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When I first saw GOODBYE UNCLE TOM several years ago on a
muddy bootleg, the level of production value that went into this
"shockumentary" impressed me. I was amazed that the
filmmakers were able to corral literally hundreds of Black people
into degrading and de-humanizing reenactments of various
aspects of slavery. But I also understood that this was a very
special film for that exact reason. Unlike American films about
slavery, it makes no effort to excuse or sugarcoat this heinous act.
Like the opening of Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, the filmmakers
intent is to force you to open your eyes to the truthful horrors of this
400 year old practice.
The premise of the film is brilliant--an Italian documentary film crew is transported "back in time" to interview and bear witness to American Slavery on all levels--from rich slave owners, to the "veterinarian" who must clean and delouse the slaves, to the poor whites who don't own slaves but invade their quarters for the purposes of rape this movie holds nothing back, etc. It loses points for some gratuitous nudity and violence (Mandingo, anyone?), and it's contemporary ending (which tries to connect the Black Power movement and the Nat Turner 1831 slave revolt) is somewhat muddled and clearly designed to leave viewers terrified. The concept that Black men still hate white people but crave their women but would prefer to kill them rather than make love to them is an idea better tackled in the film version of Baraka's DUTCHMAN. If the film were made a few years later it might end by raising the question of whether or not Black are still enslaved--not by carnal lust, but in a prison of the mind.
But the recent DVD release of this film (and its Director's Cut) brings to light two things the shoddy bootlegs didn't. (1) Unlike typical grindhouse exploitation, this is first and foremost a work of art--the opening shot, taken from a helicopter flying over a plantation over a field of slaves, then drawing low enough to blow away the bales of cotton and causing the slaves to flee in glee is GENIUS. Every image and idea is incredibly thought out. The score is up there with the best of Morricone and Rota . The photography and widescreen compositions are top-notch.
However, it is unsettling to discover (2), most of the film was shot in Haiti with the full cooperation of mercenary dictator "Papa Doc" Duvaluier and the Tontons Macoutes (who probably had no problem getting hundreds of Hatian natives willing to degrade and dehumanize themselves for the purpose of making a film). ). In the end, this is a painful film to watch on many levels, but deserves to be seen alongside Alex Haley's ROOTS. 8.5/10 Stars.
Goodbye Uncle Tom is a downright jaw-dropping and surprisingly professional production in the Mondo Cane series. Terrifically shot documentary-style, this film explores the interaction between the races in modern America. Slavery, Black Rage, White Oppression...Jacopetti and Prosperi are all showing it uncensored and without mercy. It's repulsive, shocking and the violence subtly get more under your skin as opposed to the average teenage horror slasher. The inhumanity of previous generations makes you bow your head in shame. Guided by a thrilling Riz Ortolani score (perhaps known best for his Cannibal Holocaust music) Goodbye Uncle Tom shows how black people are being exploited, raped and killed for no reason other than being "inferior". The films opens with a truly atmospheric portrait of how Martin Luther King's death mobilized the black community. Right from that moment, you just know that you're about to see a film that is a lot more intelligent than it seems and ahead of its time when it comes to being provocative. A history lesson that sticks to you! Of course, because of its realism, it cannot be recommended to everyone. Goodbye Uncle Tom is better not watched by the faint-hearted. Highly recommended piece of revolutionary cinema!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Goodbye Uncle Tom, two documentarists "travel" to the old American
South and explore the slave economy. This world is recreated in all of
its brutal and corrosive details, from the shipping to America of
slaves in the hulls of ships - the sickening conditions with
diarrhoea-ridden slaves chained in their own filth is emphasised - to
the brothels where large Mammies coral underage girls for the
delectation of white clients. The film is made on an enormous scale.
The scenes in the slave markets and on the plantations have literally
hundreds of extras, and the marshalling of crowds alone makes the film
an exceptional achievement. This is no low-budget cheap-flick but a
full, cinemascope extravaganza featuring vast hordes of extras,
sweeping crane shots and unfeasibly intricate dolly shots which travel
through large sets and teaming crowds, a swarming mass of human flesh,
the sheer scale of which leaves one's mouth dropped open in wonder.
