Mondo Before Mondo?
Castle Films didn't just produce cut down versions of old movies, (that was something that escalated in the fifties, after they became a subsidiary of Universal), they originally produced newsreels and short informational films. Some of these, focusing on the culture and rituals of various 'primitive' peoples, very much have the feel of prototype Mondo movies, long before the Italian film industry invented the 'shockumentary' genre. The short I've featured here, Belles of the South Seas from 1944, is particularly reminiscent of those segments of Mondo Cane which 'showcase' the supposed rituals and roles of women in various remote island tribes. Like the Italian film, there's a strong suspicion on the part of the viewer that these rituals and dances have all been carefully 'recreated' for the benefit of the cameras, rather than being actual documentary footage of spontaneous activity.
The focus on the sensational - note the number of references to cannibalism, for instance - and using the 'documentary' aspect to justify the showing of bared female breasts, (something audiences were unlikely to see on a screen in 1944 outside of 'stag' films), on the grounds that it was 'educational', are typical of the Mondo genre. Not to mention the patronising narration, which constantly belittles the cultures of these non-white, 'uncivilised' people. (The irony being that the supposedly 'civilised' culture making this film were, in 1944, still engaged in slaughtering each other in World War Two). Obviously, this short is far less explicit than the later Mondo movies but it is, nevertheless, a close relative. It is tempting to think that it was films like this which inspired the later Italian genree.
Labels: Forgotten Films