Addio Zio Tom

Aka: Farewell Uncle Tom; Goodbye Uncle Tom

Year: 1971

Type of film: Blaxploitation meets Morality Movie with a helping of Roughie thrown in for good measure.

The Pitch: An Italian documentary crew goes back in time to the pre-Civil War American South to document the excesses and horrors of slavery, intercut with modern riot footage and pro-violence black power musings. In Italian.

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Exploitation Elements:

The level of insanity onscreen in Addio Zio Tom may be unmatched in
movie history. And the film is almost as despicable as it is insane –
racist in every possible direction, brutally misogynistic and leeringly
cruel, the film is a masterwork of of unbridled sleaze.

men behind Addio Zio Tom were no strangers to sleaze; Gualtiero
Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi were the minds behind Mondo Cane, a
groundbreaking documentary that used footage of ‘bizarre’ cultural
practices and partially clothed women to shock and scandalize
audiences. Mondo Cane created a whole genre, known as Mondo films,
which found their theatrical apex in the Faces of Death movies, and
have since moved on to television where they have morphed in to reality
game shows and the like. Mondo Cane is a fascinating case study on its
own as it was nominated for the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival
in 1962 and its theme song, More, was nominated for an Academy Award. The establishment wouldn’t long be fooled by these guys or their new genre, though.

and Prosperi directed some more documentaries, including Mondo Cane 2,
which is probably mostly made up of the leftover footage from the
original. They really began to reach their sick stride with Africa
, an extraordinarily violent documentary that is about the
collapse of Africa in the post-colonization world. It contains the
hallmarks of a Jacopetti and Prosperi production, which they would
perfect in Addio Zio Tom – luridly gory imagery (some real, some
claimed faked, some claimed real but staged for the cameras) in the
service of ‘education.’ American audiences saw only a trimmed down
version of Africa Addio, called Africa Blood and Guts, which took away
a lot of the political content from the film, rendering it even more of
an exploitation piece.

Addio Zio Tom was the second to last last
movie the two worked on together, and it almost seems like they had
gone as far as reality could take them and needed to find the next
step. The concept behind the movie is almost hallucinatory in its sheer
brilliance: an Italian documentary crew takes a helicopter ride back to
the pre-Civil War American South to make a Mondo movie about slavery.
Shot from 1968 to 1970, this conceit is sort of groundbreaking and the
directors use it very wisely. There’s no long winded explanations of
how or why these Italians have come to the past, they just arrive in a
helicopter that is greeted by dozens of rotor windswept plantation
kids. The film has interviews with people involved in the slave trade;
some are just fictional while others are credited to writing or
correspondence from the time period. Since Jacopetti and Prosperi were
happy to use faked footage of a monk setting himself on fire in Mondo
Cane, I’m not taking their sources at face value here. That said, the
way their interview subjects end their statements by stating the source
adds a surreal sheen to the proceedings.

The American version of
Addio Zio Tom – known either as Farewell Uncle Tom or Goodbye Uncle
, depending on where or when you saw it – has been heavily edited
from the Italian original, removing much of the strange race war
aspects. The American version opens with the helicopter descending on
the plantation, while the Italian cut opens with modern day black men
harvesting cotton with huge machines. Over their radios they hear that
Martin Luther King Jr has been shot, and the film cuts to footage of
riots in major American cities with Riz Ortolani’s driving theme played
with aggressive fuzzed electric guitars. Ortolani was nominated for the
Oscar for his Mondo Cane song More, and he probably should get some
sort of major award for the Addio Zio Tom theme, which is played again
and again in a myriad of styles ranging from rock to ragtime and yet
never gets boring. If I had a band I’d cover the shit out of this theme
– it’s just plain awesome.

The riot footage is fascinating and
exciting with the music playing over, but on top of that is Italian
narration, reading excerpts from statements from black nationalists and
radicals. The movie early on takes the side of the truly violent
separatists, the folks who advocated violence during the most turbulent
days of the civil rights struggle. This is just the beginning of the
movie’s utterly schizophrenic politics – the modern day documentary
footage and a final weird fantasy sequence come squarely down on the
side of revolutionary black radicals and their right to murder the shit
out of whites, while the rest of the film is a bunch of white dweebs
from Italy exploiting the living shit out of poor black people to get
nudity and violence in their disgusting movie.

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