allegedly being "crowded" by Davis, or are you now claiming that Davis appearing irregularly in only a few scenes nonetheless still amounts to some sort of hallucinatory crowding? And why exactly do you present filmmaker dressed in single quotation marks? This is a visual parody, the imagined representation of 'mondo film critique' in which you pointlessly highlight Davis rationally appearing qua filmmaker--what else would you rather have him appear 'as'--'a' 'plumber'? Though considering the malignant intent of the rest of your railing condemnation, perhaps the deploying of the quotation marks is not pointless in the least, but meant to cast doubt on Davis as being a filmmaker, a doubtlessly insane charge lest you can proffer proof that Davis actually made no film(s) at all?

Though since the author's wardrobe apparently constitutes fair grounds for a critique, let us then once more reciprocate the favor by turning towards your own choice of garment.

Here you stand bedecked in an oversized blazer and matching turtle neck, if for no other reason than to underline your role as film critic. This too is visual parody, the imagined representation of a 'mondo film historian'. What's more, you seem strikingly similar to a certain other persona...


Do note how aside, of course, from the color-coded discrepancy (Davis's turtleneck is a shade of ocean blue, yours stark black to match your soul), you two not even merely also have equivalent hand gestures, but are both holding phallic artifacts, albeit of two disparate cultures. Of course, all of this has precious little (which is to say none whatsoever) bearing on the actual subject matter of the film either of you are presenting (Brutes and Savages of course in Davis's case, and Africa Addio in yours), but for some reason you thought it pertinent to bring it up in Davis's case, and why it would therefore surely be rude of us to not bestow the same attention on your own fashionable adornment. We only wish we knew what you were wearing while writing your attack on the film, so as to perhaps better be able to offer helpful advice on removing flecks of feces from whichever fabric your garments may have been made out of.

The claims to 'realism' in the film are made truly ridiculous by a scene depicting a Juba manhood initiation ceremony where fifteen year old boys must safely cross a crocodile infested river.

How does the occurrence of one obviously staged scene render all claims to realism within the film ridiculous? Or if not 'all' claims, then which claims precisely, as you only point to one claim--the manhood initiation ritual--as invalidating multiple claims. You see, here you must've surely found yourself in quite the pickle indeed! On the one hand, if you elected to reserve your critique of the alleged realism to this one particular scene, with the obvious paper mache crocodile and human head, then you'd merely be reciting a truism that is self-evident to anyone viewing the film; therefore, mayhap embarrassed by this elementary observation, but feeling that you should still comment on the scene somehow nonetheless, you perhaps felt the need to put forth a grander claim about the whole film that would then serve to make this incident worthy of inclusion as merely a shining exemplar of the type of atrocious staging present in the entirety of the movie. In doing the latter however, you thus made a flagrantly incorrect claim as to content of the overall film; misrepresenting it as being naught but charade, while it is in fact your egregious claim which is the master charlatan's grand charade herein.

Now of course in defense of our argument here how are we to put forth any contrasting scenes that would serve to buttress the film's claims to 'realism' and thus undermine your assertion of the film's falsity that you then won't contest as similarly being staged? The realism of any scene in any documentary may of course be challenged with a flippant dismissal of its authenticity via the simplistic accusation of being 'fake'. To sidestep this potential future disagreement then, we will simply use as examples scenes which you yourself postulate as being real; in fact, these are scenes which you present in the subsequent paragraph immediately after you claim that claims to realism in the film are false!

The truly shocking and notorious moments of an otherwise absurd film are centred around the numerous animal killings -- by both human hands and non-human. The brutality of these rituals is clear and disturbing: Llamas have their throats cut and hearts ripped out (shown still pulsating long after they have been removed) and are chopped into pieces as a ritualised event. Convincing scenes recording eagle attacks on muskrats, crocodiles on a jaguar and a lioness pouncing on a rabbit turn the stomach of hardened shock film devotees. Yet the ultimate effect of these moments is to make the staged, fake parts of the film even more absurd.

To be sure, your descriptors are not in and of themselves ultimate admissions of your reading the various animal death scenes as real, since you can doubtlessly here retort that a well-fabricated scene can appear to be even more "convincing" and "truly shocking" than a scene that is in fact an actual depiction thereof. No, instead what betrays your reading of these scenes as being genuine is that final contrast you draw between them and the scenes you read as being faked: "the ultimate effect of these moments is to make the staged, fake parts of the film even more absurd". Considering that 'these moments' may be either fake or real7, there are then two ways of reading your statement:

(i) Yet the ultimate effect of these fake moments is to make the staged, fake parts of the film even more absurd.

