GoodbyeUncleTomGet ready, because this is quite simply the most hackle-raising, mind-blowing, screamingly offensive exploitation movie of all time!!!  GOODBYE UNCLE TOM is an unabashedly incendiary look at race relations in America during the early seventies that’s guaranteed to leave your jaw on the floor.

The Italian filmmaking team of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi have been called “the most devious and irresponsible filmmakers who have ever lived,” a claim they more than live up to in their many films.  Most notable among those films are the MONDO CANE flicks of 1962-64, which kicked off the “Mondo” cycle of exploitation documentaries; AFRICA ADDIO (1966), a hard-hitting look at life in Africa that includes scenes of horrific animal slaughter and people killed onscreen; and MONDO CANDIDO (1975), a phantasmagoric adaptation of Voltaire’s CANDIDE containing nearly every imaginable vice.

1971’s GOODBYE UNCLE TOM (a.k.a. ADDIO ZIO TOM), however, is surely their magnum opus, a sleaze epic that puts the team’s documentary background to good use and outdoes all their other films in sheer outrageousness.  Indeed, GOODBYE UNCLE TOM is arguably the most effective cinematic treatment of slavery and its consequences, surpassing all the others—ROOTS, MANDINGO, DRUM, AMISTAD, ILL-GOTTEN GAINS, BELOVED and MANDALAY—in every respect.

The film was initially given an extremely limited grindhouse release that was heavily cut and without credits; its backers apparently wanted to distance themselves from this wildly controversial film (in her venomous New Yorker review an outraged Pauline Kael made a point of listing the names of everyone involved) and US distributors over the years have done their best to pretend it never existed.  It’s now legally available as part of Blue Underground’s limited edition MONDO CANE COLLECTION, a lovingly presented 8-DVD set that includes both the 123-minute English version of GOODBYE UNCLE TOM (which was popular on the bootleg circuit for several years), as well as the newly discovered 136-minute Italian language director’s cut, which is even more potent.  If you only know this incredible film in the English language cut than you owe it to yourself to catch this new and improved version.  For that matter, if you’re an exploitation buff who hasn’t seen the film at all, then you simply MUST get a hold of GOODBYE UNCLE TOM, ASAP!

The year is 1971 and America is tearing itself apart at the seams: African Americans, tired of the mistreatment they’re had to endure at the hands of the white man, are rising up, with folks like Malcolm X and Leroi Jones (according to this movie, at least) encouraging their brothers to kill whitey.

In order to examine how things got this way, the filmmakers decide to travel back in time for a close-up look at slavery in the nineteenth century.  They start off at a New Orleans plantation where they interview several aristocratic Southerners (whose ranks include UNCLE TOM’S CABIN author Harriett Beecher Stowe), who sitting around the dinner table enthusiastically defend the practice of slave-holding while tossing left-overs to black children huddled under the table.  Next the filmmakers visit a slave ship discharging its cargo, consisting of several hundred Africans suffering from disease and malnutrition.  They also profile a “House Momma” (an overweight black woman who supervises the slaves) in action, abusing her black and white charges unmercifully, and hunters who are paid to track down escaped slaves.  A bug-eyed doctor methodically describes how black people don’t have much depth of feeling and so (he claims) it’s okay for whites to make slaves out of them.  We also look in on the workings of a whorehouse where black women are dressed up and paraded for the approval of horny white men, and a slave auction where those same white men barter in human cargo.

But that’s not all: we also see a reenactment of the more lurid portions of the confessions of Nat Turner (an escaped slave who murdered fifty five whites, reportedly under the orders of God) transposed to modern times.  The film ends with a black man on a beach demonstrating racial tolerance by popping a white kid’s ball and grinning maniacally.

Those looking for a thoughtful and refined look at racial problems in American won’t find them here, as this is an extremely lurid, in your face account.  It contains some of the most astounding imagery I’ve seen in any movie, images I honestly can’t fathom how the filmmakers achieved.  It puts me in mind of the filmmaker Lars Von Trier, who apparently had trouble finding black actors to portray slaves in his historical drama MANDERLAY, yet in GOODBYE UNCLE TOM we see literally hundreds of naked black men packed into the bowels of a slave ship like sardines and greedily clamoring for gruel at a narrow feeding trough (the film was largely shot in Haiti utilizing native extras and, curiously enough, NO actors are listed in the credits).  Make no mistake: Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi had a genius for exploitation that remains unmatched.

Yes, I did say exploitation: note the way the camera lingers on the sight of black women being raped and even zooms in at opportune moments (Jacopetti and Prosperi, being very much filmmakers of their time, love their zoom lens), or the killing of escaped slaves filmed in loving slow motion to be sure and capture every gruesome moment.  Any humanitarian aims the film might have are obliterated by the outrageously nihilistic finale, which posits that there’s no hope for reconciliation between the races and America will never get over the specter of slavery…a pretty smug assertion, I’d say, considering that the filmmakers are Italian!

Nevertheless, the film is impressive and even admirable in its steadfastly unblinking and politically incorrect depiction of the slave trade.  Jacopetti and Prosperi utilized many of the same crewmembers they did in their documentary work, which explains the photorealistic feel of so much of GOODBYE UNCLE TOM.  Exploitation or not, it must be counted as the most monumental and historically accurate depiction of the horrors of slavery ever put on film.

Vital Statistics 

Euro International Films

Directors/Producers/Screenplay/Editing: Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi Cinematography: Claudio Cirillo, Antonio Climati, Benito Frattari