Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Sweden, Heaven and Hell

Sweden Heaven and Hell
Original title: Svezia, inferno e paradiso
Directed by : Luigi Scattini
Italy, 1968
Mondo/documentary, 85min
Distributed by: Klubb Super8

The wild and weird world of Mondo! You can’t stand unaffected by this fascinating odd niche of the Italian Genre Cinema, nor it’s offspring as these contain some of the most disturbing movies ever to have been made.

The Mondo genre is often quoted as starting with Paolo Cavara and Gualtiero Jacopetti’s Mondo Cane 1962. Actually there where “mondo-ish” movies made before Mondo Cane, movies like Luigi Vanzi’s World By Night and Alessandro Blasetti’s Europe by Night both 1959, but these where more focused on nightlife and strange club acts and all round fun. Although Jacopetti did script them, and this eclectic jumble of almost random footage and driving voice over narrative would soon play right into his hands.

Mondo Cane with it’s showcasing of the wild and weird world outside of Italy in an almost Ripley’s Believe it or Not style documentary approach – or shockumentary as they also are known as - created quite a stir when it was released, it was nominated for the Palm D’or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival and Riz Ortolani’s splendid track “More” was nominated for an Oscar for best music, original score at the 1964 Academy Awards. This unleashed a floodgate of Mondo themed movies, Jacopetti & Franco E Prosperi’s Mondo Cane 2, Franco de Feo’s Mondo Nudo, Gianni Proja’s Ecco all of them 1963, Roberto Bianchi Montero’s Mondo Balordo 1964 and even the American entries Mondo Freudo and Mondo Bizzaro, both 1966 directed by Lee Frost, and Russ Meyer’s Mondo Topless 1966 with a title that says it all. Most of them held a fair share of tantalising sexploitation, a humorous approach but also explored the downsides of life in other places and situations.

But at the late sixties the Mondo movie started taking two definitive paths, one focusing more on the sex and kinky scene, and the other on the a more vicious and violent as movies like Jacopetti & Prosperi's Africa Addio 1969, Antonio Climati and Mario Mora's Savage Man Savage Beast 1975 showed authentic deaths both in the animal kingdom and humans being killed by beasts. These traits also worked their way into the obscure cannibal genre too, where many animals where killed for pointless scenes in the movies narrative. Although many of the Mondo movies later where revealed to be staged situations, the tone had still been set and there was worse to come.

Pushing the boundaries further flicks like Rolf Olsen’s Shocking Asia 1976, Climati & Mora’s Sweet and Savage 1983, and Romano Vanderbes' This is America 1977 went even further, and merely consisted of onscreen deaths and violence almost wallowing in gruesome footage.

In 1979 the Japanese financed US production Faces of Death, directed by John Alan Schwartz became one of the most notorious Mondo movies of all time. And even though it like many Mondo movies before consisted mainly of fake footage acted out for the cameras, and a terrible acting by Michael Carr as Dr. Francis B. Gröss, our narrator and guide though the movie, the film still packed a ferocious punch. But a second Japanese financed US production finally pushed the genre over the limit. Sheldon Renan’s The Killing of America 1982 consisted almost completely of authentic footage of death and carnage, often caught by news cameras and un-expecting witnesses. It’s also one of the first movies to feature the infamous Zapruder Film which graphically shows the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Ironically Ruggero Deodato’s movie Cannibal Holocaust 1980 is not only one of the most infamous cannibal films, but also a stern critique towards the Mondo genre where directors staged and arranged death and execution scenes without interfering. In some ironic way the innovators had finally had enough!

With this last step taken, the gates of hell sprung open, and cheap compilations like the sequels to the Faces of Death series, The German Mondo Cane 4-6 films compiled by Uwe Schier, and abominations like the Traces of Death films, and the Faces of Gore series all focused merely on the of the horrors of life and death started turning up all over the place. Just like those god awful home video shows with stupid people doing stupid shit, the Mondo movie devolved into a cesspool of necrophilic depravity lacking all of the tongue in cheek humour of it’s predecessors.

But not all Mondo are about carnage and disaster situations. Even though the later movies are synonymous with onscreen deaths the early movies held a fantastic documentary style and even though they said exactly what ever they wanted over the random images shown, they had heart and humour to their story.

