Saturday, May 19, 2012

Brutes and Savages - Synapse vs Gorgon/MPI

When Synapse released the 'uncivilized' version of Brutes and Savages (1977) a few years back (2003), they wrote that this version was a whopping 15 minutes longer (for a total of 107 minutes) than the previous US release of the film (a Gorgon/MPI VHS, which clocks in at around 92 minutes). The fact that a version is longer, though, does not necessarily mean that it contains all of the content found in the shorter version and then some, as it is certainly possible for a longer version of a film to contain alternate scenes which take the place of scenes found in a shorter version.


With this in mind, we decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Synapse's Uncivilized Version DVD release of Brutes and Savages and an earlier Gorgon/MPI VHS release* (in his liner notes for the Synapse release, Chris Poggiali of Temple of Schlock offers some initial comparisons, but the following will hopefully be a more comprehensive look at the differences between the two versions).

*Gorgon Video appears to have done at least two releases of Brutes and Savages, as there are at least two VHS cover images. We have thus far only procured the version as seen in the above 'vs.' image, and hence cannot at this point say if the two Gorgon tapes are identical in content.

As we settled in to watch the Synapse/Gorgon copies, following the standard protocol we generally employ when watching different versions--said 'protocol' being just watching the different videos side-by-side on two screens--we soon realized that this wouldn't quite work out for Brutes and Savages. You see, the two versions have almost all scenes (at least in the first two-thirds of the film) arranged in a wholly different sequence, turning the film into a free-form mondo kaleidoscope, with the narration itself oft being rewritten or otherwise aligned to suit each newly formed version.

Since simply watching both versions in tandem would not work out, we then decided to split each version up by scene (refer to Appendices 1 and 2 below for a full scene order breakdown for each version of the film), and then to compare each scene in each version to the corresponding scene in the other version.

A more comprehensive list of discrepancies can then be found below in Appendix 3 (with the usual disclaimer--namely that each one of us only has one pair of eyes, which do occasionally blink and may thus by chance miss some things--being in full effect), but here's an initial taste of some of the more notable differences:

~ The Gorgon release focuses entirely on South America, thus missing the Fight for Women/Dance of Love scenes that are present in the Synapse version (and also featuring an abridged introduction to the 'humanist' tribe). It would not be correct, however, to say that the Gorgon release lacks all of the Africa footage, as it still includes the Test of Manhood, albeit with the pivotal difference being that the narration now situates the practitioners as being in Brazil as opposed to Africa!

~ As a general rule of thumb, the Synapse version features both additional scenes and extended cuts of existing scenes, while the Gorgon version features additional/alternate narration. Thus while there is more footage in the Synapse version, entire segments of narration have at times inexplicably been excluded (or perhaps were simply added later to the Gorgon version).

~ A notable exception to the aforementioned rule is a two-minute bird flight montage that is present in the Gorgon release but is curiously entirely absent from the Synapse version (though a small clip from it does reappear briefly in both versions during the end credits). This is indeed the only instance wherein the Gorgon release has footage not found in the Synapse release. The scene is particularly striking as it lacks any of the predominant key elements (namely sex and violence) present throughout the bulk of the film.

While the Synapse version is thus the more complete one (perhaps most notably including a goat sacrifice scene missing from the Gorgon release), the Gorgon version should nonetheless make for compelling viewing, both for its alternate scene arrangement as well as for its numerous scenes of extended narration which provide all the more essential background for the presented imagery which mondo aficionados should naturally have an interest in.

Appendix 1: Scene Breakdown in the Gorgon/MPI Version of Brutes and Savages.

Format: Scene Number. Start Time (Hours:Minutes:Seconds)-End Time (Hours:Minutes:Seconds) Scene Title [Scene Duration (Minutes:Seconds)]

Nota bene: Timings may not be precise (assume a +/- two-second deviation at best)

