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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some Thoughts on Cannibal Holocaust

I was just thinking about Cannibal Holocaust recently and some of the thoughts I felt about the movie. In lieu of doing a standard review I decided to list my general observations and thoughts on the film. Feel free to comment on any of these points.

  1. I think the structuring of the story is just genius. I always expected it to turn into one giant flashback, instead it the viewing room scene was one where the audience is always aware they are in the viewing room and not just dissolved into a flashback. I really kept expecting it to just default to some sort of flashback structure. Deodato was smart in avoiding this easy pitfall, instead the audience becomes another viewing room member with the other characters. It does not feel detached, because we do not become detached from the footage. I just feel the way the entire story and narrative is arranged is quite clever and if it was in a more linear method or used obvious flashback methods (dissolves to, instead of viewing the raw footage) the movie would have not been nearly as good. The care and skill in the structuring of the narrative raises it beyond the simple cannibal movie.
  2. Robert Kerman is excellent, he really represents the audience as a sort of moral authority looking in, while not becoming too pandering. He is a decent person, not someone party to the actions, the type of person we would hope to be in this type of situation. He is almost like an avatar for the audience. It's funny Kerman in real life in reference to the movie has become somewhat like his character. I think the debate between him and the interview on the Grindhouse DVD release extras about not including the animal killings, is extremely interesting, a little uncomfortable, but at the same time well argued and similar to his character in the movie. I just felt that Kerman gave a great performance in the film and deserves a lot of praise, for bringing humanity to a movie with almost anything but humanity.
  3. In regard to the animal killings, I didn't have so much as a disturbed view as much as an annoyed/pissed off view, with a "Deadato come on what the fuck" approach. I still hold the view that Dedato could have used special effects and was just lazy, with the mondo genre as a way to justify and excuse his laziness, it's no different from the attitude that John Landis had on The Twilight Zone shoot. I mean look what Fulci did earlier in Lizard in a Women's skin. I think it's a shame that the footage was done, because it really detracts so much from the other qualities the movie has and would still have if it was done during special effects. Still, I wouldn't watch it cut, at least not the first time and even after that, the animals are long dead and in a sense its no different than the turtle episode of Iron Chef (which interestingly my wife was never bothered by, but her friend at the time who had a pet turtle was understandably horrified with). It's wrong and cruel and something Deodato should feel like a piece of shit for doing and if made today prosecuted for it. I wouldn't hold it against someone who didn't want to see it. It's not fun stuff to watch, even more so because Deodato didn't have to do it.
  4. The final death reel of the crew did not bother me that much. It may sound strange, but we have seen tons of footage of them committing atrocities prior to this that seem like something the Nazi's would do. It may come from watching too much kung fu or Cheng Cheh, but I felt they got a sense of justified vengeance for the horrors they committed (granted rape is not something I'm saying was right or approve of), they brought their own actions upon themselves. I did not find it harrowing, but more of a "die your motherfuckers" approach (once again discounting the rape aspect). I mean I never hear anyone express sympathies for Rhoades in Day of the Dead and he hardly did anything to rival the camera crew.
  5. At the same time you don't exactly fall in love with the cannibals, I mean raping a women for adultery with a sharp object is just fucking wrong. You can say cultural relativism all you want, but I'm not buying it, even if they are supposed to be detached from the modern world. Now it is interesting that when the camera crew goes Entzapgruppen, that you never notice any of the villagers doing anything wrong and they also look extremely docile and just terrified. It divorces them from the earlier footage we have seen. In fact and I feel sort of wrong making this comparison, but I can't help thinking that Deodato was drawing thoughts of vengeance that he felt may have been believed after the liberation of concentration camps, both by the Allies and Nazi victims. There are certainly examples of it occurring (though no rape or obviously cannibalism), and it's hard to blame those people. There is just something about the imprisoned and degraded prisoners taking revenge. It's not something limited to the Holocaust, but Deodato is no idiot and certainly not a person without a sense of history. I mean if you think of it on the surface besides the scene with the burning of the tribesmen, the title makes absolutely no sense, may be it means more, but that's more of a hunch than anything I have facts to prove. I know Deodato has gone on record it was more of a look at the media gone wild, but I don't think that excludes anything else from being read from the movie, even if it was made as simply commercial cinema.
  6. The movie is wonderfully shot and scored. The contrast of the opening theme, which sounds more at home with of Riz Orlanti's western scores contrasted to the track "Adulteress' Punishment", which is a mixture of an adagio and pervading feeling of electronic dehumanization and death, helps to add to the further contradiction that is Cannibal Holocaust. The cinematography and it's quality should not be surprising considering Deodato's training and the people who he worked with when coming up in the Italian film industry. I think part of the skill is that the movie doesn't suffer from the problem of having something stick out to us as the audience as "oh its fake and they're trying to make us think It's real" which is insulting when its done crappily, say with Imovie adding grain or scratches. You can still think its fake, but if you're not being insulted by it, then you won't mind it. It's why I hate fake news stations, countries, or leaders in movies that are supposed to be realistic, and at the same time reek of fakeness (that is not to infer it is impossible or always wrong to do), it just removes me from the movie, the use of lots of NYC location shooting helped a lot too.
  7. One thing to keep in mind is that I saw this with the benefit of knowing it's not real, which a lot of people at the time legitimately had no clue if parts of it were real or such. I've talked to a person who saw it during its initial release and said that's one of the important things to remember if you saw it later on.
  8. The movie is in my opinion excellent and one all should see (even if you choose to watch the cruelty free cut), it is more than a simple Cannibal film, it is beautiful, yet disgusting, grindhouse, yet made with skill, it's offensive, yet moral, it's full of damn contradictions, but is still incredible and one people should see at some point.



Jay dune said...

It's interesting to note that we haven't seen anything like it despite the technological advancements and desensitized viewers.

I still think it's good.

Rob G. said...

One of these days, I really need to tackle this one. It's like it's hanging over me and I don't know why. The animal stuff is the reason, I guess, though I've sat through several mondo films before. In fact, this post kind of reminds me of my own thoughts on Africa Addio, which if I can blogwhore are right here:

Anyway, keep up the good work. Maybe one of these days I'll get Cannibal Holocaust out of my mental Netflix queue.