This is part of an irregular series wherein pretend I haven’t thought of anything new to write about by writing about the last documentary I watched and tenuously trying to link it to a current pop culture phenomenon to give is a semblance of relevance. But there is a little more to my fandom of 1982’s ‘The Killing of America’ than that. Firstly, if the lurid warning above doesn’t set alarm bells off, and you’re of a sensitive/normal disposition, don’t watch this documentary — that’s as close to a NSFW warning as you’ll get from me. I’ve long been fascinated with the mondo strain of extreme documented cinema, but I’m repelled by the frequent violence against animals in them (Victor Schonfeld’s ‘The Animals Film’ is a much better use of that kind of footage) in the infamous ‘Faces of Death’ and earlier Antonio Climati/Mario Morra productions like ‘Ultime Grida Dalla Savana.’ While the genre is often without merit, I still think that the “cargo cult” scene at the end of 1962’s ‘Mondo Cane’ (partly soundtracked by Riz Ortolani, whose work was on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack) is an affecting piece of footage. Laugh it up, but I’d sooner worship that crude plane reproduction than the stuff you’re deifying on your Pinterest boards.
As a child, I was obsessed by the idea of ‘Faces of Death’ — at school, a fellow pupil claimed to have seen it, and described a scene where an ill-fated parachutist drops into a crocodile enclosure at a zoo. It’s worth noting that with maturity, I have less inclination to view this strain of exploitation, but I would love to see that scene. It turns out that my classmate was just a liar. The majority of ‘Faces of Death’s human atrocity is hoax footage, and even the memorable “death” of Pit Dernitz, the tourist eaten by lions on exiting his vehicle was fake, albeit a fake convincing enough to move Gerhard Richter into immortalising the incident in 1990’s ‘Tourist (with 2 Lions)’ painting. These were the days when incidents like a death on a Noel Edmonds show were discussed among peers, but never televised, and the cult of amateur footage had yet to grow into something bigger and murkier.
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