It's funny how things age differently. Some music sounds better today than it did when it was originally released, while a lot matures badly. For example, to my ears, most so-called punk and post-punk sounds like crap nowadays, belying the raw excitement of the times. To listen to erstwhile teenage heroes The Sex Pistols is like listening to crude heavy rock - which is, to all extents and purposes, of course what it was. Likewise, old Throbbing Gristle sounds particularly weedy and undercooked, giving question to even their musical validity, let alone artistic; whereas, on the other hand, the first few albums by Nurse With Wound and The Residents, whilst putting to shame their latter-day output, have a compellingly vibrant immediacy.
Music aside, I've been on a bit of a mondo genre-related movie kick as of late - and the outstanding two by Jacopetti and Prosperi, Africa Addio and Addio Zio Tom (full original versions) seem now to be blessed with an exhilarating freshness and timelessness. It's not that the themes are necessarily more relevant to us today, but that these are works of enduring artistic potency and immense endeavour. The meaningfulness of one's emotional response is more than ever intact - and it's not one founded upon whimsically nostalgic experiential associations, as with most revisits.
So it was while exploring this thread that I picked up Killing For Culture (David Kerekes & David Slater, Creation Books, 1994) for a reread. Described as 'an illustrated history of death film from mondo to snuff', the book is a fascinating resource full of detail on everything from feature films to mondo to so-called 'snuff'. It's the book everyone used to go to before the internet, for info on the Japanese Guinea Pig franchise, or classic underground horror movies like Emmanuelle In America and Last House On Dead End Street, in addition to the less well known Mondo Cane spin-offs. Kerekes and Slater at least seemed to know their stuff, and deserve some credit for their bravery.
Yet, in 2009, Killing For Culture seems noticeably quaint. And that's partly due to Creation Books' notorious mindset where attractive lay-out, correct spelling, and decent bindings are merely expendable inconveniences. But it's mostly thanks to this last decade's extraordinary innovations in people's access to technology and media creation, its distribution and digestion; and thus the almost total blurring of the lines between what is 'real' and what is 'faked' within the domain of TV and film since the book's publication. And that's if those lines ever really existed in the first place. Indeed, these cultural aspects have evolved so rapidly, the authors' own attitudes have been left exposed as hopelessly old-fashioned and, dare I say in this context, prudish. Whilst all the geeks, ghouls, and gorehounds were scrambling to exploit the texts as a catalogue-cum-directory, this likely passed unnoticed.
Its five pages featuring Africa Addio are particularly revealing in this regard. The film is described in deliciously forensic detail where discrepancies are pointed out between the narrative and the footage; scenes which are suspected by the authors of being staged are gotcha'd like smug airport security staffers confiscating 110ml tubes of handcream and unapproved mineral water. Hi-fives all round. This is all well and good until that curiously dowdy, now outdated, British habit of emotional detachment is employed, which allows for the maintaining of fine moral sanctimoniousness whilst secretly masturbating. Patronising references are made of the ignorant reactions of the 'casual viewer', tenuous accusations of directorial racism made, alongside the alleged setting-up of events, and the questionable manipulation of music and picture.
Well, of course there's manipulation - it's edited, it's a movie, it's a work of art, it's entertainment, whatever you want to call it. When we go see a film, watch TV, read a book, catch a concert, listen to an album, we passionately yearn to be manipulated, and manipulated bloody well. The hypocrisy of a shoddily assembled book on gore films, both real and dramatised, making that particular accusation is similar in tone to the police detective complaining of being 'forced' to watch pornos to determine possible obscenity charges. And then get paid for it.
One of the most critical reasons I believe Africa Addio retains such a hypermodern essence is its complete transcendence of western morality's issues on cruelty, gender, race, colonial guilt, and politics. Unlike many of the other copycat films which made self-conscious attempts to rationalise the material. It's worth seeing the Godfathers Of Mondo documentary where much background to the movie is explained by the creators, most telling being the incredible devotion that was expended upon the project. However, it's also here where a Kerekes way out of his depth is bafflingly drafted in as a talking head pundit.
Africa Addio possesses symphonic qualities intended to elicit a meaningful response and it forcefully accomplishes that. It's evident by the way you measure your own feelings; by the time of the closing credits one is overwhelmed by the beauty of the continent: its landscape, its animals, its people, its history - it's a paradoxical reaffirmation of life itself achieved through the masterful composition of audiovisual poetry of astonishing cruelty and horror.