That wonder is turned into awed disbelief as the brutal, nerve-wrecking
content of the film unfolds before one's eyes. This is Gone With The
Wind mixed with a supersized portion of Salo.
The film is completely plot less. It features a series of set-pieces - all based on research into actual conditions, events and personages - each of which show an aspect of the slave trade. A bustling church has a preaching pro-slavery Pastor presiding over the gelding of African bucks. A mansion is filled to the brim with dozens of slaves, making beds, cooking dinner and helping Missies to dress. A group of nasty-looking rednecks roam a swamp, massacring escaped "merchandise." The scenes get nastier as the film progresses - which seems to be the only logic to the film's progression. There is a particularly insane sequence in which a "veterinary" tells us of his work on the slaves, a sequence redolent of Mengele and the atrocities of the Nazis (the ludicrous German accent this character is given encourages us to make this leap). The final old Southern section of the film concerns a young virgin girl taken to a "breeding farm" and mated by with a nasty, violent old buck stud - the fat "farmer" pontificates merrily about stock as the victim is led to an event which is destined to rip her sexual organs to shreds What is especially freakish about the film is its overwhelming prurience. The camera lingers over the naked male and female bodies of the slaves, and revels in their degradation. This creates a profoundly uneasy feeling in the viewer. It is not merely that this film offers an indictment of an economy in which human flesh became literally a commodity, backed up with the most noxious racial supremacism, but that it dwells so excessively on the minutiae of humiliation and hatred. It almost wills itself to become a repellent and fascinating object - which one could argue is the more honest attitude to take towards human evil. It is as if Goodbye Uncle Tom were the vomit of history flung in the face of the audience, and the audience were being tempted to dance in it a little, as well as vomit over themselves.
The end of the film - and it is a long (123 minute) film - is as extraordinary and thoroughly reprehensible as the rest. We suddenly cut to then contemporary America, and watch a black preacher/panther walking along a Florida beach, watching the frolicking wealthy whities at play. He reads The Confessions of Nat Turner - a true-life account of a slave who massacred a number of slaver families in 1831 - and fantasises about killing the honkies around him. Those fantasies are shown to us by the filmmakers in lurid detail, and whitebread families get axes in their heads, knives in their stomachs and their babies battered against walls. This is an incendiary sequence, and must have been particularly shocking in 1971.
It is very difficult to know what to make of Goodbye Uncle Tom. On the one hand, its lurid exploitative nature is enough to repel even the most hardened of extreme cinema enthusiasts. What is more, the economics and morality of the film's actual making is enough to send one reeling in horror in and of themselves. It was filmed in Haiti, and a thank you appears on the credits to Papa Doc. It is doubtful any of the thoroughly degraded extras were paid very much for their work, which suggests that the film is itself a product of a coercive and slave-driving economic system; and let's not forget, Haiti was a former slave colony. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine a film which did more to make the realities of the slave-based economic system more palpable and horrifying. In refusing the audience the comforting delights of character individuation, journeys, change and anything other than economic/racial relationships, the film does constitute an effective dramaturgy for dealing with such an unmitigatingly inhuman episode in human history. In a way, a film like Amistad makes it all alright that slavery happened, because the liberal humanist Spielberg pulls out the trump card of the dignity of the human spirit, the chance for which to triumph slavery (like the holocaust) happened to offer. There is absolutely no human dignity on show in Goodbye Uncle Tom. Slavery is not a business where dignity comes into the equation. One of the film's most intriguing characters in a slave who boasts of his price in the market, his value to his masters, and the healthcare and help in old age which a good master can provide for him. He is an embelmatic proletarian historical figure...
What is on show in Goodbye Uncle Tom is a dazzling display of film-making technique. From an editing, cinematographic and staging point of view, the film is a masterpiece.
Not exactly a "humanitarian masterpiece" as someone else said (yeah
right!). More like cryptic super-exploitation. This is wildly,
hilariously, rollickingly misguided pseudo-history at best. Outright
race-baiting at worst. Made by the sleazoids who barfed up "Africa
Addios" (giving Africans their own country back so soon just wasn't the
right idea, was it!!), a film that featured the genuinely bizarre white
South African girls on trampolines montage. A fervent call-to-arms for
African-Americans made by white Europeans must inherently ring false, I
am afraid. (we enslaved you. kill us!) Manages to be both numbing and
completely, hideously insulting at the same time.
