Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Women of the World / La donna nel mondo (Italy, 1963)

Damn, if this film weren't so obviously from 1963 in its overall look, one could easily imagine that after TikTok and YouTube and Romanian jail, where he surely has enjoyed having to bend over for the soap, that nitwit Andrew Tate finally got around to making a movie. But, no, he didn't make this film, he just pretty much has the same mindset as the guys who made this flick — which, basically, puts him roughly 60 years behind the times.
Trailer to
Women of the World:
And who were the guys that made Women of the World? Why, those Italian Bad Boys of the shockumentary genre, Paolo Cavara* (4 Jul 1926 – 7 Aug 1982),  Franco Prosperi** and Gualtiero Jacopetti*** (4 Sept 1919 – 17 Aug 2011), whom some of us might remember as the trio that brought us what could be the most famous shockumentary of all time, A Dog's Life a.k.a. Mondo Cane (1962 / trailer / main song).
Mondo Cane may have been the daddy of the mondo moniker, but despite claims it was far from the first shockumentary out there. Gualtiero Jacopetti himself even worked on two earlier and very tame semi-sexy mondo-forerunners prior to finally hitting paydirt with Mondo Cane in 1962, namely Europa di note a.k.a. European Nights (1959 / full film in Italian) and Il mondo di notte a.k.a. World by Night (1960 / full film in Italian), and as early as 1930 you can find titillating "documentaries"  of "shocking" and "true" sights like those found in Ingagi (1930 / full film) and/or the somewhat more serious Mau-Mau (1955 / full film), the latter of which is arguably a first cousin to Prosperi & Jacopetti's mondo Africa Addio (1966 / title track)**** — but Mondo Cane was perhaps the most influential and remains, outside of Faces of Death (1978 / trailer) and its numerous sequels, perhaps the best known. Mondo Cane pretty much set up the template for all the mondo "documentaries" that were to follow (and are still being made). 
Riz Ortolani's Donna Twist 
(from Women of the World):
* Of the three Italian "documentarians", Paolo Cavara eventually grew alienated towards his fellow misogynistic colonialists-at-heart and, after doing his solo (and last) shockumentary Malamondo (1964 / trailer), moved into fiction film. His first film, L'occhio selvaggio (1967), which debuted in the US as The Wild Eye (trailer) on an A.I.P. double bill with Hell's Belles (1969 / trailer), was a thinly veiled biting criticism of both his former partners and the mondo genre itself. He went on to direct two relatively respected (and good) giallos, La tarantola dal ventre nero a.k.a. Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971 / trailer) and the decidedly offbeat (and less known) Plot of Fear (1976 / trailer); of less interest but nonetheless fun is his singular spaghetti western, Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears (1976 / trailer).
** Franco Prosperi, not to be mistaken with the other Italian director Franco Prosperi (2 Sept 1926 – 17 Oct 2004), only truly left the shadow of Gualtiero Jacopetti and the genre of mondo once in his life, in 1984, with the Italian slab of fun but stinky cheese (featuring a lot of real animal abuse) that is the animal-gone-wild horror movie known as The Wild Beasts (1984 / full film), his only solo directorial project.
*** Paolo Cavara and a few others were wont to say that Gualtiero Jacopetti, whose career we looked at way back 2011 in a R.I.P. Career Review, tended to take more credit for Mondo Cane than warranted, but the fact remains that he pretty much never completely changed genres, even after he and Prosperi stopped working together. (Of their joint projects, only the puerilely fun Mondo Candido [1975 / Italian trailer] and repulsive Farewell Uncle Tom [1971 / trailer] move towards an obviously fictional narrative, although the latter is very much of the mockumentary school and thus keeps the "documentary" presentation.) The once handsome playboy Jacopetti seems to be a man of contradiction: if he fought as a resistance fighter against the Italian dictator Mussolini during WWII, there are claims that by 1972 he was a member of the rightwing, fascist-leaning Italian Social Movement, the earliest version of which was founded by former Mussolini supporters. And while he was famously together with Babe of Yesteryear Belinda Lee (15 Jun 1935 – 12 Mar 1961), who died close to San Bernardino when the speeding car she & Jacopetti & Cavara were in flipped, he supposedly also once spent three months in a Hong Kong jail for getting caught in a compromising position with two underage (10 and 11 years old) Chinese girls [Anti-Film School] and "once seduced an under-aged gypsy girl despite the armed resistance of her gypsy tribe" [All Movie]. In Italy, where he founded a liberal weekly titled Cronache, he ended up doing a year in jail on pornography charges for printing "risqué" photos of Sophia Loren. (Maybe like the one below?)
