One of those posts where you'll just want to presume none of the links are safe for work.

*That was a bad weekend. With some luck, it’ll bottom out as the worst in a while, if only by future comparison. It’s a new day, the sun is up again, etc.

*Cinema Dept: It’s not often anymore I spot a brand-new dvd and snap it right up for purchase, but that’s what happened this week with Something Weird’s long-awaited release of the 1963 mondo classic Ecco; as always, these special editions go out through Image Entertainment - the full title is Ecco/The Forbidden, to account for the second feature.

If you’ve never heard of a ‘mondo’ movie, a little background is in order. Back in the ‘60s, there was a certain international fad for shocking travelogues, documentary films emphasizing the bizarre, revolting, and titillating aspects of life across the globe. Usually, copious amounts of footage was faked, or the (generally withering, sarcastic) narration would intentionally spice up captured footage for the sake of sensationalism. The trend began in Italy, with the release of 1962’s Mondo Cane, from directors Paolo Cavara, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi; I believe Jacopetti was a disillusioned newsreel editor, who ached to produce something a bit more downcast and fleshy, and Mondo Cane wound up packed with bizarre, perhaps mostly somewhat real scenes of irradiated fish living in trees, cargo cults in the jungle, and curious death rituals. It got nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song (More), made tons of money, and opened the floodgates for dozens and dozens of increasingly garish, nasty pageants of truthiness to come. I commend to you David Kerekes’ and David Slater’s fascinating book Killing for Culture (due for a brand-new updated printing coming soon from Headpress) for a peek at how far the genre went.

It’s easy to see where mondo came from; the early documentaries of Robert Flaherty thrived to an extent on the novelty of the odd ways of inaccessible cultures, and some of that stuff was staged and covertly fictionalized too. It’s easier to see where it went; echoes of the mondo movie are all over television programs promising sensational video footage and snarky commentary, and the style is no less popular today.

The trick is, Mondo Cane itself actually did have a certain amount of skill put into its making; it has clear themes, a driving (if crushingly obvious) irony-fueled editing scheme, and a coherent worldview behind it. The title indicates A Dog’s World, and that’s precisely what’s offered; as the film cuts from dogs being devoured in Asian nations to pet cemeteries in the US, from a bull’s beheading to the goring of humans in a contest with a similar bull, Mondo Cane cinematically posited that all of humanity’s myriad peoples are joined through differing flavors of delusion, suffering, and irrationality. Tellingly, many copycats just took the Mondo (the World), and deleted the aesthetic impetus for its examination, though the glee with money was probably the same all around.

Anyway, that’s the long way of getting to Gianna Proia’s 1963 Mondo di notte numero 3 (World by Night 3), eventually retitled Ecco or This Shocking World, depending on which country you’re in. The World by Night series was supposedly a fizzy, pre-Mondo Cane travelogue of international nightlife, exactly the sort of thing that prompted the making of Mondo Cane in response. Accordingly, part 3 (supposedly armed with copious footage from #2) became a ‘modern’ mondo movie, though I thought it was interesting in that it was still early enough in the genre’s cycle that it attracted filmmakers of some genuine skill. Ecco is presented in lavish, faded 2.35:1 widescreen, a testament to fallen beauty. It boasts an especially sour narration by George Sanders, and a blunt sense of irony on loan from Mondo Cane, along with the bits of animal killing and barely-repressed cultural elitism.

But it has visual aplomb like few others do, and some of its (again, probably contrived) scenes are occasionally outstanding, like a long movement of troublesome Swedish teens driving around and destroying things, culminating in an amazing sequence of young men begging for change with hubcaps while agog middle-aged spectators watch a pair of kids get it on atop a parked vehicle. Or the numerous song and dance numbers (an Oscar nomination has an effect on a genre, you see), often eminently watchable, including a great strongwoman burlesque act and a psychedelic strip show in the markets of France. Or the underground college sword fighting club in Germany, with young men dressed in amazing black goggles, whipping one another across their faces with blades. If it’s staged, it’s staged with style! Never mind the more reflexive moments, like a stage-bound scene taken from the Grand Guignol, or an utterly bizarre, self-critical finale with an Italian woman getting annoyed with a photographer trying to film her ascending a sacred place’s steps on her knees. A sea of flesh in a Japanese good luck ritual takes on a hallucinogenic aspect as a crowd of hundreds swarms and writhes.

Also: animals die. This is always the most touchy bit with these films, and you’ll see little relief here. A whaling expedition is examined in extreme detail, and reindeer are stabbed through the heart by herders (or, in one memorable sequence, purportedly castrated by human mouth, though it’s hard to see what’s going on). No human death footage this time; it was still early in the day for that. A more complete accounting of the contents can be found in this review.

There were an awful lot of these films throughout the '60s and '70s, and they were genuinely influential and popular. But they were just disreputable enough that they've been swept under the rug of history and largely ignored in studies of international film of the time, or 'documentary' filmmaking as a whole. I suppose some of the appeal of these things is their lost nature, as if the sick thrill of exploring odd new places aross the globe has radiated out of the films themselves, and saturated the very act of finding and watching them. Fittingly ironic for films such as these.