The film is, under its very "SO racist it isn't being racist" exterior a sly work of racism. Presents blacks as nothing more than animals and savages, capable only of violence or submission to the will of whites. All the while remaining mute and mindless. No African-American in the film is presented as having a personality, substance, or intelligence. Every white all but glows. Every caucasian is a verbose, mercurial, immaculate sprite.
That said, the film does (I would assume) approximate the way Africans were treated during the slave era more closely than other films. In that respect it deserves respect. The conditions are shown as filthy, disgusting, cruel. Every imaginable indignity is portrayed (and some you probably could not imagine).
However, the film does have some power. The camera work is very inventive and the directors handle some of the chaotic scenes around the plantation very well. Some of the imagery is genuinely striking. There's a general feeling of chaos that comes through that's very effective. I'm not sure what the point is. But it's effective.
Anyway, see the movie if you really want to be grossed out and insulted. File this one under SUPER exploitation. The directors may have had good intentions when they started out, but I think they just lost it when they got onto the set and decided to see how far out they could go. And no one, it seemed, was around to tell them to tone it down or put on the breaks. This is up there with Cannibal Holocaust and Men Behind the Sun. It's that sort of a deal.
But don't kid yourselves, this AIN'T no humanitarian masterpiece.
Many people who have claimed to see this film have not. Most of those who
have seen it, have not understood.
GOODBYE UNCLE TOM was directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco E.
the two men who pioneered the documentary movement that came to be known
the "Mondo" film, a term the two dislike immensely. Hot on the heels of
their controversial and still-relevant AFRICA ADDIO, it was meant to
exonerate them from accusations of racism. Ironically, it would do the
opposite. It was developed as an idea to adapt the novel "Mandingo" as an
historical, documentary style drama. What emerged was a shocking,
difficult-to-watch-at-times, treatise on the horrors of slavery, and the
source of racism in America, if not the world, today. It was the
intention not to pander to a politically correct theory that slaves of
1840's had a 1970's awareness of their situation. The events are all
historically correct. Many of the characters are people who actually
The dialogue is verbatim from true manuscripts of the day. The racism is
genuine depiction of plantation life of the day. It was felt that
over the African experience in America would be an insult to the pain and
suffering of the millions who survived the "middle passage' only to
a life a slavery, no different from an animal or piece of property.
Years after it's initial release, the directors have expressed a regret at not opening the film with an explanation stating that this was a film about the emotions of that bygone era, not of the filmmakers themselves.
The controversial final scenes, which take place in contemporary America, are based on "The Confessions of Nat Turner", and are meant to represent an angry, reactionary vengeance on behalf of the millions, with whom the character identifies. Malice for sure, but not unmerited malice. This film should cause strong emotions. Any film that tackles a moral issue must cause debate and conjecture if it is to succeed. What makes the film even more extraordinary is that it succeeds without claiming a moral superiority, or taking a moral stance. What appears on screen are the most graphic, realistic depictions of the North American slave trade of the 19th century, and this film should be required viewing in Black History classes on college campuses, and high schools all over the world, particularly in America. This film preceded ROOTS by six years and stands as a much harsher indictment of the evils of human bondage. This is one of the bravest works of cinema and remains a misunderstood humanitarian masterpiece.
The story goes that when this played Times Square it caused a riot. I
have no idea if its true or not, but if it did happen I can see why.
The film is an examination of race relations that focuses on slavery. As an indictment of the institution of slavery this film can not be topped. This is a nightmarish look at what slave mills must have been like almost 200 years ago.
The film exists in two versions that are very different different, and if you ever wanted to see how one film could end up as two different films, look no farther than this film (both versions are in the Mondo Cane box set)
Both films contain much of the same footage cut for different effect.The original Italian cut deals more heavily with race relations now, while the American version deals more with the slavery aspect. The final moments of both versions makes more sense in context of the Italian version since in the final moments we see that in many ways things have not gotten all that much better for the black race. Both films also have a good amount of footage unique to that version. I doubt seriously that the footage could be combined to make one super film since you'd end up with a third film with a third point of view.