- or -

(ii) Yet the ultimate effect of these real moments is to make the staged, fake parts of the film even more absurd.

As (i) is an absurdity which does not uphold the obvious contrast drawn in your own statement, we are then left with (ii), thus showing that you clearly identify some scenes in the film as being real. Which now brings us back to your earlier grand claim that (all/some) claims to realism in the film are made ridiculous by the scene depicting the manhood initiation ritual. Yet, if this is the case, then how can there apparently be, by your own admission, apparently 'non-ridiculous' realist scenes in the film? If you disparage the film for having a crocodile attack that's 'too fake', but then go on to equally chastise it for animal attack scenes which are effectively 'too real', then what's left? Some mysteriously unenumerated 'just right' quotient of animal attacks neither too real nor too fake that would leave you content, without any criticism with regard to the matter to heap on this particular mondo? It seems to us that so enwrapped are you in disparaging Davis and his film that all manner of logical cogency has left your pen as your text unravels in impotent, hypocritical contradiction amounting to nothing more than an inept and ultimately pathetic in its hate-filled ineptitude, attack on a film and its director that has precious little grounding in any semblance of factual accuracy.

Lest you think that surely, by now, we have brought to the fore the sum total of your incoherent contradictions and untruths, celebrate not, for there are unfortunately still a few more of your errant claims to lay doubt to.

A line towards the end of your viciously vile vituperation (for surely, by this point we cannot deign to call it a review, critique, or analysis of the film, as your hateful screed in fact conspicuously omits the bulk of the actual film, instead devoting the overwhelming mass of its loathsome energy into attacking Davis himself) reads:

Many of the ritualised fights presented in Africa and South America are poorly staged and terribly acted.

As an initial aside, we will but note yet another point of high curiosity (read: inglorious incongruence) that here manifests itself in your strident defense of your beloved Jacopetti amidst accusations of fakery wherein you go to lengths to not only point out that such a critique may be overly 'harsh', but that other factors, like say authorial intent, are more significant than fakery, all of which is a courtesy that for some reason you don't extend to Davis, and yet which just as well can apply to the latter as to the former, let alone any other (mondo) director. Let us then all silently read the following passage written by you earlier in your tome, in light of your previous flippant dismissal of the scenes in Davis's film:

Mondo films, and the material they present to the world as 'actualities' have commonly been labelled fake, while the more exploitative mondo films were clearly conceived with a 'flexible' approach to evidence-based film. When applied to the work of Jacopetti and Prosperi such accusations appear harsh, whose 'integrity' is upset by these accusations and whose 'honest' approach to documentary filmmaking has been clearly and regularly stated (particularly by Jacopetti; Prosperi seems at times to be more ambivalent). The words 'fake' and 'documentary' are uncomfortable and always create controversy whenever they are matched. [...] Reflecting back on this now it seems that the theoretical ideas developed by Jacopetti were correct in asserting the 'honesty' of the director, the author, above any attempt at pure 'objectivity'. While clearly some scenes, even in the most convincing mondo films were necessarily 'mocked up', it is perhaps the intentions of the authors that are more important than the fidelity" (pp. 18-19)

OK, all done? Returning now to the film at hand, however, recall that earlier you claimed that "the subjects are there to be exploited and humiliated or at best (secretly) recorded and documented". Thus on the one hand you accuse Davis of exploiting and humiliating said subjects, but on the other you now bitch and moan about him apparently not exploiting and humiliating them with sufficient prowess? Assuming that you are referring only to human-versus-human fights, and not to the various nonhuman-animal-versus-nonhuman-animal or human-versus-nonhuman-animal fights (if you are indeed using this broader reading of combat, do let us know and we will of course extend our analysis to encompass said scenes. Though since you had just finished talking about the crocodile scene which you also belittled for being staged, despite 1) your previous emphasis on 'intention of the author' over fidelity, and 2) your subsequent expression of ire at real animal scenes, it logically stands to reason that you are now talking about different fight scenes; either that or you are being redundant and unclear since you do not then say 'many of the other ritualised fights...'), then there are precisely two scenes of fights in the film: one presumably set in Africa and one in South America. The question, then, is precisely which fight sequences do you consider to be staged and terribly acted? While we await your answer, we can nonetheless offer up a few observations of the two scenes presently at hand.