  1. 00:00:00-00:01:18 Opening Narration [1:18]
  2. 00:01:18-00:04:07 Opening Montage/Title Sequence [2:49]
  3. 00:04:07-00:05:10 South America Segment Intro [1:03]
  4. 00:05:10-00:07:27 The National Institute of Archaeology [2:17]
  5. 00:07:27-00:09:45 Banks of the Amazon [2:18]
  6. 00:09:46-00:22:37 The Llama Sacrifice* [12:51]
  7. 00:22:37-00:25:08 Death Village* [2:31]
  8. 00:25:08-00:33:35 The Turtle Wedding of the Uru* [8:27]
  9. 00:33:35-00:43:58 Jungle Survival [10:23]
  10. 00:43:58-00:45:43 The 'Humanist' Tribe [1:45]
  11. 00:45:43-00:53:44 The Test of Manhood* [8:01]
  12. 00:53:45-00:55:53 Bird Flight Montage [2:08]
  13. 00:55:54-01:01:59 The Cocaine Story* [6:05]
  14. 01:01:59-01:10:13 The Legend of the Stone Battle* [8:14]
  15. 01:10:14-01:15:59 Head Surgery [5:45]
  16. 01:16:00-01:20:45 The Erotic Inca Museum* [4:45]
  17. 01:20:46-01:23:50 Alligator vs. Jaguar [3:04]
  18. 01:23:50-01:31:10 The Llama Orgy* [7:20]
  19. 01:31:10-01:32:20 End Credits [1:19]

* Where possible, for consistency, we've named scenes to match the chapter titles in the Brutes and Savages tie-in book, such titles are marked with an asterisk (*). Where there was no direct match, we simply picked a descriptive phrase and used that as a title.

Appendix 2: Scene Breakdown in the Synapse version of Brutes and Savages.

  1. 00:00:00-00:01:00 Opening Narration [1:00]
  2. 00:01:00-00:03:49 Opening Montage/Title Sequence [2:49]
  3. 00:03:50-00:05:45 Africa Segment Intro [1:55]
  4. 00:05:45-00:08:59 The 'Humanist' Tribe [3:14]
  5. 00:09:00-00:20:00 The Fight For Women* [11:00]
  6. 00:20:00-00:21:25 The Dance of Love* [01:25]
  7. 00:21:26-00:31:22 The Test of Manhood* [9:56]
  8. 00:31:22-00:32:33 South America Segment Intro [1:11]
  9. 00:32:33-00:34:50 The National Institute of Archaeology [2:17]
  10. 00:34:50-00:37:09 Banks of the Amazon [2:19]
  11. 00:37:10-00:39:40 Death Village* [2:30]
  12. 00:39:41-00:48:09 The Turtle Wedding of the Uru* [8:28]
  13. 00:48:09-01:01:00 The Llama Sacrifice* [12:51]
  14. 01:01:01-01:11:22 Jungle Survival [10:21]
  15. 01:11:22-01:17:27 The Cocaine Story* [6:05]
  16. 01:17:27-01:25:44 The Legend of the Stone Battle* [8:17]
  17. 01:25:44-01:31:28 Head Surgery [5:44]
  18. 01:31:28-01:36:15 The Erotic Inca Museum* [4:47]
  19. 01:36:15-01:39:17 Alligator vs. Jaguar [3:02]
  20. 01:39:17-01:46:37 The Llama Orgy* [7:20]
  21. 01:46:38-01:47:21 End Credits [0:43]

Appendix 3: Scene Comparison Between the Synapse and Gorgon Versions of Brutes and Savages.

Format: Synapse Scene Number-Gorgon Scene Number - Scene Title: Description.

Key: (G)orgon (S)ynapse

01-01 - Opening Narration: G shows a map of the world, eventually zooming in on South America and finally presents a still shot of the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. S has all of these visuals redacted with a simple black screen.

02-02 - Opening Montage/Title Sequence: G shows a tribesman walking into a jungle from the shore. S replaces this with a graphic clip of a llama getting its throat slit; its screams of anguish are enhanced and reverberated. Notably, neither clip is in the respective version of the film. That is to say, the tribesman on the shore is not anywhere to be found in G aside from the opening montage, and the llama throat-slitting scene is not in S. Though S does include a fuller exposition of the tribesman, and does include what may be an alternate shot of the llama death (that or yet another llama death), G omits that particular llama shot in the film as well.

03/04-10 - Africa Segment Intro/The 'Humanist' Tribe: The Africa introduction is missing entirely from G. S features alternate narration whilst situating the 'humanist' tribe thusly: "Before journeying to South America, let us start in Africa. This is an uneasy border country where the Sudan meets Uganda. The isolated tribes who live here are untroubled by the ways of the world. The people are as wild and as dangerous as their surroundings." In G, the tribe is instead situated as follows: "In the interior of Brazil live a tribe originally survivors of a shipwrecked slave ship. These isolated people are dangerous." Notably, this bit of narrative is provided by Arthur Davis himself and not by Richard Johnson, who otherwise provides the bulk of the film's narration. G then goes on to provide additional narration (back to business as usual this time with Johnson once again doing the voice-over): "These people, some would say, are savage. Their lives are basic. They follow their instincts passionately. They know nothing of books or technology or sophisticated medicine. The ill and the wounded get better or they die. Their sickness, like their worship, is of the body. Mental illness is as foreign to them as we are." S then includes additional footage of the humanist tribe grooming and copulating that's missing from G.

