Savage Man, Savage Cinema: The Strange Undocumented Lineage of Arthur Davis

Calum Waddell

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Released in 1978 to critical disdain, Brutes and Savages has been described as 'a lame attempt to exploit taboos using artifice and constipated attitudes' (Kerekes and Slater, 2016, p195) whilst its onscreen 'presenter' Arthur Davis has found himself dismissed as 'the most monstrous, untamed ego in the entire history of the sub-genre' (Goodall, 2006, p19). In this paper, I do not intend to defend the frequent abjection, misogyny, racism and animal cruelty of Brutes and Savages. Instead, what I wish to argue is that, due to its running expository narration and the presence of Davis in the misappropriation of nation and location (including a fictional and nonsensical African country) - the film could be seen as a largely unacknowledged precursor to, and influence on, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980). In addition, I also propose that in Davis's Cecil Rhodes-inspired colonial buffoonery, however unintentional, Brutes and Savages also anticipates the documentary film's later evolution into a more performative mode of presentation (Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Brian Herzlinger) in which 'truth' (including the image as both index and icon) and manipulation become increasingly more intertwined. States Nichols: 'At the heart of documentary is less a story and its imaginary world than an argument about the historical world' (1991, p111) - drawing on this quote, I will argue that Brutes and Savages, with its clumsy self-referential mythology and geographical ignorance, nonetheless posits that the future of documentary might be more commercially galvanised than necessarily 'truthful' or even journalistic. At the same time, I will conclude upon the film's impact on the Italian cannibal cycle.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Specialist publicationFilm International
PublisherIntellect Press
Publication statusIn preparation - 31 Oct 2018


  • Film Studies
  • Paracinema
  • Mondo cinema
  • Documentary


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