Friday, January 11, 2019

The Wild Eye (1967)

It was inevitable that, after the phenomenal popular success of the first wave of Mondo movies, that they would suffer some kind of backlash.  From the outset, critics and 'serious' film makers had poured scorn upon them, casting doubt upon the authenticity of their footage and condemning their exploitation of  animal cruelty, indigenous peoples and the vulnerable to provide cheap shocks and thrills to Western audiences.  The Wild Eye is probably the first cinematic attempt to dissect the Mondo movie phenomena in dramatic terms, focusing on the efforts of a (fictional) cynical Mondo director to obtain the most sensational footage possible, regardless of the cost.  Interestingly, its director and co-writer is Paolo Cavara, who had collaborated with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi on Mondo Cane and Women of the World.  Indeed, the cynical and ruthless Mondo director portrayed in the film was reportedly closely based upon Jacopetti, with whom Cavara had fallen out.

In terms of presenting a critique of the genre, The Wild Eye doesn't go much further than the aforementioned film critics had.  Its main innovation is to question the motivation of the Mondo film makers themselves, rejecting the defences variously used by former colleagues Jacopetti and Prosperi that they were either merely neutral observers who simply edited and packaged their 'found footage' into entertainment, or that they were using this footage to expose wider audiences to serious issues otherwise ignored by film makers.  Instead, he places them firmly in the role of agents provacateurs, deliberately and cynically creating their supposed 'found footage' by manipulating individuals and events, thereby falsifying any claims of veracity and purity of intent.  Of course, the problem in taking such a moral position is not only that Cavara himself was therefore party to such deceptions during his earlier career, thereby calling into question the veracity of his own approach to his material, but that The Wild Eye itself is as exploitative as the films it criticises, recreating their footage for the entertainment of its own audience.  Moreover, because the audience knows beyond any doubt that the faux Mondo footage presented in The Wild Eye is fake, it lacks the impact and thrill of the 'real' thing.  After all, much of the entertainment value of the Mondo genre comes from the audience's attempts to discern what is real and what is fake: without the possibility that some of the most appalling scenes might be real, then the frisson gained by watching it is gone.



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