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In September, 1959, six Europeans leave Cook's Bay on the southern coast of Dutch New Guinea, now West Papua or Irian Jaya, to trek north to the far side of the island. The journey (450 miles, as a crow flies) across unmapped territory took seven months; three Muyu porters died. Near both coasts, the expedition met villagers who invited them to observe rituals and live with them. In the interior, all villagers kept them at bay, and they depended on air lifts from Hollandia for food and supplies. They climbed above 10,000 feet, built 14 bridges, and fought leeches and malaria. The narrator focuses on describing Stone Age savages, headhunters, and cannibals. Written by
Embarrassing 'us' the civilized and 'them' the savages story.
'Sky Above, Mud Below' by today's standards would not qualify as a documentary despite its Academy Award for best documentary feature in 1961. The film is painfully patronizing, while simultaneously insulting and embarrassing. The narration is a constant irritant in both it's tone and content. At one point the narrator even whispers as if standing just out of sight of the camera with a microphone in hand, ala Howard Cosell. Much of the film is quite obviously staged and many things are mentioned to be going on while never shown. The only use for this documentary now after nearly 40 years is to be the next victim of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
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