On 3 and 4 March, HOME in Manchester will present a fantastic short mondo film series. The mondo phenomenon started in Italy, and had its roots in interest in other places and exoticism. It’s a documentary genre that, while the filmmakers may have had somewhat good intentions, can come off as problematic today. There was later a revival among US filmmakers who loved these films with features like Faces of Death (which was mostly staged) and The Killing of America.
The typical mondo film is stitched together from a collection of international documentary footage, with a voiceover and soundtrack pulling it all together. The footage is usually of unusual rituals from third world countries, or extreme, odd or funny human behaviour. You could compare it to a travelogue or reality TV, made for Western audiences, but with some edgy and gruesome bits thrown in, like dogs being butchered. There was often a mixture of sequences made specifically for such films and existing footage that had been made by others.
The season will start with a talk about by film lecturer Mark Goodall (he was actually my lecturer at university), the curator of the event and author of Sweet & Savage: The World Through the Mondo Film Lens. Andy Willis, HOME visiting curator, will join him for a discussion of the whole genre, with an emphasis on the two features being shown. These two films present contrasting takes on the mondo movie, so it should be interesting to catch both days. The event takes place before the Mondo Cane screening at 4pm.
Mondo Cane, which will be shown on Saturday 3 March at 17:30 as part of the HOME series, is the best-known and spawned a raft of copycats. Director Gualtiero Jacopetti made two sequels himself, and there were many more. The genre was hugely popular in the 60s and 70s, both in Europe and the US. Mondo Cane was never released in the UK in its full form, due to strict laws relating to animal cruelty appearing on screen in the UK.
Gradually US filmmakers and others began to take the ideas pioneered by mondo films in new directions, including fictional films—probably the most famous of these was Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (not itself a mondo film). The genre also contributed to the concept of the ‘found footage’ film.
The Killing of America will be shown at HOME at 16:00 on Sunday 4 March. It’s a film that seems more important every year, especially in the current climate. The film was re-released a few years ago, and the latest restoration will feature in this season. The Killing of America was a collaboration between Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader (Taxi Driver director Paul Schrader’s bother and a fine director/screenwriter in his own right), and was basically a running commentary about how the US was declining due to violence. It was very much an anti-violence documentary, and includes footage on cults (including Jonestown), interviews with serial killers like Ed Kemper, footage of actual shootings, ride-along footage with the LAPD and so on. Viewers of Mindhunter will recognise where a lot of its portrayal of Kemper came from.
There will also be an exhibit of rare mondo film posters in the cinema. HOME is located at 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester M15 4FN. For tickets, see https://homemcr.org/cinema/