I like both versions of the film. I think that right or wrong this is a film that will get you talking and thinking and wondering, which is what the film is suppose to do. I can't say that one is better than the other, both are flawed, however both should be seen, preferably with in a day or so of each other since the duel versions play off each other in unexpected ways.
See these films., But be prepared to get angry. You may not get through them, you may not like them, but you will be provoked into a reaction on some level. For better or worse you will be challenged and moved which is what the point of the film is.
9 out of 10.
Anyone thinking of checking this film out: be warned, words can not
express what an awesomely brutal experience it is to sit through. I'm a
big fan of horror films, but nothing I ever saw came close to the
feeling of revulsion this 30 plus year old film gave me. Trust me, you
will have to use the fast forward button on your remote control several
times sitting through this one.
A group of Italian journalists goes back in time to America during the time of slavery and documents what they see. The viewer is spared no amount of detail as we are shown what it was like to travel aboard a slave ship, be sold in market as common livestock, be raped, tortured hunted and killed, and basically denied even the slightest bit of human empathy or compassion at every turn.
While Roots covered the same subject matter a whole lot better, it came nowhere near delivering the visceral reaction of this film. For that reason, I recommend people watch Goodbye Uncle Tom. While by no means a great film, if society is truly never to forget the injustices and wrongs of the past, work like this is necessary viewing.
Every American should see this movie to understand the horrors of slavery. It exposes the wicked nature of Europeans and the oppressive facets of Racism and Capitalism. This is what this country is built upon. Although some of although some of Jacopetti's works such as 'Adios Africa' are considered racist this film has a reverse effect. If we all were to watch this it would aid in exorcizing some demons that have lain dormant too long. It forces the viewer to look not only at the history of this world but the scary world we live in. Brilliant. NOT FOR THE WEAK AT HEART OR STOMACH!!
This is not real. But it was. That's the rub.
A chopper goes back in time to the slavery days of America. The pre Civil War years when blacks were basically livestock.
Slaves are bought, sold, traded, and given away as gifts. No concern for the families being broken up so callously. And the traders thought this was God's will. A preacher even affirms this.
They eat the back end of the crops. And if they refuse, they get force fed. These scenes are hard to watch because of the violence and the grossness. But it DID happen that way.
Of course you have your whipping scenes. Seems ordinary, but remember, the blacks weren't criminals. They were people like the rest of us. They did nothing to deserve their plight.
What shocked me was watching the owners grab body parts like they were looking for ripe veggies. And check their teeth and eyes like they were buying a race horse.
Shock-o-rama. And mostly because it's true.
Addio Zio Tom: 7/10: Well they don't make them like this anymore and
lets face it they never really did. This is really three separate films
brought together in a blender set on random. The first film is a highly
effective expose on slave treatment and the slave trade in the old
south (the slave ship scenes blows Hollywood fare like Armistad out of
the water). Using a cast of thousands and exposing practices such as
selective breeding that are politely not discussed on American shores
(just ask Jimmy the Greek) it simply is one of the most realistic
display's of 18th and 19th century slave life ever shown on film.
Then there is a second film which is a dated, and looking back rather silly collection, of news footage from the late sixties and early seventies that documents race riots with all the participants speaking in Italian creating an almost Woody Allen feel to the dub (It gives What's up Tiger Lilly a run for its money complete with ragtime music cementing the silliness of what should be serious proceedings.)
The last movie is a sexploitation film dealing largely with Mandingo fantasies and containing a copious amount of child porn. (I guess National Geographic rules apply when showing thirteen year old black children naked). Needless to say tasteful does not enter into the conversation. Political correctness is shattered so badly one must feel for those sensitive souls that can't laugh at ridiculousness of the manipulation.
Making matters worse the three films are intertwined together seemingly at random with comic buffoonery breaking out during serious scenes (A slave auction is apt to turn into a Benny Hill episode for no apparent reason) and poorly done black revenge fantasies coming, narratively at least, out of nowhere. Anti-white, anti-black and for the sake of inclusion anti-Semitic they once again simply don't make them like this anymore. (It's highly illegal for one thing)
Overlong by at least an hour and very poorly thought out in places Addio Zio Tom wears out its welcome but for a short while at least it exposes the truth and makes one think.
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