05-N/A - The Fight For Women: This scene, depicting a fight for the chief's daughter, is entirely missing from G. Of particular note is a pre-fight ritual goat sacrifice that's shown in S in graphic detail. Also of interest is that in the photographs for the accompanying paperback travelogue (published by Valkyrie Press), which does describe both this scene and the next, the fighters are nonetheless identified incorrectly--the tribesman referred to as the 'new champion' in the book is actually one of the losers of the fight in the film; likewise, a tribesman who is a mere observer in the film is misidentified as one of the fellow fighters in the text. This is by far not the only discrepancy between the text and the film (cf. The National Institute of Archaeology).

06-N/A - The Dance of Love: The aftermath of the above fight showing tribeswomen selecting men for mating; this scene is also entirely missing from G.

07-11 - The Test of Manhood: The narration in S/G, even when the same, is nonetheless displaced by a few seconds. One of the more apparent side effects of this is that in G Arthur Davis talking to the people on the boat is almost inaudible due to Johnson's impinging narration; while in S, Davis is clearly audible ("I want to take some pictures of manhood rituals").

G also includes additional narration: "We followed the three young warriors downriver. No one knows the roots of this unique and grisly tradition, or why the tribe subjects its young men to such a terrible test." And later: "But to this tribe, with its worship of human beauty, the loss of a limb is the same as death. The maimed and the mauled are chased away into the jungle to die." Note that both of these narrative tropes--the forgotten origin of brutal traditions and banishment and death as punishment for failure--are recycled in later scenes; the former in The Legend of the Stone Battle ("the cause of the fight has long ago been forgotten, only the symbols remain"), the latter in The Turtle Wedding of the Uru ("As the father waves goodbye, he hopes he will not see his daughter for more than a year. If in that time she has failed to bear a son, she will be returned to his house, shop-soiled and disgraced. The father's only choice would be to poison her and to bury her along with the family shame").

G is further missing a short scene of Arthur Davis's boat coming ashore, instead cutting to the tribesmen emerging from the jungle and adding the line "We set up our cameras and waited."

The crocodile bloodbath scene is several seconds longer in S, including an extended shot of the unfortunate tribesman's head in the croc's mouth, a shot of the two survivors wading through the river, and a final shot of a severed hand floating amidst the bloodied water.

Alternate concluding narration is present in both versions; S: "After witnessing that secret manhood ritual we left Africa, but as our plane took us and our cameras towards South America, we shuddered a little and were glad that some of the things we had witnessed were behind us, with new exciting adventures ahead." G: "After witnessing that secret manhood ritual we shuddered a little and were glad that some of the things we had witnessed were behind us, with new exciting adventures ahead."

08-03 - South America Segment Intro: S includes alternate narration as well as extended footage of urban Bolivia, "The tower blocks and streamlined offices of modern Bolivia and Peru stand side-by-side with architectural fantasies of the original Spanish conquerors." G meanwhile also includes alternate narration of its own: "South America, which covers 12% of the world's land surface, remains the unexplored continent."

09-04 - The National Institute of Archaeology: No difference. Both S/G introduce the man at the institute as follows:

In La Paz, Bolivia at the National Institute of Archaeology we visited the man who could help us in our search, Dr. Carlos Ponce Sanginés. He is a noted Inca authority and displayed great kindness in guiding our expedition towards the remote highways and byways of the Andes mountains where people still worship the sun and Inca ceremonies have survived the conquering years.

Compare this introduction to the one written by Davis in the tie-in paperback travelogue for the film, though:

At the National Institute of Archaeology, we sought the aid of Dr. Alberto Mendoza for our quest. Dr. Mendoza was noted as an authority on Inca history, and he displayed great kindness, helping us plan our expedition towards the remote highways and byways of the high Andes Mountains. He was one of the directors for the tourist information bureau in Lima.