The first, ostensibly set in Africa, involves a tribesman having to defeat three warriors so as to redeem himself for having desired the chief's daughter. Jenny Craven's (as recited by Richard Johnson) running narration during this sequence explicitly states, however, that "this is no ritual battle, but a fight to the death in the age-old way of rivals". Thus surely you didn't mean this scene in your vague denunciation of fakery, as you explicitly refer to ritualised fights. If, in spite of the contrasting narration, you nonetheless were talking about this scene, however, then how strange that you made no mention of its poor staging and terrible acting when you first mentioned it a couple paragraphs prior, wherein you simply state that "[a]ncient rituals are turned into hypnotic blood and gore spectacles" (unless of course you were here merely talking about the goat decapitation prelude to the actual fight). This all leaves us with an odd sense of uncertainty regarding your claims--according to you, is this scene one such example of the aforementioned poor staging and terrible acting, or is it a straightforward recording of an ancient ritual (despite the narration indicating that it is not at all a ritual)?

Perhaps the second fight sequence will be less ambiguous. High in the Andes, in the village of Kakachaka ("two days' road travel from La Paz"), the denizens gather to engage in a stone fight "the cause of which has long ago been forgotten"8. Although neither the film nor the book refers to the ritualized fights as such--instead merely referring to them as 'stone battles'--in fact what is being shown in the film appears to be the ritual known as the Tinku, which--while of course not identical, being set in a different village--nonetheless matches the description in John Bulmer's Dances With Llamas (1997), a visual ethnography which showcases the Tinku as practiced by the Tamakuri villagers. The Tamakuri Tinku, as described by Bulmer, has in fact ended in injuries and even deaths due to the stone throwing. Various other minutiae are also present in both the Tamakuri and Kakachaka Tinkus, as depicted in Dances With Llamas and Brutes and Savages, respectively. The panflutes, the traditional garb worn by the villagers, the chicha (a corn-based beer), coca leaves, and of course the ever-present llamas are all there in both versions. Thus even if it is found that the Tinku in Brutes and Savages was staged, there is nonetheless no way that it could be correctly called 'poorly staged', as the attention to authentic detail is indeed remarkable. Though if you indeed consider this intricate fight sequence to be 'poorly staged', perhaps you could be so kind as to explicitly state what specific elements make it poor, and perhaps offer a contrasting example of a well staged and acted ritualised fight from another mondo?

Having now shown your statements, at the very least in relation to the stone battle sequence and regarding the quality of the presumed staging to thus be patently false based on the aforementioned contrasting anthropological evidence, let us now turn to the issue of staging proper. In doing so (cf. you having presented absolutely no evidence of having done so yourself), we will employ a viewing mode described by Doug Bentin9 as being one of determining the verisimilitude of a scene based on visual evidence within the frames of the film itself:

And yet there is another intriguing viewing position that the mondo films helped create, a viewing position assumed by some mockumentary viewers of today. Rather than wonder about or even take a definite stand on some anthropological point regarding a given scene--or for that matter question the narrative on its material or characterological coherence ("People don't behave that way in real life...")--the viewing position I'm describing is one where through purely cinematic means a viewer finds pleasure in proving or disproving the apparent believability of one scene versus another with the use of visual evidence. The viewer in this position becomes an arbiter of verisimilitude.

In replaying the scene in which the Kakachacha champion is purportedly struck by a stone, it becomes quite apparent indeed that the stone which is said to have struck him in the head actually lands well behind him, and that the subsequent shot showing him bleeding from the bottom left quadrant of his face is not in accord with a latter shot showing his right eye being the only visibly bruised or otherwise harmed portion of his face. Thus it certainly appears as if this particular stone fight had indeed been staged. And yet, this fact is freely admitted by Davis multiple times in the tie-in travelogue: "Every male adult in the village was to take part in the mock war"; "The villagers spread out and circled the rocky hill. Mock soldiers formed the assault line; their heavy woolen clothing hung loosely on their bodies to absorb blows from the flying stones"; "Again the mock soldiers reloaded their slings and on a signal from the leader, began to whip them to a wind-screaming velocity. Most of the missiles rattled and ricocheted harmlessly away. But a few found live marks and again men fell writhing to the ground with mock injuries". Thus the staged here is none other than the authentically filmed itself, much like a documentary recording an American Civil War reenactment could present an authentic depiction or an authentic replica, if you will (in contract to the recording of an actual authentic battle), of a staged battle (the reenactment itself) complete with mock injuries.



