The notorious shockumentary consisting of stock footage, reenactments and pure fictional footage of death around the world. An eye-opener to some, just shock value to others, it shows us death unlike anything else at the time.
It's always weird returning to "Faces of Death" now and then. This time I decided to watch it with commentary on, which I hadn't before. Much of the things revealed were very known already, but it was interesting to listen to the filmmaker's reasons, thoughts and such around it. Not to mention, he gave some good insights in exact editing of certain scenes that consist of both real and faked footage. This wouldn't be anything new to anyone who loves "Faces of Death", however, as it's from the 30th Anniversary release, which Swedish Njutafilms just released last year (even though 2013 marked its 36th-or-so year).
I don't know what I need to tell you about the content that you don't know already. It's one of the most notorious films ever made, so if you're one of our readers you probably have it already. It was made when a Japanese studio commissioned for it to be made by filmmaker John Alan Schwartz, who previously made nature movies. It consists of plenty of real footage showing death, either bodies or slaughtered animals. But most of the infamous scenes, such as the execution of a prisoner and the ape getting its skull opened, were faked, which is also one of the most interesting aspects of it. For many years it has been discussed if its real or not, what's faked and what's real, and so on. In the end, the filmmakers wanted to show death as real as possible. In the context that it was made, it's exploitive of death, and it kinda further developed a subgenre that movies like "Mondo Cane" already explored somewhat, but pushed it into the exploitation market.
Shockumentaries aren't very interesting to me. I want content, and these movies rarely give any content. Hiding behind "wanting to show death as real as possible" isn't exactly gonna teach me anything as a person. Now, "Faces of Death" is doing a pretty decent job at it, as it actually manages to do what it said, and it was the first of its kind. Most shockumentaries/death footage compilations that followed, such as "Traces of Death" or "Death: The Ultimate Horror", are just out to exploit the subjects even further. We all know that the world has become desensitized since the dawn of the internet, shit like this is everywhere, but unfortunately that has also created a wave of annoying people embracing these movies. It's okay to be curious, but some people just don't seem to know when to stop. I think the fact that there are so many death footage compilations out there proves that it has gone away from curiosity. Now, give me documentaries like "Orozco the Embalmer" or "Executions" and I can say they gave me something as a human, no matter how bad I felt watching them. "Faces of Death" is probably the only one of its compilation-like kind to succeed in similar fashion, though its effect has declined a bit and all the years of discussing it has rendered it slightly tedious for me.
The biggest flaws with "Faces of Death" is that it goes for a few weird comedic effects, which I have never been able to appreciate with it. The narrator, Dr. Francis B. Gröss, is just so over-the-top at times that it took me out of the reality it wants to show, and the music being in complete contrast with the visuals doesn't help either. That's the reason why "Faces of Death", to me, never managed to feel authentic through-and-through even back when I thought it was all real.
Most people have seen "Faces of Death", but in case you haven't then it's up to you if you want to watch it. Half of the footage is real (stock footage and some things shot by the filmmakers), but most deaths of humans that occur on camera (and a few other scenes) are faked, which can be interesting for the investigative person. It's hard for me to know the exact impact it had at its time, since I was born a decade later, but even when I started getting curious this was the name most would bring up. There's a reason for that, too, even though it has several problems. If you haven't watched it for many years, it wouldn't be too bad returning to it with the commentary track, as the movie was a huge mystery and a notorious part of film history for decades. The commentary certainly made the movie worth returning to for me, but I don't think I will return to the movie again.