Lest one think that both of these are interchangeable monikers Davis concocted, Sanginés does in fact appear to be who Davis says he is:

In 1957, on the heels of the turbulent Bolivian agrarian reform, the die-hard positivist Carlos Ponce Sanginés and a group of dedicated colleagues, among them Gregorio Cordero Miranda and Maks Portugal, effectively institutionalized Bolivian archeology. Led by Ponce, they founded the Center of Archaeological Investigations in Tiwanaku (CIAT) in 1958 and the National Institute of Archaeology (INAR) in 1975 (Ponce 1995:262–263). The agrarian reform and the inauguration of Bolivian archaeology coincided with the rise to power of the Left-led National Revolutionary Movement (MNR). An integral part of the political party and the new national order, Ponce and his colleagues drew up itemized agendas for a staunchly nationalist, Marxist-inspired archaeology (Ponce 1961, 1978a, 1978b; 1980). Ponce’s optimistic 'National Archaeology,' grounded in empirical research, state-of-the-art technology, and scientific methods, was diametrically opposed to the 'Neocolonial Archaeology' of Europe and North America, which, he argued, 'limited to university circles or the scope of museums, remains suffocated and without repercussion in national life' (Ponce 1978a:3). Putting this ideology in practice, Ponce and colleagues effectively impeded North American and European research at Tiwanaku until the late 1980s. [John Wayne Janusek, Identity and Power in the Ancient Andes: Tiwanaku Cities Through Time, p. 64]

While cooperating with Davis's film crew would thus seemingly have been at odds with Ponce's anti-colonialism, the knowledge that this was going to be a public documentary would nonetheless have presumably coalesced with his desire to expand the accessibility of the expeditions by bringing them to a wider audience. We couldn't find any information on a Dr. Alberto Mendoza, though the tie-in paperback does state that "In some instances the names of certain individuals have been changed because official governmental authorization to visit and photograph these incidents was not extended", which may well explain the name discrepancies.

10-05 - Banks of the Amazon: No differing cuts, but G has additional narration not found in S:

The women learn their craft as children. For hundreds of years the inhabitants of this region have been making these primitive boats from the reeds growing at the water's edge. The boats are light and sturdy, perfectly suited to the shallower reaches of the Amazon. When they are not weaving, the women cook the fish their men have caught and pound potatoes into mash. This is their staple diet.

11-07 - Death Village: No cuts, but S has a minor additional line of introductory narration not found in G: "Further on we found a different story."

N/A-12 - Bird Flight Montage: In a notable moment of inversion (usually it is S that features all of the additional footage), this is a two-minute bird flight montage sequence that is only found in G (though a brief snippet is found in both versions during the end credits). This scene presents a stunning antithesis to the sex and violence-soaked scenery of the bulk of the film.

12-08 - The Turtle Wedding of the Uru: No cuts, but G once again has additional narration: "Lovers are lovers everywhere, and the wedding night is the same throughout the in a hammock is, well, something of a feat."

13-06 - The Llama Sacrifice: No difference. From this point onwards it seems that Davis (or whoever else may have been doing the editing for the disparate versions) got tired of rearranging scenes and reworking the narration, as there are no differences in the remaining scenes between S and G.

14-09 - Jungle Survival: No difference.

15-13 - The Cocaine Story: No difference.

16-14 - The Legend of the Stone Battle: No difference.

17-15 - Head Surgery: No difference.

18-16 - The Erotic Inca Museum: No difference, but interestingly enough--though he is not mentioned in this segment--sources say that the aforementioned Dr. Carlos Ponce Sanginés (see The National Institute of Archaeology) also had an interest in erotic figurines:

Ponce Sanginés, por su parte, concentra parte de sus investigaciones en innumerables figurillas antropomorfas con elementos fálicos y gibas prominentes, que en su opinión se remontan a la época del Inkario, y que de acuerdo a sus observaciones se tratarían de predecesores del Ekeko colonial. [Espíritu de la fuerza ancestral]

Thus, perhaps it was from Ponce that Davis got the idea to visit the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera (dubbed by Davis as 'The Erotic Pottery Museum').

19-17 - Alligator vs. Jaguar: No difference.

20-18 - The Llama Orgy: No difference.

21-19 - End Credits: No difference in the end credit sequence itself, though G does then have a plug for its distributor afterward: "To receive your free MPI Home Video Catalog, write to: MPI Home Video Dept. 1400 15825 Rob Roy Dr. Oak Forest, IL 60452".

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