Sunday, 14 June 2009

Mondo di notte numero 3 / Ecco / This Shocking World

When George Sanders committed suicide in 1972 he famously left the note “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.”

Though there’s evidence that Sanders’ suicide was in large part attributable to ill-health, the idea of being bored with the world is one that neatly fits in with this 1963 film for which he provided the voice-over for the English language version.

For as the title Ecco – literally “here it is” or “look” – indicates, this is a film which is dedicated to showing the sensation-hungry viewer sights from all around the world that he’s [sic] supposed to find shocking, titillating and bizarre.

It is, in other words, a mondo film, part of that exploitation cum documentary genre that flourished in Italy in the early 1960s to then be taken up by US exploitation filmmakers and morph into more extreme death documentaries, snuff and cannibal films in the 1970s and 1980s, before providing what “paracinema” scholar Jeffrey Sconce has identified as the playbook for today’s reality television shows.

This legacy is what makes Ecco most come across as naïve and charming today as one imagines the reactions of one’s trash film forbearers at the Jacey.

If they were shocked and awed at the sight of a fakir running a few skewers through himself and wonders, what would they make of the emergence of tattooing, piercing and body modification practices amongst a wide cross section of today’s western population?

If their Dirty Mac contingent got off at the sight of bare-breasted tribeswomen bouncing up and down like some National Geographic story come to life, how would they respond to the omnipresence of pornography on the internet and its penetration (sorry) into the culture as a whole?

The tribeswomen; note the apparent ritual scars

The main exception is a segment showcasing some Portuguese whale fishermen, as they hunt down, dispatch and butcher one of the beasts, to presents a scene today’s conservation and animal rights types might have issues with. The issue for such a present-day viewer then becomes the contextualisation given the slaughter, that it is traditional and that the animal is efficiently made use of by the entire community in a manner that is more akin to the Native American with the buffalo than McDonalds with cattle.

Gutting a whale

It is, in other words, pretty much what you would expect: a succession of scenes strung together by obvious binary contrasts (rich and poor, modern and primitive, modern and ancient, urban and rural etc.) which are sometimes subverted (the tribeswomen perform their native dance for the edification of westerners whilst themselves preferring rock and roll) and of often dubious authenticity (the ever so demure black mass supposedly recorded in secret; the propensity for the same faces to appear in the nightclub scene audiences etc.), which together add up to a demonstration of Hamlet’s proposition, “there are more things within Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Besides Sanders’ voice-over other significant non-Italian contributions come from producer Dick Randall and fellow exploitation legends Lee Frost and Bob Cresse. The latter pair later collaborated on Mondo Bizarro, Mondo Freudo and Love Camp 7 amongst others, with some hints of the last film’s Nazisploitation fetish perhaps coming through in a throwaway reference to human-skin lampshades in a sequence purporting to show a secret German student duelling society. (Since Love Camp 7 and Isla: She Wolf of the SS helped in turn inspire various Italian imitators of the SS Experiment Camp variety it’s also worth remembering here that the traffic wasn’t just one way.)

Riz Ortolani supplies the music, that typically eclectic yet effective mixture of the sentimental, bombastic and inappropriate which made him the go to man for the filone at this time.

Neither the best nor worst of its kind, Ecco’s main strength is perhaps as an introduction to the mondo that shows the uninitiated what they can expect without being so outré as to be an immediate turn-off.


1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

Mondo films have a kind of romanticism to them (not least in their music) that resides in their belief that the world is full of wonders that most people still have yet to discover, but it comes attached to an attitude toward exoticism that might put off modern viewers. They are best viewed as documents of their time, and your assessment of ECCO is a fair estimate of its particular value.