Monday, September 24, 2012

Mondo Mild-O: "Ecco" (1965)



The mondo shockumentary genre is a strange thing. Either they are very very bad, or very very average. "Ecco" falls firmly between the two extremes.

George Sanders slurs his way through this globe trotting collection of shocking and amazing footage not easily accessible to mid-1960's American audiences. Sanders quotes Shakespeare, translates for the brutish audience, and is so completely bored the viewer quickly shares the sentiment.

I won't go scene by scene because the film's producers seem to have found more footage in France than anywhere else. So, we'll start all the cinematic mayhem that is not French, like Berlin! Berlin has a secret sword duelling society that slashes faces but never kills. It's like "Fight Club," only you never talk about secret German face slashing duelling society. And you won't believe what those crazy Japanese are up to. They play audiotapes while their adorable newborns are sleeping so the kids will be smarter! And after this shocking footage, a lame karate demonstration! My blood pressure!

In Greece, mountaintop monasteries collect priests who never leave the facilities, even after they die. Dunsmore, England has a thriving Satanic church, complete with a hot topless gal getting sprinkled with fresh chicken blood. Rio de Janeiro is home to Pele and Mardi Gras. In the film, the carnival is about as exciting as a three hour soccer match. Topless dancers in Nairobi give the idiot tourists a savage jiggly show before heading to jazz clubs. Some tourists in Africa stay in tall hotels while "on safari," where they can watch wild animals from air conditioned comfort. One interesting fact brought up here has Elizabeth II at this very hotel the day her father died and she became Queen of England.

Reno has oiled male bodybuilders thrilling the gals while a blonde female singer in San Francisco bends steel bars and rips phone books in half for the guys. The Portuguese hunt "monsters of the deep" by hand, using a harpoon and a rowboat. Once the viewer learns the "monster" is a humpback whale, you will start cheering against the Portuguese. Crazy teens in Stockholm down carbonated soft drinks, invade country fairs, and drive recklessly. Hundreds of half naked teenage boys in Osaka work themselves into a frenzy in a Buddhist good luck ceremony. The original Grand Guignol Theatre gives a last performance, unable to compete with the violence of the modern world. Los Angeles has a female roller derby, a Lapland reindeer roundup involves one chick who castrates animals with her teeth (no, Prancer, no!), Argentine gauchos leer at a masculine female singer in a gold bikini, and finally the film ends with different, but non-explicit, looks at artificial insemination in Rome and Exeter, England.

The majority of the stories took place in France. A debutantes' ball in Paris is cleverly juxtaposed with a circus for the poor in the French Alps. A group dedicated to touching and idolizing the female rear end is profiled. While most working Americans take a coffee break during the work day, some French market laborers get a cognac break complete with a stripper...I wish the store I worked at had that, I would insist on a full hour lunch. The mondo staple lesbian club is profiled, but the most disturbing sequence in the film belongs to a man named Yvon Yva. He shocks a group of doctors and reporters by driving long needles through his chest and throat, and a rapier through his abdomen. Grimace worthy, to say the least.

In all of its widescreen glory, "Ecco" is so typical of so many other shockumentary films that it does not succeed in setting itself apart from them. Sanders is awful (never seen onscreen), and the film quickly dives into tedium with the exception of one or two segments. For the record, Sanders tells us that "ecco" means "to observe," although I am not sure in what language.

Wanna hear a true story from my life? I finished this film at three in the morning, right before heading off to work. I was flipping through dozens of uninteresting cable television channels (I got tired of renting scratched-to-hell DVDs of "SpongeBob SquarePants" for my kids) and I paused on MTV2. Not five minutes after completing "Ecco," I saw the endlessly untalented Steve-O licking some guy's monstrously deformed foot before vomiting- all caught on video for the world to enjoy. Yeah, we've come a long way, baby. (* *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Ecco and The Forbidden