Mondo Cane (1962): The Original Shocumentary
What mid-century Italian cinema and African women have to do with Michael Moore.
By Maria Popova
Yesterday, we featured a fantastic film using cinematic vignettes to instill a sense of wonder and admiration for the amazing world we live in. Today, we’re looking at a film that utilizes the same medium to achieve the opposite effect — shock, shake and startle us with glimpses of cultural practices around the world.
Mondo Cane is a 1962 Italian documentary by filmmakers Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi, and Gualtiero Jacopetti, stitching together travelogue vignettes for the explicit purpose of shocking Western audiences. The film is considered the original “shocumentary,” deviating from genuine documentation by staging and manipulating certain scenes to creatively amplify the shock factor. Despite being largely condemned by the critics of the day, Mondo Cane (A Dog’s World) was so successful at the international box-office that it lent its name to a whole new genre, the Mondo documentary — a kind of “exploitation cinema” designed to stir audiences through uncomfortable and often not entirely documentarian footage.
Though they don’t necessarily manipulate content, many the political and public-awareness documentaries of the past decade, including films like Supersize Me, Food, Inc. and the work of Michael Moore, borrow from the Mondo legacy.
The film is available on YouTube, though without English subtitles, in ten (incredibly low-res) parts — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 — but we recommend grabbing the DVD version which, among other extras, features “The Unofficial Mondo Phenomenon,” an excellent microdocumentary by Australian academic David Flint that contextualizes the film and its importance in the history of cinema.
Mondo Cane also sprouted a number of sequels and spinoffs, the most notable of which include Women of the World (1963), Africa Addio (1966) and Goodbye Uncle Tom (1966), and are available in the rather excellent limited-edition Mondo Cane Collection 8-disc box-set.
Published November 10, 2010