Like Luigi Scattini’s fantastic Sweden Heaven and Hell, a Mondo study of the sinful living of the Swedes during the sixties. Packed with lusty teens, naked women, violent biker gangs roaming the countryside, and the growing problem of the open alcohol and drug market, it’s no wonder that so many people used to think that Sweden and Swedes where the most open-minded and liberated people on the planet.

Young women who receive sexual education, only to later spend their weekends on the ”Love Boat” practicing what they learned in class. The gangs of Raggare roaming and raping their way through the teenage women of Stockholm (And yes that’s Marie Liljedahl having her clothes torn off by the bikers), turning the young lasses into homosexuals. All Swedish women sunbathe naked! The enforcers of law who spend their day’s making sure people of Stockholm obey the rules, only to pose naked for the photographers camera at night – the double morale of the women of Sweden, as even the most respected citizens indulge in dirty smutty late night actives. The kids, left at day care and later moved to a small community outside of Stockholm, where Dr Johnson cares for the children that all fell into a void of depravity and perversion before he saved them… It’s all here, and it’s a riot, as Scattini just randomly makes whatever claims he wants in his portrayal of the strange country up north. Although we did have sex education with very explicit images at school I never actually found those chicks wanting to do our homework in the practical manner.

Once sequence shows a sex shop on Birger Jarlsgatan – dead in the centre of Stockholm – where men and women gather at the Grotto of Porn, a library dedicated to porn. And one of the treats the filmmakers relish on, or rather points out as a vile obscenity, are the 7” records of authentic sounds of intercourse being sold – Pornophone! Remember Umberto Lenzi’s Oasis of Fear 1971, well that’s the same sort of records that Ornella Mutti and Ray Lovelock where flogging before they got into that first bout of trouble that forced them into hiding.

Scattini bars no holds as they twist facts and fiction into the melting pot of low morale, sexual cravings and perversion. No matter how naive and fake the movie is it is a hilarious movie. I have a weak spot for old photographs and footage of Stockholm of the past. I really love this city, and it’s still one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe, and seeing all these fantastic places and locations, but from Scattini’s warped vision makes me laugh and enjoy living in Stockholm even more.

I adore the short sequence where upper class girl Ulla holds all the power of the family house. As she sits making out with her boyfriend, her parents just sit watching, with the constant threat of Ulla actually deciding to marry her boyfriend which forces the parents to give her the house and move to the old folks home instead! After the young couple have engaged in a bout of pre marital sex – Ulla’s mom serves them coffee and sandwiches to keep Ulla happy! Holy smoke where did Scattini come up with these ideas, it’s uproarious.

On the other side, watching this movie some forty years later, the movie plays more as a parody on Swedish society. The warped discourse and suggestive voice over can easily be laughed at today as in some occasions their bleak portrayal is what we make fun of ourselves today. The cynicism of the young couple now leaving their maternal home only to spend a fortune an a small cramped inner city flat. The car owner beating up the guy trying to steal his car and ends up being the one punished instead – Violence is not accepted, but the youths lust for life is defended. It’s all stuff that still actually happens, victims being the ones punished, and the tiny apartments in the city costing a fortune for a few square metres. The problem with the high suicide rates… Something that in later years has proved to be based on the fact that Sweden are so anal about statistics and numbers that they where the only country with more or less accurate figures – hence the high numbers, no other country documented in the strict way of the Swedes.

But perhaps even more entertaining than the movie and its pseudo documentary narrative is the fantastic soundtrack by Piero Umiliani. It’s a fantastic soundtrack that definitely cheers up the most sombre state of mind, Not only does it contain the song that the Muppets made theirs ”mah na mah na” but also the lead theme; I tried to warn you… perhaps a prophetic tune to the state that the Mondo genre would end up in.

Luigi Scattini’s Sweden Heaven and Hell - It’s rude, it’s crude, it’s cheesy, it’s sleazy and it’s completely bogus of course, but it is the most entertaining Mondo movie ever made about Sweden!

Full frame 4:3

Dolby Digital Mono, English, Italian or Spanish Dub available, with optional Swedish Subtitles.

If you like Swedish skin flicks and corny comedies then the extras will please you as there’s a total of fourteen wonderful original trailers to sit though on the disc. There’s also a gallery of movie stills, marketing materials, and international movie posters.

And don't download it Buy it!


Nigel M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nigel M said...

an interesting thing about cannibal holocaust is it opens with a plane eye view of the amazon. This approach not only points to mondo and its globetrotting fixation but also to travelogue- Africa Speaks! and so on.

