Tropical storm Anita blows into Port-au-Prince.
Set in Haiti, the Italian thriller Al tropico del cancro follows the story of a doctor who invents a powerful hallucinogenic drug that interests various parties who believe it to be priceless. In addition to being a giallo, some people consider this film a classic of—what would you call it?—not blaxploitation, but that unofficial sub-genre of movies (which we also wrote about yesterday in assessing Emmanuelle IV) in which white women go to the tropics and jettison their inhibitions. Though the promise of Renato Casaro's brilliant poster art undoubtedly draws many viewers to the film, star Anita Strindberg's interracial coupling is a highly stylized hallucination or dream, ancillary to the plot. She gives it her theatrical best, though, gangbangy subtext and all. The scene was bold in 1972's racial landscape—and still is today, which shows you how little progress we've made in half a century.
Strindberg is a favorite around Pulp Intl. She was one of our early femmes fatales—in fact the one that made us decide to feature the occasional frontal nude on the site. Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to share this shot. Under a ridiculous crown of sculptural ’70s hair, she's all high cheekbones, icy eyes, and a recurved mouth. Everything below her neck looks good too, although she sports a pair of early breast implants, but hey—her body her choice. Her nordic looks juxtapose nicely against Haiti's tropical setting. She's a gleaming alien there, which is important for the sense of disconnection her character feels as the various male cast members busy themselves trying to outsmart each other to acquire the drug formula.
Al tropico del cancro features awesome location shooting in Port-au-Prince, not only in the streets and estates, but in unlikely locales like a functioning abattoir where island beef production is depicted in full gore. Cows aren't the only animals that fare poorly, so be forewarned. The movie eventually ends in foot chases and gunshots, as greed for the formula triggers a spate of violence. Reaching this climax isn't the most gripping ride, but we've been on worse. We recommend the movie for fans of Strindberg, as well as for people interested in historic Port-au-Prince, much of which—the prized Cathédrale de Port-au-Prince, the capital building, the parliament, et al—was destroyed in a 2010 earthquake. Al tropico del cancro premiered in Italy today in 1972.
When in Rome do as the Romans do.
We’ve been enamored of Italian cover art of late, so here are more examples, Complotto ad Haiti, Quinta Colonna, and Operazione Antidroga, all of which are entries in EPI’s very popular Agente Segreto (Secret Agent) series. The series was published during the 1960s and comprised at least 80 separate novels, All three of these were written by Bill Colby (almost certainly a pseudonym), and all seem to have had the same cover artist, possibly Benedetto Caroselli, though we aren’t sure on that. In any case, it’s great work.
Addio Zio Tom takes on difficult subject matter but doesn't flinch.
Have you ever seen anything quite like this? The temptation to watermark this piece of art was unbelievably strong, but we couldn’t splash lettering across something so unique. You’re probably thinking to yourself that this poster, which as you can see is for a movie entitled Good Bye Uncle Tom, is some obscure episode of 1970s blaxploitation, and you’d be right—in a sense. The movie was originally an Italian production made by directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, and was released in Italy as Addio Zio Tom. Here’s the premise: two contemporary documentary filmmakers go back in time to film the American slave trade in person. Here’s the result: probably the most important motion picture about that period of history ever made.
We live in strange times. Today, there are influential slavery apologists, and many people are perfectly content to believe them. Addio Zio Tom represents an inconvenient truth, because slave-era documents were culled for the first person writings of various prominent slavers. What the filmmakers end up with is essentially a step-by-step manual on the practice of slavery. And in an audacious screenwriting maneuver, snippets of those historical documents are converted directly into dialogue, so what you hear the slave owning characters say in Addio Zio Tom is exactly what real life slavers, pro-slavery politicians, slave owning Southerners, and slavery apologists actually thought.
