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Goodbye Uncle Tom (Blue Underground) UHD Review

    Ian Jane

  • Goodbye Uncle Tom (Blue Underground) UHD Review

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    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: April 23rd, 2024.
    Director: Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
    Cast: Stefano Sibaldi, Susan Hampshire, Dick Gregory
    Year: 1971
    Purchase From Amazon

    Goodbye Uncle Tom – Movie Review:

    In what has to be one of the most unexpected ‘special edition home video releases ‘of the year, Blue Underground brings to 4k UHD (and to a separate Blu-ray edition) both versions of the extremely controversial ‘Addio Zio Tom’, or, as it was known in North America, ‘Goodbye Uncle Tom.’ The English version, which runs one-hundred and twenty-three minutes, is that one many of us had seen before (until the extended Director’s Cut, which runs one-hundred and thirty-six minutes) was unearthed and included in their Mondo Cane DVD boxed set years back), and as it stands, is quite an impressive piece of shock filmmaking but the more recently unearthed Director's Cut of the film, with roughly thirteen minutes or new footage and a completely different editing scheme, is the real winner of the pair.

    After sitting through these films, it was a bit of a challenge to sit down and think about the best way to review these two films. Being fully aware of just how sensitive this subject matter can be to certain people and knowing very well that many people do in fact consider the film to be blatantly racist, it would be easy to step into a bear trap in today’s politically correct climate but despite the controversy that surrounds the film to this very day, it’s hard to accuse it of being straight up racist.

    The basic premise behind both versions of the film is this: Jacopetti and Prosperi wanted to 'accurately recreate the American slave trade atrocities.' By doing so with period costumes, and instances of whites brutally oppressing blacks, forcing them to work in the fields and using them more as animals than anything else (a scene where a white aristocrat is seen feeding the two hungry young black boys under the table like dogs for a shining example of this kind of despicable behavior). In turn, this footage would be contrasted against footage of the modern day, at the time at least, with racial tensions growing in America during the time the film was being made back in the early 1970s. The film’s depictions of the white oppression of black slaves are, to be quite frank, revolting and genuinely horrific. What some of the white slave owners do to what they see as 'merchandise' is enough to make anyone want to lose their lunch. Applying this against depictions of more modern oppression would make for an interesting comparison of how far, or not so far depending on your point of view (and the filmmakers make theirs quite obvious in their end product) North American society has come. Certainly not an easy point to make without stepping on a few toes in the process, but that's not anything that Jacopetti and Prosperi were afraid of doing anyway.

    Anyway, what came out of this idea was the end product, dubbed Goodbye Uncle Tom, a film that in title alone proved to be extremely inflammatory. The English version of the film, which differs greatly from the director's cut, has been long condemned by many critics, film historians, and fans alike as trashy, racist, exploitation. And it's not that far of a stretch to see why people might come to that conclusion. Black people are, after all, treated worse than most animals by their white oppressors throughout the duration of the film.

    The director's cut, though, is a very different film. As mentioned before, it's edited much differently and includes quite a bit of additional footage that fleshes out the ideas and themes behind the original intent of the filmmakers to a great extent.

    The juxtaposition between the period footage and the more modern footage flows much easier, driving the point of the film home in a far more direct and easier to understand manner. It comes off far less exploitative (though still contains plenty of nudity and violence intended to shock) than its edited domestic counterpart.

    The Director’s Cut, which cuts back and forth from the past to the present (as opposed to the Goodbye Uncle Tom Cut which stays in the past until the finale) plays more, as the back copy on the old DVD case claimed, a “cry of black anguish and rage.” Now, as a 'White Anglo Saxon Protestant' my personal take could be very well way, way, way off base, but it’s tough to see how anyone could see the director's cut as a deliberately racist film (though it definitely feels misguided and some of the stories behind the making of the movie covered in the extras are genuinely unsettling). Does it portray blacks as mistreated? Yep, it sure does, and to a very extreme degree. It is, as stated, absolutely horrifying. But where some of the film's detractors misread the movie is in its depictions of the white slave traders. These are not people we should look up to, this is made very clear in the film. These people are scum, and the lowest form of scum at that, trading and getting rich off of oppressing their fellow man. If anything we should feel pity for the way that slaves are treated in the film, and anger towards the way the white man has treated them. And that, right there, as simplistic as it may sound, does legitimately seem to have been the point of the film, a point that is made so much clearer in the director's cut (though there is alternate footage in the Goodbye Uncle Tom cut, some of which is a bit nastier than what is contained in the Director’s Cut, so Blue Underground has done right by film buffs by including both versions).

    It’s easy for seasoned cult movie and exploitation film fans to think of ourselves as somewhat jaded. We’re typically not afraid to proclaim our love of all things sleazy, violent, gory, and exploitative. We can think that films like ‘Ilsa The Wicked Warden’ are funny in their own special way and we can think that the Guinea Pig films are very artistic and have far more to offer than just blood and guts, but regardless, love them simply for the blood and guts that they do so graphically show us. But both versions of Goodbye Uncle Tom included in this set are just plain disturbing. While Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s earlier ‘Mondo Cane’ films contained a sense of perverse naivety to them, and ‘Women Of The World’ was a campy and semi-trashy look at some interesting aspects of feminine culture, both ‘Africa Addio’ and then ‘Addio Zio Tom’ remain extremely disturbing and thought provoking works of art that deserve to be reevaluated and elevated from their 'trash film' status that they don't necessarily deserve. The extra features in this collection go a long way to exploring why this is, without sugar coating some of the problematic elements associated with the film’s and the people who made them.