**** And lest we forget them, here's a few more of the many proto-mondos and shockumentaries and informational nudist films and goona-goona travelogues cum exotic exploitation dramas and "documentaries" of the past: Robert Flaherty's Moana (1926 / full film), Captain Salisbury's Ra-Mu (1929), Gow (1931), the "docu-drama" Blonde Captive (1931 / full film), proto-kiddy porn Virgins of Bali (1932), Isle of Paradise (1932), This Naked Age (1932), Wild Women of Borneo (1932), Elysia, Valley of the Nude (1933 / full film), a docu-drama filmed at a nudist camp in Elsinore, California, the short film Why Nudism? (1933), This Nude World (1933 / full film), Legong: Dance of the Virgins (1935 / full film), Love Life of a Gorilla (1937), Dwayne Esper's short Expose of the Nudist Racket (our Short Film of the Month for August 2022) and his Curse of the Ubangi (1946 / full film); Forbidden Adventure in Angkor (1937 / trailer), the short Nudist Land (1937 / full short), African Holiday (1937), Midnight Frolics (1949 / trailer), 10 Days in a Nudist Camp (1952), Latuko (1952),  the Kroger Babb production Karamoja (1954 / full film), Naked Amazon (1955 / full film), Naked Africa (1957), The Mating Urge (1959 / full film), the disturbingly hilarious After Mein Kampf (1961 / full film) and... and... and... and...
"Strange Customs of Sweden" from
Women of the World:
Women of the World, like most mondos, is not a film for everyone. At our screening, which consisted of an evenly split cis-gender crowd of six persons, the film has the distinction of being the first one in the 15-odd years of our regularly held "Bad Film" night that someone — a man — stood up, said "I think I've seen enough," and left. The three women all remained, jeering and shouting at the screen a tad more than the remaining two males, but whereas the men laughed the film off at the end, all three women said the DVD should be burnt.
Their reaction, actually, is easy to understand, for Women of the World is a movie that serves no real purpose other than to be a sensationalistic, voyeuristic, exploitive and condescending denigration of women, and generally leaves you feeling filthy on many levels. And that not just because of the occasional and questionable presence of topless prepubescent and pubescent girls with mosquito bites varying sizes — a reflection, perhaps, of Jacopetti's supposed proclivities.
The film, for all its intentions to ridicule the female sex and the exotic, and to proclaim and prove the superiority of the male sex through visual and verbal insinuation, does little but make one cringe at the obvious ignorance and primitivism of the blinded and innately woman-hating male gaze. Whereas that might raise anger in a female viewer, the male viewer of a non-contemporary Republican mold simply feels repulsed by his fellow man, ashamed of his sex, and somewhat grimy.
Opening title sequence:
In terms of filmic order, Women of the World comes between Mondo Cane (1962) and Mondo Cane II (1963 / trailer), and like the latter of the two Canes it is narrated by Peter Ustinov (16 Apr 1921 – 28 Mar 2004). One hopes that he was particularly desperate for money when he took this job, for the things that he sometimes says — as mentioned above, the voiceover usually offers little real info but drips heavily with sarcasm, judgmentalism and misogyny — and the overall vibe of the movie itself makes his involvement a solid argument for revoking his title of "Sir". Indeed, the acceptance and complacency with which he talks about some things shown onscreen could easily lead one to think that he, not to mention the filmmakers themselves, is a compatriot of Gary Glitter or Jimmy Savile, the last of whom had his knighthood posthumously stripped.
"Pearl Divers of Japan" from
Women of the World:
One really cannot fault the cinematography of the movie, however. Sharply filmed in eye-popping color with an excellent sense of visual balance and images, Women of the World is actually often extremely eye-catching and visually intriguing. Without sound, much of the schlockumentary would work well as visual wallpaper at an underground party or club. Indeed, under the right circumstances the silent screening of the film would probably be far more enjoyable than when watched on a big flatscreen with sound. Undoubtedly one of the best sequences in this regard is the fashion show in Africa, an event obviously set up just for the film which, with its juxtaposition of western beauty ideals and traditional tribesmen audience, dives heavily into visually surreal. 
But that the move is so well filmed should hardly be surprising to anyone who has seen other Cavara & Prosperi & Jacopetti (or Prosperi & Jacopetti) "documentary" projects, for regardless of how foul the topic or scene might be in any given mondo film of theirs, they always manage to film it with an amazingly tight and professional filmic eye. (Seeing that Prosperi's singular solo fictional film, The Wild Beasts [1985], is such a [fun] turkey, one could surmise that Cavara & Jacopetti were the true visualists of the initial trio and eventual duo.)
