Sunday, February 21, 2010
Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971, Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi)
"Makes Roots look like an episode of The Jeffersons" so states one of the quotes on this DVD cover. If those aren't strong words then I don't know what are. The title alone makes it pretty obvious that the film has something to do with slavery, a very touchy subject for most people. The fact anyone could enslave another human being, not to mention treat a whole race of people as if they are inferior is disgusting and seems so hard to believe in this day and age. This film is one of those "I dare you to watch it" types, though unlike many of other films lumped into that category, this film is based on true events. It's hard to tell how much of the film was embellished by the pseudo-documentary style and previous exploits of the film makers, but it is obvious there is a lot of truth displayed in this film. Displayed being a very soft term. More like thrown in your face. The film I am talking about is the last of the Mondo films by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi - Goodbye Uncle Tom.
Goodbye Uncle Tom begins at a 1800s renaissance-y dinner party featuring a conversation on Black people. The guests consider them unintelligent and inferior to whites. Next thing you know, we are on board a ship transporting hundreds of black slaves from Africa to the United States. The treatment of the people as being no more than animals is very hard to watch. The film focuses heavily on how the slaves were "cleaned up" when they were brought over and sold off. The film also shows how all of this is seen through the eyes of a black man today.
Goodbye Uncle Tom is one of the hardest movies I've ever sat through. I actually almost turned it off after about 20 minutes but decided to stick with it. Seeing other humans treated with such degradation is infuriating, not to mention sickening. Slaves are shown being pulled along on chain leashes and forced to breed like dogs. As I stated before, it's hard to tell what facts were stretched to enrage the viewer but it doesn't really matter. The fact slavery occurred at all is really enough to anger me. Without reading too much into it, it would seem that Jacopetti and Prosperi obviously attempted to make a film so outrageous and explicit that it would really make people see how severe the injustices were that the slaves endured. Unfortunately, the film goes way overboard to nauseating extremes and sort of loses the viewers in exploitation territory. The film makers have been called "devious" and "irresponsible" documentarians. Though there are parts of the film that are fascinating, I agree that the way the film is presented muddles the film makers' intentions, causing the audience uncertainty as to whether they are passionate about getting their point across or just exploiting their subject. The final scenes in the film, set in the present day, really insult the viewer and almost nullify the message of the film makers' (assumed) intentions. I can't say I would recommend this film to anyone, nor would I tell people to stay away from it. Those who would want to see it know who they are.
Note - the version I watched was the English version contained in Blue Underground's out of print Shockumentaries Volume 2, which is now available as a single disc. There is an extended Italian Director's Cut version on the Shockumentary: Extreme Collection, also released by Blue Underground and is readily available.