    Goodbye Uncle Tom – UHD Review:

    Both versions of the movie are presented on their own individual 100GB UHD discs in HEVC encoded 2160p and framed in their proper original widescreen 2.40.1 aspect ratios with Dolby Vision/HDR and the picture quality is nearly identical between the two versions of the movie, which isn’t a bad thing at all as the picture quality here is truly excellent. Whether you want it to be or not, detail is very impressive in pretty much every scene (of course, the newsreel footage doesn’t look quite as crisp as the newly shot material but that’s to be expected). Colors look pretty much perfect and black levels are nice and deep. There’s virtually no print damage here at all, but the movie’s naturally grainy aesthetic is retained, as it should be. Depth and texture are consistently strong and neither version of the movie shows any noticeable problems with even a trace of edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression. As you’d hope for, this is a massive upgrade over the previous DVD edition.

    The English version of the movie gets a 24-bit DTS-HD MA 1.0 track while the Italian Director’s Cut gets a 24-bit DTS-HD MA 1.0 track, with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles offered for each track. There’s some very minor sibilance in the vocals of the opening song and occasionally in the dialogue throughout both cuts but that very minor issue aside, both versions sound clean, clear and properly balanced without any hiss or distortion of note. Riz Ortolani’s score, which is catchy but fairly repetitive at times, sounds pretty strong here and there’s good depth to the music used in the movie. Dialogue is clean and easy to follow and overall, both version of the movie sound quite good.

    There aren’t any extras included on the two UHD discs save for trailers for their respective cuts of the movie, menus and chapter selection options but the extras on the included Blu-ray disc are extensive and start off with a ninety-four minute documentary titled ‘The Importance Of Shocking: Gualtiero Jacopetti,’ directed by Andrea Bettinetti that takes a pretty detailed look back at the man's life by way of loads of archival clips and stills as well as interviews and commentary from Jacopetti and such contributors as Claudio Quarantotto, Jean Douchet, Giampaolo Lomi, Riz Ortolani, Folco Quilici, Giovanni Pignatelli, Franco Prosperi, Callisto Cosulich, Kathryn Toll, Olghina Di Robilant, Ursula Andress, Marina Cicogna and Jacopetti’s daughter Christine.

    Along the way it goes over the importance of his work in the mondo/shockumentary genre and details his work with Franco Prosperi, his world view, his career before he got into filmmaking, the political climate in which he made his his most notorious films, his creativity as a filmmaker and his penchant for shock value. It also goes over the controversies in his professional and personal life, his stint in prison for rape, people that he collaborated with at various points in his career, his sense of humor, how is films were received upon release, how he changed the landscape of documentary filmmaking, different filmmaking techniques that were employed, stories from some of the crazier things that happened on set during the making of these mondo films, his relationship with the late Belinda Lee and how her death affected him, his struggles with morphine addiction, other romantic relationships he had over the years and how they shaped him and his ability to find trouble. It’s a very well put together piece that paints a detailed and fascinating portrait of a very complex man and an important filmmaker.

    Carried over from the DVD edition is the almost ninety minute documentary, The Godfathers Of Mondo, directed by David Gregory (The Joe Spinnell Story). Not only does this piece interview Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi but it also involves famed composer Riz Ortolani (who also composed Cannibal Holocaust and Day Of Anger) on his involvement, who goes into quite a bit of detail about his work on these collaborations, and talks about how the song 'More' became such a hit not only in Europe but especially in the United States. Cameraman Benito Frattari is likewise quizzed about his work with the two Mondo-men, and he divulges a lot of great information on the shooting of the films and some of the grislier scenes contained therein.

    David Kerekes, David Flint, and Dr. Jeffrey Sconce are on hand to put the films into their historical and social perspective and all three of the gentlemen offer some interesting insight into the works in this set that might just make you think about them in a slightly different light than you previously had if you were under the impression that these were nothing more than simply base exploitation films with a penchant for real death and international oddities. Kerekes in particular, who co-wrote the invaluable film book Killing For Culture (truly a book that belongs on the shelf of any fan of this type of film) lends some nice insight into the discussion. Sconce, a professor of Media Studies at Northwestern University lends a welcome academic slant to the proceedings without coming across as pretentious and is in fact, quite interesting to listen to.

    The real stars of the show though, are the culprits themselves, Jacopetti and Prosperi. The bulk of the interviews are with the two cohorts, who speak in great detail about the shooting of all of the films included in the set, the countless imitations that were spawned by the success of Mondo Cane (see Arthur Davis' Brutes And Savages for a perfect example of this), and about the controversy that all of their films seemed to cause and that would follow them for the rest of their lives because of it. The two men are frank and candid about their work, and what it represents, even if at times the two totally contradict each other on a couple of specific details.

