Mondo Cane (1962): Shocking Documentary

Written and directed by Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti, Mondo Cane (meaning Doggish World which is a mild Italian profanity) is an intentionally shocking documentary, released in the U.S. as Tales of the Bizarre: Rites, Rituals and Superstitions).

The film consists of travelogue scenes that provide glimpses into cultural practices around the world with the intention to shock Western audiences.

These scenes, presented with little continuity, are intended as  kaleidoscopic display of shocking content.

Despite claims of genuine documentation, certain scenes are either staged or manipulated to enhance this effect.

Vignettes (in chronological order)

During the opening credits, a dog is being dragged and kicked into a dog pound filled with barking dogs.

0:01:47 Statue by Luigi Gheno is dedicated to Valentino in his hometown of Castellaneta, Italy, an event attended by local men whose faces resemble Valentino’s.

0:05:41 In the U.S., Rossano Brazzi’s shirt is torn off by crowd of female fans hunting for his autograph.

0:07:47 Beach in polyandrous Kiriwina, one of the Trobriand Islands in New Guinea, crowd of naked native women run after handful of men, trying to capture them “not only for autographs.”

0:11:00 French Riviera, blonde bikini-clad young women on a boat drive by a ship with U.S. sailors, teasing them by sending kisses, showing tongues and flaunting their breasts.

0:12:31 New Guinean Chimbu community: a woman whose child was killed breastfeeds a piglet whose mother died.

0:12:57 New Guinea, at a celebration that recurs every five years, in a matter of hours, pigs are slaughtered by beating on their heads with wooden poles and eaten, after which the partly cannibalistic community returns to its state of hunger. Dogs, however, are fed pork and treated with affection and respect.

0:18:38 At the Pet Haven Cemetery in Pasadena, California, dog owners mourn their beloved.

0:21:10 In Formosa (aka Taipei, Taiwan), dogs are grown, butchered and skinned alive for local meat gourmets.

0:22:12 In Rome, hundreds of chicks are tinged in colors and then dried at 50 degrees Celsius to be included in Easter eggs; of each 100 that undergo it, approximately 70 do not survive the procedure.

0:23:32 For foie gras, geese in Strasbourg are force-fed using funnels.

0:24:35 In a farm 200 miles from Tokyo, Wagyu (aka Kobe) cattle are massaged and fed beer for specialized restaurants in Tokyo and New York.

0:26:00 New Guinean Tabar: the most beautiful women are locked up in small wooden cages and fed tapioca until they reach 120 kilos to be offered as wives to the village dictator.

0:27:43 Vic Tanny health club in Los Angeles, overweight women work on losing weight to recover from previous marriages

0:30:03 Hong Kong market, exotic animals are sold for food.

0:31:00 New York restaurant The Colony: canned exotic animals are served for rich Americans.

0:32:57 At Singapore store, a snake is chosen and skinned alive for consumption.

0:34:32 In the Italian village of Cocullo, on Saint Dominic’s day, the followers in the procession carry live snakes.

0:35:56 In Nocera Terinese, on Good Friday, the “battenti” beat their legs with glass shards and spill their blood on the streets.

0:38:21 A parade of “Life Savers Girls Association,” age 16 to 20, march toward the Sydney beach, where they put on lifesaving shows, including CPR on young men.

0:42:59 After nuclear contamination on Bikini Atoll, swarms of dead butterflies drift at sea, birds hide in holes in the ground, a species of periophthalmus fish migrated to the trees, sea gulls breed on sterile eggs, and disoriented turtles move inland and die in the desert.

0:49:11 In Malaysian underwater cemeteries, sharks get human flesh. Their fins are dried on the beach and collected by disabled fishermen who sell them to the Chinese as aphrodisiacs.

0:51:34 A Malaysian boy of 12 has been killed by sharks, and the fisherman exact revenge by shoving toxic sea urchins into the sharks mouths, releasing them again to slowly die.

0:55:01 Rome: In the Capuchin Crypt, bones were arranged as ornaments, and on Tiber Island, the Sacconi Rossi (“Red Sacks”) guard the bones of victims of the past since around 1600, which on Fridays are cleaned by local families.

0:57:26 On the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, people are drinking beer excessively and suffer from hangovers in the morning. They sleep standing up, dance, brawl, and fool around.

1:05:22 Tokyo has a massage parlor for men who are drunk.

1:07:55 In Macao, the dead are covered in make-up for the funeral, and people burn money for the departed to take with him.

1:09:34 In Singapore, where many citizens are of Chinese descent, there is a hotel for the dying members of Chinese families. Relatives await their demise by making merry at restaurants in the plaza nearby.

1:15:21 Cars are smashed at junkyard of Los Angeles and reduced to cubes. One cube of crushed car metal is sold as art in a Paris art gallery.

1:18:53 In Czechoslovakia, Yves Klein makes his paintings with female models and musicians to express his favorite color of blue. (The artist suffered heart attack while viewing the film at the Cannes Fest and died a month later.)

1:22:01 In Honolulu, tourists are showered with leis and witness the Hula Dance.

1:28:21 In Nepal, Gurkha soldiers perform rite of passage by dressing up in women’s clothing on anniversary of the execution of 300 Gurkha POWs by the Japanese Army during WWII.

1:30:23 Gurkha soldiers behead buffalo bulls in ritualistic contest of strength.

1:32:02 In Portugal, there is a morning running of the bulls for working-class citizens and an afternoon bull-taunting inside a stadium for noble-born men in formal costumes.

1:37:12 At Goroka, Papua New Guinea, indigenous tribes attend Catholic church services.

1:41:57 The film concludes with “cargo cult” of indigenous people in mountains above the airport in Port Moresby, New Guinea, who have erected icons of worship that resemble an airport runway, airplane, and control tower by using bamboo shoots.

An international box-office success, Mondo Cane inspired the production of numerous, similar exploitation documentaries, many of which include the word “Mondo” in their title. These films were recognized as distinct genre known as mondo films.

The film’s success led Jacopetti and Prosperi to produce several additional documentaries, including Mondo Cane 2, Africa addio and Addio zio Tom, while Cavara directed La donna nel mondo, Malamondo, as well as the anti-Mondo drama Wild Eye (Occhio selvaggio).

It won the David di Donatello for Best Production (Migliore Produzione) by the Accademia del Cinema Italiano, which it shared with Una vita difficile.

It competed for the Palme d’Or at the 15th Cannes Film Festival, which it lost to O Pagador de Promessas.

The theme song, “More,” was written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero, and was given new lyrics in English by Norman Newell. In 1963, the song was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, losing to “Call Me Irresponsible” from the Papa’s Delicate Condition.

The film spawned several sequels, starting with Jacopetti and Prosperi’s own Mondo Cane 2 (also known as Mondo Pazzo), released the following year.

In the 1980s, two more emerged: Mondo Cane Oggi: L’Orrore Continua and Mondo Cane 2000: L’Incredible.

The films continued into the 1990s with two follow-ups from German filmmaker Uwe Schier, titled Mondo Cane IV and Mondo Cane V.

Mondo Cane’s shock-exploitation-exquisite corpse style began a whole genre, the Mondo film, including Mondo Bizarro, Mondo Daytona, Mondo Freudo (1966), Mondo Mod, Mondo Infame, Mondo New York, and Mondo Hollywood.

The film also inspired lampooning, including Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, written by Saturday Night Live’s Michael O’Donoghue and starring members of the cast.

In 2010, Mike Patton released a musical album in tribute to the film, also called Mondo Cane.


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