Beyond Bengal (1934) for example opens with a very similar shot to the opening shot of cannibal holocaust.

I mention this because these early 1930s jungle shockers had to have played a major role in shaping mondo- though they lacked the shock cut of mondo cane much else was there= the voiceover, the expose, the fascination with other cultures often shot in a flat ethnographic style (we see this in cannibal holocaust too as groups of natives are assembled staring into camera)

in beyond bengal we also get the real animal cruelty- its a bloodbath that rivals africa addio oh and staged scenes- a less than convincing gator attack. some of this was filmed in florida.

of course none of these early shockers used irony or juxtaposition to make its points but many of the mondo fixations were there

Nigel M said...

ooo and I didn't know those porno records in oasis of fear were real!!!

CiNEZiLLA said...

There's no doubt about it that the "travelogue" movies DID influence the Mondo genre - they defiantly inspired them on some level. It would even be fair to claim that something like Robert Flarety's Nanook of the North shot in 1922 is a Mondo. He clearly shows how the Inuit people Live, Die and Hunt. There's even a walrus (I think if not a seal) being clubbed, gutted and the eyes eaten! So more or less any anthropological movie could be considered part in leading up to Mondo. There's even an old Swedish travelouge film called ANACONDA from 1953 by Rolf Blomberg that is a mondoish piece where he goes into the jungles of the Amazon in search of the giant snake. He followed it up with JANGADA - THE SAVAGES ON THE RIVER OF DEATH 1958. Both movies contain the traits and gimmicks of the Mondo genre!

I chose not to refer to the movies before the actual term was coined with Mondo Cane as Mondo. But you are absolutely correct in your comment.

I'm sure we can find one of those LP's somewhere for you! :)

Nigel M said...

thanks for reply-

I did think this worth mentioning for 2 reasons. Firstly it seemed to be an oversight on the part of the mondo shockumentary book- you mention proto mondo titles where I got the impression with the book that the authors so mondo as something that was not only original (which it is) but did not need contextualising at all. You mentioned the proto mondo films from years previous for example. Taking another course altogether didnt the nudist camp movies also predate mondo? Interesting you mentioned nanook because that has been on my to see list since I read The Third Eye: Race, Cinema and Ethnographic Spectacle.

But this comes back to cannibal holocaust really- I wonder if the opening of cannibal holocaust was a recognition of the the films that influenced mondo.

As a sidenote- if memory serves the shockumentary book overlooks mondo topless and I believe mondo mod. It does however cover guinea ama which is a film I have become fixated with lately- and am trying to track down an english language version (the footage used in mattei's virus looks incredible, probably more than the movie itself.

CiNEZiLLA said...

:) I wouldn't know about that aerial shot? It's worth a think about. I wouldn't think so at first, but considering the commentary that the movie has on the mondo and the pectoral Ortolani score I wouldn't be surprised if good old Deodato started out with that shot (which almost opens every Cannibal flick) just to set the recognition of mondo. I'll jot that one down on my book of questions for him.

The nudist films did indeed predate Mondo. Gordon Marks - Naked as Nature Intended was released in '61

Which Mondo book do you mean? Killing For Culture or a later one?

God Do I Know about getting a fixed Idea on a certain film and that hunt for the best version. :) Hope you find it. I suppose you've already scanned the net?

Nigel M said...

The use of the aerial shot in travelogue I believe is referenced in the Black Emanuelle essay in the Alternative Europe : Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945 but the beyond bengal opening (in hindsight) only has a passing resemblence-

(full movie)

The book I picked up was Sweet and Savage: The World Through the Shockumentary Film Lens (which does have a fair bit of analysis but has a fair bit of synopsis so making it also a mondo "blood and black lace" )

I have done a bit of searching on the net and found a german copy of guinea ama for sale with no english track- and I was wondering if there is maybe a tracker that deals with "nasties" to look there.

I dont know where I was leading with the nudist camp films - but they are another form of sensationalist documentary making and sensationalist sexuality is one of a number of themes among the mondo shocks.

SNy. said...

underbart! gillade urvalet av bilder, min cykel ska också vara med någonstans, i bakgrunden, när en kille tjålar en bil på söder ;-) Håll utkik efter den röda Limphojen av märket Raket ;-)

En trailer utan blurr (och downloadlänk) finns på http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5ypzt_sweden-y-heaven-and-hell-1968_shortfilms

Anonymous said...

Suecia....¿Infierno o Paraíso?

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