"Traditional Marriage and Cemeteries" from
Women of the World:
More mundanely filmed, but at least as interesting as disturbing, is the segment showing (we assume) real tombstones of Italian women killed by their husbands for cheating. The caustic texts chiseled on the stones may be blackly funny, but one cannot help but think that the men, who (like most men) probably thought it is okay if they fuck around but not if their wives do it, probably got away with slap on the hand for saving their honor. Indeed, one cannot help but notice throughout the film that anywhere where men came into play (as in: by being johns or getting women pregnant), the men are presented as faultless and the women are to blame.
Las Vegas, from
Women of the World:
In turn, actually, even when the women do something of note, like break the barriers of pastorhood (in Sweden) or partake in the military (Israel), the film still makes them the object of derision and joke — basically, the women of the world are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Just how normal and acceptable this attitude towards women was at the time (and still is for many people) is underscored by the opening dedication of the film, which is to the Babe of Yesteryear Belinda Lee (15 Jun 1935 – 12 Mar 1961)*, below, who is found in this film, too. She was in Las Vegas with her boyfriend Gualtiero Jacopetti while he and Paolo Cavara were shooting material for the film. As previously mentioned, she died on the trip back to LA, outside of San Bernardino on US 91, when their driver lost control of the care, which flipped, and she broke her neck when thrown from the car. Jacopetti, who only suffered a broken leg, dedicated the film to her — a woman-hating documentary dedicated to a woman he supposedly loved. Sounds like a real man with a lot of insight, empathy and emotion...
* Belinda Lee is a mostly forgotten British starlet found (usually headlining) in such fine films as Ghosts of Rome (1961 / full Italian film),  Blood Feud  (1960 / opening credits), It Happened in '43  (1959 / full film in Italian), She Walks by Night (1956 / German trailer), Who Done It? (1955 / excerpt), Footsteps in the Fog (1955 / trailer) and Meet Mr. Callaghann (1954 / full film)
"Women in the Window, Hamburg" from
Women of the World:
Women of the World utilizes a lot of leftover material from Mondo Cane, supplemented of course with new footage, but for the most part it sorely lacks the bizarre juxtaposition of contemporary western culture with traditional or "exotic" cultures found in the two Mondo Cane films. Like them, it still masks itself as some sort of anthropological exploration but, even more than its immediate filmic siblings, it fails on multiple levels as a documentary. The most blatant failure as a documentary, aside from the previously mentioned worthless voiceover and the overall condescending and sexist viewpoint that renders most of the information shared as worthless and uninformative, is that like so many mondo "documentaries", it agitates squarely in the center of the realm of the fraudulent: as so much of the documentary is faked and "re-created", it is impossible to actually accept any "fact" presented as a "fact", even when the movie manages to look like it has caught the factual on film. As it is impossible to ever be sure of the veracity of that which is shown — even when something might truly be filmed via a hidden camera, the events caught on film could well possibly (if not probably) involve paid actors — Women of the World is impossible to accept on any level as reflecting, or documenting, truth — which, in theory, is the basic job of a documentary.
"Those Crazy Homosexuals"
from Women of the World:
Thus, Women of the World is at worst a fraud, and at best a mockumentary that (despite the fact that passing times has rendered so much no longer shocking) occasionally tilts deeply into the realm of the shockumentary. But even that which once shocked or still titillates often shocks or titillates less than it does annoy or leave you feeling soiled and slimy. (If we continually mention the last, it is due to the fact that simply writing about the movie gives one the feeling of needing a shower.)
"A Retired Scotsman's Tropical Island Harem" from
Women of the World:
On the whole, most of that which is shown in Women of the World is less scandalous than it is simply condescending to the point of idiocy, or simply voyeuristic. Women of the World feels a bit like a film version of The National Enquirer or Weekly World News (circa 1963) with National Geographic titties, all the while eschewing the informative of the last magazine for the brain-dead platitudes of the two tabloids. In that sense, Women of the World often comes across as the granddaddy of the current presentation of "alternative facts" as done by the medieval-minded blowhards found on FOX — and swallowed hook, line, and sinker by too many of today's brain-dead Republicans.
"Artificial Breasts & Polyandry" from
Women of the World:
That said, like all things that are repulsive, Women of the World does have a certain rubber-necking appeal to it. Just like how one feels drawn to and gawks at tragic accidents and the immediate suffering of the survivors (if there are any), despite the innate feeling that to be doing it is wrong, the shockumentary has that magnetic fascination that might well keep most people watching long after they have realized just how big a piece of shit the "documentary" is. Your decision — you can always take a shower afterwards to feel clean again. (We plan to do so again after finishing this blog entry.)
"Beauty Treatments" from
Women of the World:

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