To cry out that this mock reenactment of an ancient stone battle is 'poorly acted' (if indeed you were referring to this scene in your conveniently vague, indeterminate, and wholly evidence-free statement) is to then insult neither Davis nor the film (as is, conversely, otherwise quite clearly the near-entire intent of your treacherous hate screed almost everywhere else), but to insult the denizens of Kakachacha themselves as one would brazenly insult the aforementioned Civil War reenactors for depicting poorly staged and terribly acted battles. In your denigration of their acting ability, we can't help but wonder what you're then actually suggesting--that these Bolivian villagers should have taken whatever actor-coaching training would have been sufficient to render them palatable to the critical eye of one Mark Goodall, British 'mondo film expert', some thirty-odd years later; or that failing to do so, Davis should have trucked in some 'proper' actors who would be able to do a better job of staging the Tinku? The scurrilous superciliousness inherent in this viewpoint mirrors the worst excesses of film criticism, wherein the film exists in indentured servitude to the critic; damned for eternity lest it had the unfathomable foresight to know a priori what would appease the demanding critic, whose dark, sullen eyes only light up when, with a whip firmly entrenched in his putrid, parasitic claws, he finds a new film to flog. Astounding.

Arthur Davis, the creator of this film spectacle, concludes: "my ventures with these tribes impressed upon my consciousness that modernized man should better understand these people. That is the purpose of Brutes and Savages" a statement scarcely no-one believes.

Tell us Mark, do you feel more validated in your attack on Davis if you believe that not only are you not alone in your views but that you're in the overwhelming majority? The proverbial 'safety in numbers' comfort blankie to clutch and cower behind, is that it? Why else would you resort to this wildly unsubstantiated--indeed, unsubstantiable--claim that "scarcely no-one" believes Davis's aforementioned statement? In fact, the very ethos of the film, from the highlighting of various customs and rituals, to the running narrative which situates the various sensationalist scenes within a clearly-delineated and explicated comparative and contextual framework, should make Davis's statement pretty gosh darn believable; though the facts that the film does precisely all this situating are all too conveniently absent from your writing on the film, for doubtlessly to let any of the film's nuance leak into your writing on it would be to delude your vitriolic concoction; and we (that is to say 'you') of course can't have any of that, no sir!

And finally, this all brings us to your utterly harrowing concluding remarks:

Davis, seemingly unaware of the offensive philosophy of his film, is a fraudster and his film (and his book) a silly charade -- one of the most ridiculous and shocking and amusing mondo films of all time.

Aside from the glaring fact that this condemnation is in stark contrast to the proclamation you issue at the outset of your book--"To paraphrase Mondo Cane this book 'will not make judgements or pretend to moralize'. As always it will be the reader, and the viewer, that will decide" (p. 12)--there is also the much graver question of what exactly this 'offensive philosophy' that Brutes and Savages supposedly espouses consists of. Let's take a look-see, shall we?

The answer appears to be at least partially provided by you two paragraphs prior to this grossly dismissive conclusion, wherein you lament the animal deaths in the film:

The truly shocking and notorious moments of an otherwise absurd film are centred around the numerous animal killings -- by both human hands and non-human. The brutality of these rituals is clear and disturbing: Llamas have their throats cut and hearts ripped out (shown still pulsating long after they have been removed) and are chopped into pieces as a ritualised event.

It is here that you make yet another pivotal omission that functions as an attempt to erase the--in fact, quite explicit--intention of the film to question Western decadence in general and the brutal flows of capital in particular. You see, what you 'forget' to mention is that nearly every scene depicting animal sacrifice (actually every scene save for the goat sacrifice) is accompanied by a comparative rejoinder in the complementary spoken narrative that either fully contextualizes the sacrifice as being part of a sacred ritual, and/or juxtaposes the singular ritual sacrifice to the wholesale slaughter of animals and utter disregard for life in general in the Western world brought about by the bone-crushing machinations of capitalism. A more extensive and comprehensive list of such narrative qualifiers made throughout the film can be found in Appendix 3, but for now let us focus on the specific incident that you highlight yourself: the llama sacrifice. First of all, there is only one llama which is sacrificed in the film, and hence your hysterical exaggeration of some unfathomable plurality of llama slaughter is once again quite simply factually incorrect.