In Addio Zio Tom we are shown how men and women were chained in the hulls of ships, where they lay in their own vomit and diarrhea for the weeks or months of the middle passage across the Atlantic. We are shown slaves literally tossed down chutes from the ship decks into holding pens once they arrived in America. We see depictions of the mass rape that slaves experienced. In one scene, white men too poor to own slaves of their own raid a slave plantation for the specific purpose of rape. We see torture, castrations, murders, and fugitives hunted down in the woods by vicious dogs. It’s an interminable and mindbending tableau of horrors, shot unflinchingly, indeed voyeuristically. Some say what Jacopetti and Prosperi depict is false. Those people don’t generally have any intelligent reason other than their personal conviction that slavery can’t have been that bad, or their “free”-market dogma that slaves were treated well because they were valuable cargo.
Actual history tells us different. Slaves were insured, as long as their deaths took place at sea, but that practice had little mitigating effect. The most commonly cited mortality figure for the middle passage is around 9 million deaths. For a sense of the range of debate, though, consider that there are estimates as low as 1.5 million (still horrific), but conversely, as high as 25 to 30 million. But even without exhaustive research, it isn'tdifficult to understand that Addio Zio Tom’s depictions are broadly accurate. Consider rape. Today, in maximum-security prisons, between ten and twenty percent of men report being raped. The actual number is far, far higher. In the armed forces about 20% of women report being sexually assaulted. The point is, more than four hundred years after the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade this is how men in positions of partial or total authority treat those within their power. How did they behave centuries ago, when their victims were literally their property?
Addio Zio Tom will make you think about things like that, but only if you’re willing. Of course, being a thought-provoking or important movie (which is the phrase we used at top), is very different from being a good movie. And here we get to the crux of it. We wouldn’t describe Addio Zio Tom as good. Audacious, yes. Technically impressive, certainly. A bold satire, perhaps. And beyond a doubt it’s complex—we can’t even get into the film’s contemporary framing device without writing three more paragraphs, so we won’t bother. But good? Hard to say. It’s a very difficult film to judge on its merits because of the subject matter. It was disastrously reviewed—that much is indisputable. Roger Ebert called it a contemptuous insult to decency.
In many of those reviews, Jacopetti’s and Prosperi’s motives came into question. It’s easy to understand why. For example, can you guess how the movie was even logistically possible? Because Jacopetti and Prosperi filmed in Haiti, where the genocidal dictator François Duvalier rounded up thousands of Haitian extras to be subjected to Addio Zio Tom’s degrading recreations of slave trade practices for mere pennies a day, orsometimes just a meal. Did Jacopetti and Prosperi believe they were serving a higher cause, and make a painful decision that dealing with Duvalier was a necessary evil? Or did they simply see it economically and decide the way to bring their vision to life was to depend upon someone who could treat humans as property? In any case, getting back to the art, if you look closely you’ll notice this is actually a Japanese poster, though nearly all the text is English. But we shared it today because the movie opened in Italy today in 1971. Watch it if you dare.
Do that voodoo that you do so well.
Published today in 1974, Weekender was a low rent, digest-sized tabloid from Australia. This is not an especially wonderful pulp find—we bought three of them for an Aussie dollar apiece and the price pretty much tells the tale. However, it does have a nice photo of Pulp Intl. favorite Edy Williams in panel eight. And you also get Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger, which seems like a passing of the torch of sorts. Probably the highlight of the issue is a New Zealand girl’s tale of Haitian voodoo possession, in which she includes as many times as possible the phrases “my white flesh” and “their black bodies.” We could spend hours discussing the use of racial stereotypes in the exploration of repressed interracial desire, but since voodoo articles abound in seventies tabloids, we’ll leave it for another occasion. Lastly, in panel fourteen we have a bit of eye candy for our female readers—to wit, some beefcake featuring a model whose ass is so taut it looks like he’s trying to turn a lump of coal into a 100-carat diamond. We’re not jealous, though. Our asses produce diamonds set in platinum bands with engravings inside that read: We are the shit. We’ll get to our other issues of Weekender a little later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird
is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international
bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
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