    ‘Goodbye Cruel Mondo’ is a twenty minute featurette comprised of interviews with Jacopetti, Prosperi and composer Riz Ortolani. Prosperi talks about the influence of 'Mandingo' and how the project originated as an adaptation of that book, turning the idea into a "docu-drama," why they decided to use non-professional actors, making a fictional film with a documentary crew, the film's budget, why they chose to shoot most of the movie in Haiti and select scenes in The United States (where they had a run in with the F.B.I.!), some of the history that the movie is based on, the Nat Turner-esque character in the movie, the accusations of racism that surround the film, making changes to the movie after being hauled into court after its initial release in Italy and Ortlani's work on the score and the working relationship he had with the two filmmakers.

    Up next is a collection of fifty-minutes of silent behind-the-scenes footage shot on 8mm by Production Manager Giampaolo Lomi, who provides commentary over the material. He talks about shooting on location in Haiti, what he was responsible for as the Production Manager on the shoot, dealing with a very temperamental Gualtiero Jacopetti on set, having access to the Presidential Palace in Haiti and getting permission from François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier to shot on his land, shooting Woodstock, the special effects used in the movie, which cameras were used on the production, memories of shooting specific sequences and quite a bit more.

    ‘Mondo Mercenaries’ is a twenty-seven minute interview with Author and Academic Mark Goodall. In this piece, Goodall covers how Jacopetti and Prosperi came to work together in the first place, how they came to create the Mondo film genre, how the surprise success of 'Mondo Cane' led to knock-offs and sequels, the appeal of Mondo movies, the impact that the portable film camera had on the movies, details on follow up movies like 'Africa Blood & Guts,' the impact of Italian politics on their work, the making of 'Goodbye Uncle Tom' and the voyeuristic aspects of it intended to make the audience uncomfortable, the realistic depiction of violence in the movie, Riz Ortolani's work with the filmmakers and what makes 'Goodbye Uncle Tom' unique in the Mondo movie cycle.

    Up next is the twenty minute ‘Abjection Under Authoritarianism’, which interviews Professor Matthew J. Smith. This talk goes over why he feels 'Goodbye Uncle Tom' is the most exploitative film he's ever seen in regards to the depiction of slavery, why he was angered and revolted by the movie when he first saw it, the intentions behind the film, his thoughts on the use of Haitian people in the movie who didn't really understand what they were being set up for and the Haitian government's involvement in this and Duvalier's involvement in all of this, the political turmoil that Haiti has undergone over the years, the storytelling techniques on display in the movie, how the merits of the film fall by the wayside when the shock value comes into play and why he feels the exploitation of the Haitian people used in the movie is genuinely racist.

    Finishing things up on the Blu-ray are a selection of extensive still galleries - posters, advertising materials, the Japanese souvenir program, lobby cards, stills, video and soundtrack releases and Giampaolo Lomia’s behind-the-scenes photos.

    Blue Underground has also included, on audio CD, the complete ‘Goodbye Uncle Tom’ soundtrack, comprised of the following tracks from Riz Ortolani’s excellent music created for the movie:

    Oh My Love / Mister / Ling / Rito Di Mezzanotte / Sosta / Nel Lago / Addio Zio Tom / Il Mercato Degli Schiavi / La Fierra Delle Meraviglie / Oh My Love (Solo Orchestra) / Fort Bastille / Cadet's Waltz / Miami / Oh My Love (Solo Orchestra #2) / Miami (#2) / Oh My Love (Solo Orchestra #3) / Miami #3 / Addio Zio Tom (#2) / La Fierra Della Meraviglie (#2) / Il Mercato Degli Schiavi (#2) / La Fierra Della Meraviglie (#3) Miami (#4) / Il Mercato Degli Schiavi (#3)

    Note that this review is based on a set of test discs. When finished product arrives, we’ll update this piece with information regarding the packaging and insert booklet.

    Goodbye Uncle Tom - The Final Word:

    Goodbye Uncle Tom remains a challenging and genuinely difficult to watch film, but it is, in its own unique way, well-made in that it is truly impactful and as stomach churning as a film meant to realistically depict slavery should be. The situations surrounding its origins are just as controversial and Blue Underground’s UHD set does an excellent job of exploring all of that and the lives of the directing duo that made the picture. As to the presentation of the movie itself, both cuts are provided in excellent quality, looking remarkably good and taken from a top-notch restoration. As difficult to recommend as it is to watch, Goodbye Uncle Tom has received a home video release that can rightly called definitive, but you have been warned, this is a tough one.

    No screen caps for this one, as only UHD discs were sent for review and we’re unable to do UHD caps at this point.

    • Darcy Parker
      Darcy Parker
      Senior Member
      Darcy Parker commented
      Editing a comment
      Too few people nowadays understand that depiction does not equate to endorsement. This movie is offensive in what it depicts, as those acts SHOULD offend any decent human, but it is FAR from endorsing those acts. Confrontational art is controversial, but can be powerful in teaching people about the dark spots in human history that we need to avoid repeating, but those who would repeat the inhumanity of the past will always prefer it to be covered up.
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