You're further certainly all too quick to point out the 'brutality' of the rituals (this, much like your earlier complaint with regard to the poor staging and terrible acting, is a slight against the villagers themselves and as such is nothing short of being patently culturally offensive serving as it does to disparage an entire people's long-lasting custom, but regardless...), and yet you remain mum as to the accompanying narration heard in the film during said scene. Allow us to now bring to the fore that which you have sought to hide for your nefarious purposes of maligning Davis, the film, and the indigenous peoples within it:

With great care segments of the llama body are buried in the deep hole. The hooves are for running, to allow the animal to return to its home, and to carry the good news to its mother. The head is placed carefully between the stones, its eyes staring towards the rising sun so that the llama will remember, and be remembered. The Incas bury their own dead at crossroads, bridges, thresholds so that they will not be separated from the people passing by. They treat their sacrificial llama with equal tenderness and care. 
These Indians are never cruel to their animals, they believe that all animals are the property of Pachamama and therefore have to be treated with respect. It is only the goodness of the Earth Mother that allows them to use her animals on this earth. They cannot own the animal's soul, only borrow the body from its spiritual mother.

Goodness gracious, what an "offensive philosophy" indeed! Your withholding of this key information in the summing up of the ritual preparation and care of the llama's body as mere throat cutting and heart ripping, is an act of critical dishonesty that is every bit as violent as your wholly imagined wanton llama slaughter.

Similarly, after we witness the turtle sacrifice performed as part of the wedding ceremony of the Uru, we are once again informed by the narration that:

Turtles to these people are divine. Their blood, they believe, brings long life and good fortune. They never violate a turtle for meat or profit, but only once in a lifetime they sacrifice one at their wedding. To our eyes this ritual is an atrocity; to theirs, the mass butchery of turtles for hair ornaments and canned soups would be an incomprehensible tragedy.

And once again, you simply pretend that this narration does not exist. Much like you prefer to pretend that lines akin to "[t]ribal customs, unaltered for hundreds of years, are submerged under high-rise buildings and prepackaged ideals. Time is not the enemy, we are. We thought it necessary to record this unique brand of living before it too vanishes", were never uttered in the film either, for to acknowledge otherwise would of course render your pathetic thesis that 'Brutes and Savages is essentially naught but exploitive trash' impotent. No, if any of the aforementioned explanatory bits of narrative were allowed to creep into your analysis, they would complicate your description of the film as being merely "astonishing", "disingenuous", "disgusting", "ridiculous", "shocking", and "amusing", by making it thought-provoking, enlightened, compassionate, understanding, and vastly informative. And golly, then you'd look pretty gosh darn silly; a deluded academic mountebank peddling venomous lies.

And yet, perhaps for you the alleged "offensive philosophy" of the film extends beyond its contextualization of the animal sacrifices you are so quick to dismiss; indeed, perhaps the film has grazed the very marrow of your colonialist core in yet quite another fashion. Yes, mayhap it is the fact that the film repeatedly explicitly questions western notions of 'progress' that makes the film so offensive for you, much like you will doubtlessly recall that you found the film's presumed homoeroticism to be antagonistic to your tragically narrow notions of beauty.

Given all of the aforementioned factual omissions, it is then of course not in the least surprising that you likewise turn a blind eye to the various balancing structural subtleties that can be found within the overall narrative form of the film. For instance, consider the fact that the movie opens with a clip of a llama being killed as part of a ritual sacrifice, but ends with a mass llama mating ritual. The initial death is thus neutralized by the new promise of life. Similarly, there is a certain calming, karmic unity that's inherent when seeing a feline first attack a rabbit at the start of the film, only to see a feline in turn eaten by an alligator towards the end of the film. Much like the karmic unity inherent in seeing you launch an unwarranted assault on the film, only to yourself, in turn, be shown up to be a disingenuous and disgusting charlatan and your review a ridiculous charade.


