The Italian
version gets to the time travel (and the opening title) at the
sixteenth minute, but before that it takes a delightfully prescient
detour. An old white woman stands on the grounds of her family
plantation, burned a hundred years before in a slave uprising. Then she
gets in her car with her black driver and Jacopetti and Prosperi are
doing a riff on Driving Miss Daisy two decades before its release…
except that in this version the black driver is listening to inciting
activists on the car radio while the lady is shopping, and we see that
he has murder in his heart.

Up until now Addio Zio Tom has been
sort of strange, but it’s at the opening title where it takes off into
orbit. The camera crew, there to investigate slavery, meets a group of
landed whites having dinner while black children play under their table
and eat their scraps like dogs. The whites make fun of the ever-unseen
Italians for being papists, and they discuss their rationalizations for
the slave trade. Then we visit a slave ship as it makes its trip across
the ocean and the movie’s dark heart is finally and truly revealed.

are people who refer to the slave trade as the African Holocaust, and
in many ways the graphic scenes in Addio Zio Tom illustrate just how
apt that name is. The depravities visited upon the people who were
taken from their homes and crammed onto boats, sent across the ocean to
live their remaining days as chattel, remain the most hideous mark upon
American history. Putting that horror in the face of modern Americans,
making us feel it, is a valid cinematic way of keeping that history
alive and fresh. But as you watch a cast of poor Haitians, pitifully
paid by the Italian exploitationers, being humiliated and mistreated in
torture devices all too realistic, you begin to wonder when the line
between invoking reality and creating a new horror gets crossed. One
slave ship scene explains the process of corking slaves, filling their
assholes with tar and cork so that they wouldn’t leak so much when they
inevitably got dysentary; the scene includes a re-enactment of a
corking so real and graphic that I’m hard pressed to explain how this
was accomplished without having one man shoving an object up the ass of
another man.

Just as you’re reeling from the shock of the slave
ship scenes, Jacopetti and Prosperi do one of their delirious
personality shifts; all of a sudden we’re back in the modern day and
well dressed black people are going dancing at the Roseland Ballroom in
New York City while the narrator accuses them of being Uncle Toms and
sellouts. Pretty harsh criticism from a bunch of well-off Italians, I’d

That trip to the present day is quick, and the film is soon
back in time, visiting a slave sorting center in Louisiana. It’s
actually Haiti, though, where the film was shot with the cooperation of
dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. The frame is filled with naked black
children; naked black men sit in suspended cages, being deloused by
fumes. And then the film’s next real life atrocity – naked black men
are hung upside down from their ankles. The narrator tells us that this
was the treatment for epileptics – truly a horrible historical note (if
true) – but the sight of poor Haitians being actually hung from their
ankles has to make your gut twist in horror. These scumbags are
exploiting black people to make a point about how bad it is to exploit
black people. Mind bending.

The slave sorting scene is one that
exemplifies another of the schizophrenic aspects of Addio Zio Tom
this is one of the most beautiful ugly movies ever made. The
composition of wide screen vistas are often impeccable, and the colors
and camerawork are first rate. As the camera pans above the men hanging
upside down, looking at the soles of their feet and the bottom of their
balls, you have to admire the craftsmanship on display. Scenes of
runaway slaves being shot down in a swamp happen in an evocative,
poetic slow motion. Most exploitation films look as nasty as their
subject matter, but this film – which took three years to make! – is
lovingly crafted in every scene. That paradox is one of the things that
keeps drawing me back to this film, which I’ve now seen maybe eight or
nine times (which is really an awful lot, considering how utterly evil
it is).

The horrors continue unabated as the movie traces the
path of a slave from ship to master and beyond. A scene of slaves being
fed consists of hundreds of nude extras rushing slop troughs, among
them the deformed and retarded. A baby is placed in the trough, gruel
shoved in its mouth. Another scene has a first person view of a white
visitor to a plantation manor being offered a 13 year old slave for his
sexual pleasure; she begs him (and us, since the camera is his point of
view) to deflower her or the Mammy will beat her. The scene fades out
as they begin to fuck… all still from the camera’s point of view.
There’s almost not even an excuse needed to have the black extras
naked; the movie is one long parade of dicks and tits. A group of low
class whites – the original crackers, the film tells us – rapes their
way through a barn filled with black women, the camera lingering as the
non-actresses weep. Over it all the soundtrack finally plays a song that
isn’t the main theme – it’s a romantic number, sounding like it could
be called Love Theme From Addio Zio Tom. Insert shots of children
watching the rapes almost feels redundant. How much more sickened can
they possibly make me?

Speaking of children, one of the movie’s
most arresting images comes as a bunch of white kids frolic in green
fields, followed by an angelic little blonde girl… holding a little
black boy on a chain. In another context this is a heartbreaking moment
that defines the depravities of an era; in this film it’s just another
horrible low blow.

Addio Zio Tom is obsessed with the sexuality
of blacks. We visit a breeding farm, where a huge retarded ‘stud’ named
Casanova impregnates unwilling women. A grossly fat white man feels up
actually pregnant extras. A slave is deballed for fucking too many
virgins on the farm (the ripping off of his testicles happens
surprisingly offscreen, but his screams are on the soundtrack as a
rotten toothed German woman laughs). It’s Mandingo all over again (and
again and again) – the black man as sexual threat, seen in awe and
disgust at the same time. The black woman is nothing more than a sexual
device; in the scene where the 13 year old begs the camera to deflower
her she complains that black men’s dicks are too big for her and she
prefers whitey. Misogyny doesn’t even touch on it – the film is filled
with a dismissal of woman as actual beings that doesn’t even leave room
to see them as individual enough to hate.

Jacopetti and
Prosperi don’t just keep their hatred to blacks. They take lots of
shots at the Church, depicting the clergy as grotesque hypocrites. One
of the most over the top scenes in the movie is an interview with a
Jewish doctor who experiments on slaves and keeps them in almost
Auschwitz-like conditions. He doesn’t see them as human, doesn’t think
they have any feelings. Watching this Jew caricature, straight out of a
John Birch Society comic strip, walking among extras in medieval
restraint devices is weird enough, but in the next scene he’s laughing
and throwing food at a twitching, crawling mass of cripples and
amputees. Even the most jaded viewer is going to feel his skin crawling

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