It’s impossible to approach this 1968 mondo film without reference to Africa Addio. This is because writer-director Stanis Nievo was production manager on it and looks to have constructed his own largely out of material shot for Giacopetti and Prosperi’s film but never actually used.
A credits statement of intent cum apology
The film opens with what seems to be original footage of blacks in present-day London, visiting the zoo, on the streets and attending a church service.
While exploitative and of dubious authenticity it’s imbued with a sense of fun via the camerawork and Riz Ortolani's music. It also functions to neatly help set up many of the themes that the subsequent material attempts to engage with. In particular, the place of ‘the African’ – scare quotes because there is nothing to indicate that those we see are ‘genuine’ Africans, admittedly introducing another set of scare quotes in what could be an infinite regress – in the contemporary and/or modern world.
The fun aspect declines considerably as we then move to Africa itself and to footage of riots, firing squads and the carnage of a train derailment, purportedly by guerrillas. Though this may well have been the case the impact of the scene is lessened by the way the camera picks out a (white) doll that just happened to have been there.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as we’re later also given more ‘light-hearted’ footage of African fashions, ostrich racing and workers joyfully striking oil – tellingly then juxtaposed with the destruction to flora and fauna wrought by a oil spill.
Time and again we are taken between something that seems to be saying ‘this is progress’ and something that adds a question mark at the end of the statement or inverting its first two words: ‘this is progress?’ ‘is this progress?’
Elsewhere we get footage of a live elephant, chalk marks divide its body up into ‘usable’ parts, contrasted with a group of pygmies literally diving in as they butchering an elephant. Or then there is the assembly-line type enterprise mass-producing animal head trophies.
Surreal found images?
Surreal constructed images
What are we supposed to think about tradition and modernity and presumed correlations with black and white or African and European in relation to these images? Was efficiently meeting a demand for animal head trophies a good thing or was the wider issue the existence and perhaps even encouragement of this demand, for instance?
The film offers no answers. But in its own, admittedly unsatisfactory, way it at least helps raise the questions to make you think...
[Interview with the film's director, in Italian: http://www.progettobabele.it/autori/STANISLAONIEVO.PHP]