Mondo movies: a historical study of a polysemous genre

Wiegand, Erin Elise (2022) Mondo movies: a historical study of a polysemous genre. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Mondo movies, broadly understood, have been described as a travel-documentary genre that is about cultural differences, the civilised-savage binary, and shifting understandings of the Other; they have also frequently been treated by scholars and fans alike as a type of exploitation film, a genre defined by its sensationalising of the real as well as its fakery and ‘ballyhoo’; in other interpretations, mondo movies are understood as being situated within the horror genre, related to the snuff-film legend and steeped in the commercialisation of real violence and death. In all cases, ‘mondo’ is treated as a more or less given generic identity, but one that simultaneously resists definition or analysis using traditional methods of genre study. For the most part, genre has been an afterthought when it comes to mondo movies, with little attention given to explain why certain clusters of films should be considered in relation to each other, and to a shared ‘mondo’ label. This thesis intervenes in existing work on mondo movies to approach them seriously as a genre, asking what purposes it has served to bring these films together (in different configurations) as a discrete category, and how this in turn helps us to understand the films themselves—as well as to understand their cultural and historical significance. I treat mondo movies as a case study of a polysemous genre, identifying ‘mondo’ as a term which integrates multiple meanings and generic uses that have been applied to these films over the last sixty years. Focusing on the dissemination of ‘mondo movies’ in the United States and their subsequent reception by critics and, later, fan audiences, this thesis suggests three different ways ‘mondo’ may be interpreted as a genre, identifying (1) a discrete genre cycle attached to the release of the film Mondo Cane in 1963; (2) a marketing term used by exploitation producers and distributors throughout the 1960s; and (3) a cultural category encompassing a wide range of films and other cultural phenomena considered strange, forbidden, or ‘outsider’, and brought together via ‘psychotronic’ and paracinematic fan cultures of the 1990s and later. Rather than arguing that only one of these is a ‘correct’ interpretation of the meaning of ‘mondo’, I identify how each type of ‘mondo’ may usefully contribute to understandings of film genre, exploitation marketing practises, and documentary as a form of commercial entertainment.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: film genre, genre theory, exploitation film, documentary, horror film
Subjects: W600 Cinematics and Photography
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2023 10:03
Last Modified: 26 May 2024 03:30

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