With utmost sincerity,
The Mondo Research Laboratories

---

Notes

  1. Refer to Appendix 1 for a fully enumerated scene-by-scene count of Davis's appearances throughout the film.
  2. We exclusively used the Synapse Films "'Uncivilized' Version" DVD release of the film, as this is the longest version of the film we have available to us (for instance, while the MPI/Gorgon Video VHS release contains some narration by Davis not found in the Synapse edition, it is nonetheless 15 minutes shorter in runtime overall, and even adding in the additional Davis narration would only amount to a negligible several-second increase in cumulative Davis-presence across the two versions). A second reason for us employing the Synapse version is that we believe that said Synapse version is also the version that you used as well, as you make references to scenes present in this version (e.g. decapitation of the goat) which are not present in the MPI/Gorgon release and make further reference to the film's 'DVD availability', though of course none of this necessitates that you in fact used said version of the film as your viewing copy. As such, if our supposition is incorrect and you indeed employed another release of the film, by all means let us know so that we can recalculate our findings using the same version that you viewed for your hit piece.
  3. Refer to Appendix 2 for a fully enumerated scene-by-scene count of llama appearances throughout the film.
  4. cf., for instance, your description of Mondo di Notte Oggi, wherein oddly enough you don't have any difficulty in recognizing the film's self-reflexivity: "In this strange and disturbing film Gianni Proia, creator of the Mondo di Notte series, revisits the mondo oeuvre with one of most reflexive, post-modern contributions to the genre" (p. 44).
  5. Variety, August 17th, 1977, p. 31. As quoted in Chris Poggiali's liner notes for Synapse Films' "'Uncivilized' Version" DVD release of Brutes and Savages.
  6. A tangible piece of evidence that would serve to buttress this assertion that the two organizations may be one and the same and help to explain the naming discrepancy is the following note found in the tie-in paperback for the film: "In some instances the names of certain individuals have been changed because official governmental authorization to visit and photograph these incidents was not extended". Perhaps the name of the Institute at hand was thus likewise changed to spare them the trouble of dealing with any potential governmental reprimands.
  7. Scenes may of course be a combination of staged and real elements, but your statements here show absolutely no acknowledgement of this potential decay of clear bifurcation (which is indeed a staple of the mondo genre, as you're doubtlessly well aware); instead, they appear to here be setup by you to be within the classic strictly 'either/or' binary parameters. What's more, is even if the logical analysis was here expanded to include the potential 'fuzzy' or 'mixed' scenes, which is to say via the introduction of something along the lines of '(iii) Yet the ultimate effect of these partially staged and partially real moments is to make the staged, fake parts of the film even more absurd', you would nonetheless of course still be acknowledging that moments of (partial) realism nonetheless exist in the film regardless.
  8. In fact, the tie-in book provides an elaborate origin story which explains the 'long forgotten' mythology of the fights: in short, the gods gave the villagers of Kakachaka a daughter, who was stolen for mating purposes by a neighboring village, which in turn led to a large stone battle between the villages over this transgression.
  9. Bentin, Doug. "Mondo Barnum", in Docufictions: Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking (2005) [ISBN: 0786421843]; pp. 144-153.

Appendix 1: Length of Davis's Appearances in Brutes and Savages, by Scene
(counting textual and audible mentions as 'appearances' alongside visual ones)


Format: Scene Number. Scene Title [Length of Davis's Appearance(s) (Minutes:Seconds)]
Totals: Hours:Minutes:Seconds

Nota bene: Timings may not be utterly precise (assume a +/- two-second deviation at best).

  1. Opening Narration [00:04] (audio mention only)
  2. Opening Montage/Title Sequence [00:15] (textual mention only)
  3. Africa Segment Intro [00:58]
  4. The 'Humanist' Tribe [00:00]
  5. The Fight For Women [00:00]
  6. The Dance of Love [00:00]
  7. The Test of Manhood [01:25]
  8. South America Segment Intro [00:00]
  9. The National Institute of Archaeology [01:49]
  10. Banks of the Amazon [00:00]
  11. Death Village [00:00]
  12. The Turtle Wedding of the Uru [01:32]
  13. The Llama Sacrifice [00:00]
  14. Jungle Survival [00:00]
  15. The Cocaine Story [00:31]
  16. The Legend of the Stone Battle [00:00]
  17. Head Surgery [00:41]
  18. The Erotic Inca Museum [02:24]
  19. Alligator vs. Jaguar [00:00]
  20. The Llama Orgy [00:00]
  21. End Credits [00:00]
---
Total Length of Appearances: 00:09:39
Total Film Runtime: 01:47:19
% Appearances: 8.99% (~9%)
---

Appendix 2: Length of Llama Appearances in Brutes and Savages, by Scene
(counting audible mentions as 'appearances' alongside visual ones)


Format: Scene Number. Scene Title [Length of Llama Appearance(s) (Minutes:Seconds)]
Totals: Hours:Minutes:Seconds

Nota bene: Timings may not be utterly precise (assume a +/- two-second deviation at best).

