Friday, 12 February 2010

Cannibal Holocaust Critique Part 2: Narrative & Subtext

Having looked at the structure of Cannibal holocaust we shall now turn our attention to the story itself. Deodatto's narrative comments on two particular themes, the media and first and third world relationships. The media is a consideration that stands out most prominently, in fact as we have seen the very construction of the film itself is heavily stylised to implicate the media. There is a contrast of two types of media and both are tied together in the 2nd act not only in terms of the cinematic transition from one to the other but also in terms of implicating the familiar media, the kind we see every day [clip] with the extremities of Yates and company.
The implication of the mainstream media in the events of the film is presented from the very beginning with the commissioning of the TV company of the search party. They seek a story, an adventure, even the very act of staging a rescue mission, is an opportunity to create a self congratulatory story and as such their motives are duplicitous and self serving.

As the movie moves into its first act, surreptitiously slipping from news to fiction we begin to get to know the people who know the jungle, as alien as they are to the green inferno they understand the ways and conventions of life in this brutal place and a balance of sorts is maintained. Through bargaining and manoeuvrings they manage to win back the trust of the locals who have obviously been mistreated by Yates and his friends . Monroe's guides know when to stand back and when to push but most of all they understand the process of exchange.
Upon recovering the film cans and returning them to the US Monroe is then employed to interview the families, friends and colleagues of the film crew. In this second act, quite apart from the film realigning its style to reintroduce the cameras eye view of the world we are beginning to learn something about the back story of the film crew and their methods. Through interviews with the people who knew them best we find out who they are, how they behaved and that they all had troubled backgrounds of one nature or another. Meanwhile the news company are planning to air the recovered footage, the nature of the contents of film cans is of no regard in the face of the sensational story.

So we enter the third act and the film stock of the doomed group becomes our focus. Rapidly their exploitative and cruel behaviour becomes apparent on screen and not just anecdotally as it was after we'd seen the last road film. Employing any means possible to gain the footage they want the depths to which they stoop are limitless, further critique of the media and the ethics of what they get and how they get it.

The news company that are staging the rescue mission are clearly in it for the exposure and sensation. The orchestration of trips publicity displays blatantly contrived footage within the films world which masquerades as reality mixed with the candid moments of the missing film crews pre expedition antics. [clip 4:30] This clip shows one of the editing techniques Deodatto uses to blur the lines of the films real world where we close in on the TV screen, a second hand experience, and then in the next cut we are there with the film crew, first hand. And again here where the jump is made back to the real world, and when I use that phrase I mean to imply the real world within the film, the present rather than the recorded. At this point we are being set up for the second strand of subtext, that of 1st and 3rd world relationships and exploitation. But more of that later...
The media are further implicated by their unrestrained attraction to sensation regardless of its cost.
Their acceptance of the film crews material despite the fact they know what was done to obtain it shows a hypocrisy and institutional racism and is exposed to be beyond just greed by the order to destroy the footage once they have witnessed the deaths of the white protagonists, the deaths of the natives merely excited them.

A further commentary on capitalism and how the third world is treated by the first world is to be found when the film is looked at as a whole
With its essentially 3 act form we are taken as an audience through several stages that form a commentary on the previously mentioned matters. The media are the most obvious point of focus and this is reflected in the structure of the film itself. The post credit opening footage sets the scene whilst also engaging us from the point of view of a camera but something else is happening too. The news report comes from New York, figuratively a different kind of jungle to the one we see in the credit sequence and a parallel is made between the two worlds, the civilised world has its civilised journalism and the savage jungle has, as we are soon to discover, Yates's antithesis to the familiar media, however the two are not as far removed as we would be inclined to believe. The commentary of the reporter is run over shots of the city making the comparison between the two in a more subtle version of the final comment that Monroe makes at the end of the movie.
Then there are the two parties that venture into the green inferno. As we have seen Monroe's party are sympathetic to the environment they're in. As cruel and callous as Chaco can seem sometimes it is never without good reason and is always a product of protocol or necessity. He uses displays of strength or rather mastery in certain situations where it's necessary unlike Yates who does it as much for kicks as for the purpose of making his movie.
Monroe and his guides as I have mentioned engage in exchange, not only of items that seem magical to the natives but in terms of how they interact with them. They gain what they need by participating in the ways of the locals, even to the extent of partaking in a ritualistic meal that thoroughly revolts Monroe. Monroe has to let go of his western sensibilities on several occasions, something he willingly does even when he finds it difficult to do so and the party as a whole act like guests in the country. Overall they participate in the spirit of give and take, far from running roughshod over the natives they go to quite extraordinary lengths to fit in as best they can.
Monroe himself is a moral, intelligent and thoughtful man who on occasions has to be reminded that this will not always do in this part of the world that is wild and violent. He is the antithesis of Alan Yates....
Yates is ruthless in a fashion that dispenses with any moral compass. He and his party continually take from the jungle and never give back. They take the largest animals they can easily kill, the turtle and gorge themselves where Monroe and his party take a small rodent and share it with their captive. Yates and his party wastefully kill the villages pig and mercilessly burn their hut to the ground, deliberately killing several of the locals just so they can shoot a scene and even go to the extent of literally taking a native girl and raping her. The mindless hell bent behaviour of the film crew are an obvious reference to western societies treatment of third world countries and Deodatto's savage commentary makes extreme steps towards representing the injustices visited upon them.
He pulls no punches and assaults us with extreme imagery and ideas to represent the bitter criticism he has of the exploitative and abusive elements of the western world, this of course led to some serious criticism of himself personally, brutal censorship of the film and legal trouble across the world when Cannibal holocaust was released to an unsuspecting audience.

Please join me in the next episode when we'll take a look at the myths, controversy and censorship of Cannibal Holocaust

1 comment:

  1. Deodato was able to prove that the violence was staged. He contacted Luca Barbareschi and told him to gather the other three actors. After he voided the contracts in order to avoid life in prison, Deodato brought the foursome onto the set of an Italian television show, which satisfied the courts
    ...exist the footage of the tv show?