Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Holocaust

It’s exploitation all the way down.

This is an interesting piece of work, both commenting on exploitation and indulging in it. Kind of havin its cake, and eating it too. 

As a pure exploitation film, pure mondo, it kind of works. It has all the same visceral, sleazy, thrills. 

However, it is unambiguously trying to subvert the idea of tribal savages as being uniquely so, and to a lesser degree, subverting the idea that this savagery is unjustified. This distinguishes it from other Cannibal films, which largely seem to be saying “look at these wild ass savages”, with varying degrees of fantasy/adventure versus documentary-esque styles. It also seems, besides general societal commentary, a commentary on these kinds of films. 

On the one hand, it absolutely dives in on this idea of tribal savages. That is left largely unquestioned. Yet at the same time, within the context of the events of the film, it removes the idea that this is done almost thoughtlessly. The violence, while savage, is not without reason. 

It’s metatextual commentary is also of great ambivalence. It taunts the thirst for violence, yet fully indulges it. It questions exploitation, yet still plays with these theatrics of savagery, still exploiting the ideas placed on tribes and giving all the violence and nudity desired, desires which drive the logic of those within the film who wanted to release the “documentary”. To an extent, it doesn’t question the notions of tribal savagery per se, though it does to a degree, so much as question the idea that so called civilized people’s are above it. 

Altogether, really interesting. 

Postnotes

Letterboxd kicked me out and didn’t save any of my old review, sadly. 

Its a bit more simplistic than I expected, which I think often occurs with controversial films, the controversy often building up a mythological grandeur to the film that arouses said controversy. I think being longer, and developing all characters further, could only have helped the film. 

The animal cruelty is still shocking, not necessarily in its violence personally, so much as the fact that it was done. It produces an unintentional, perhaps, tension in terms of the shots involving animals — after the muskrat —-being loaded with the concern the critter might be killed. It also gives the faked human violence heft it might not otherwise get. If you consciously look for it, the seams of the produced violence are apparent, but in the midst of real animal murder, it almost feels real. I expect doubly so in the captive state of watching it in theatres. 

Sidenote, I wonder how much of the original controversy was in the fact that it’s so nakedly indulged in, rather than its unique abuse of animals. Thankfully, we seem to be more widely critical of animal abuse in films, even those that don’t include it as an open aspect of the film, or that are more prestige works.

Yanomamo, commonly known ( at least when I learned about them) as Yanomami (don’t remember the other tribes, personally) are a real tribe. This adds another layer of interest, especially in how this plays out.  There’s a lot of heated debate over both Yanomami as a people, and them as a subject of study. This film is firmly it’s own beast though.

Also, I’m not saying this film is a comment on these, I want to make that clear, but off the top of my head it’s interesting to think of The Axe Fight, and Nanook of the North while also keeping this film in mind. 

I had a long thing about Heart of Darkness, but I’ll have to reread the book, if I ever read it all the way through when I was younger lol. Succinctly, I think it advances certain things, but still has a sense of The NonWest as an arena for discussing the West’s conception of itself and the “Other”. The  “Other” remain other, and not as fully realized People’s. They still have no voice in the film. 

I have a lot of further thoughts on all these ideas, but I can’t quite get them together. Among other things, it kind of leaves anthropology untouched (the anthropologist is essentially all good), but discussing the complexity of developments and controversies in anthropology and pop anthropology is a whole beast I’m not prepared for.

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