  1. Opening Narration [00:00]
  2. Opening Montage/Title Sequence [00:17]
  3. Africa Segment Intro [00:00]
  4. The 'Humanist' Tribe [00:00]
  5. The Fight For Women [00:00]
  6. The Dance of Love [00:00]
  7. The Test of Manhood [00:00]
  8. South America Segment Intro [00:00]
  9. The National Institute of Archaeology [00:00]
  10. Banks of the Amazon [00:00]
  11. Death Village [00:00]
  12. The Turtle Wedding of the Uru [00:00]
  13. The Llama Sacrifice [07:29]
  14. Jungle Survival [00:00]
  15. The Cocaine Story [00:00]
  16. The Legend of the Stone Battle [00:27]
  17. Head Surgery [00:00]
  18. The Erotic Inca Museum [00:00]
  19. Alligator vs. Jaguar [00:00]
  20. The Llama Orgy [05:19]
  21. End Credits [00:00]
---
Total Length of Appearances: 00:13:32
Total Film Runtime: 01:47:19
% Appearances: ~12.61%
---

Appendix 3: Exempla of Critiques of Western Decadence and Narrative Contextualization of Ritual Sacrifice in Brutes and Savages, by Scene


Opening Narration: "untouched, unspoiled, unshackled by what we in our wisdom call 'civilization.'"

Africa Segment Intro: "The isolated tribes who live here are untroubled by the ways of the world. The people are as wild and as dangerous as their surroundings. Every year our consumer society pushes its super highways and supermarkets further into the remaining sanctuaries on this earth. Tribal customs, unaltered for hundreds of years are submerged under high-rise buildings and prepackaged ideals. Time is not the enemy, we are. We thought it necessary to record this unique brand of living before it too vanishes."

Banks of the Amazon: "These people are lucky; no one yet has found anything valuable on their land. They are left in peace to pursue their life of fishing and weaving."

Death Village: "For economic reasons, the Indian lands around the Amazon Basin are valuable, the people are not."

The Turtle Wedding of the Uru: "Turtles to these people are divine. Their blood, they believe, brings long life and good fortune. They never violate a turtle for meat or profit, but only once in a lifetime they sacrifice one at their wedding. To our eyes this ritual is an atrocity; to theirs, the mass butchery of turtles for hair ornaments and canned soups would be an incomprehensible tragedy."

The Llama Sacrifice: "The yearly sacrifice to Mother Earth Pachamama, when man gave thanks for the loan of her children the animals."

"With great care segments of the llama body are buried in the deep hole. The hooves are for running, to allow the animal to return to its home, and to carry the good news to its mother. The head is placed carefully between the stones, its eyes staring towards the rising sun so that the llama will remember, and be remembered. The Incas bury their own dead at crossroads, bridges, thresholds so that they will not be separated from the people passing by. They treat their sacrificial llama with equal tenderness and care.

"These Indians are never cruel to their animals, they believe that all animals are the property of Pachamama and therefore have to be treated with respect. It is only the goodness of the Earth Mother that allows them to use her animals on this earth. They cannot own the animal's soul, only borrow the body from its spiritual mother."

Alligator vs. Jaguar: "the jungle: where the law of survival is supreme. Nature only kills to survive. Environmentalists fight to preserve this law of the jungle. The stalking of deer, the hunting of foxes, the fisherman; we have promiscuous killing all over the world in the name of sport, where the killer never eats the meat. Who are the real brutes, and who are the real savages?"

The Llama Orgy: "To us the togetherness is a little ridiculous; to them it is an act of faith. And in reverse, what do you suppose they would make of our city zoos and our battery farming, our wars and our crime. Would they understand? Or would they accept that violence lurks in all of us, and so does the brute and the savage."

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