how’s that for civilization?

tarzan and his mate (or tarzan finds a mate) is incredible.  to quote a friend, “it’s the best jungle movie ever made.”  i couldnt agree more.

tarzan and his mate is a lot like herzog’s jungle movies — fitzcarraldo, cobra verde, etc.  it’s a bunch of europeans heading off into the middle of the jungle to make a movie.   they employ indigenous people(s) as actors and extras (and, like in cobra verde, stage a huge battle between warring tribes), film all sorts of wild animals (and wild animal attacks), (inadvertently?) kill (a few) people and (a ton) of animals, edit the footage and release a movie unlike most movies you’ll ever see.

like the herzog jungle movies and the heart of darkness, tarzan and his mate may function as a kind of (post)colonial criticism.  here’s how the exploiter’s ethical concerns breakdown from most important to least important:

-ivory (as in elephant tusks)
-tarzan (mostly because he knows the way to the elephant -graveyard where more tusks than they could hope to transport can be found)
-other non-threatening animals (including chimps)
-threatening animals (including hippos, tigers, cheetahs, rhinos, snakes and crocodiles)
-the african tribe they employ to transport the ivory

so the movie is pretty racist.  but guess what?  we’re still exploiting africa.  what else do you think africom is about?  and all this fuss over somolian pirates?  an excuse to extend our sphere of influence (read: exploitation) in the african continent.  so, if you watch this movie (and you should), dont be fooled thinking how enlightened we’ve become because out tax dollars and our multi-national corporations are committing way worse crimes than jane’s old boyfriend (and his new boyfriend) could ever imagine.

did i mention all the animal attacks in this movie?  there are dozens.  tarzan is always saving jane from some animal or another — he wrestles  crocodiles, kills lions with his bare hands, stabs rhinos (while he’s riding them) and tames hippos.

most importantly, tarzan and his mate features a chimp smoking cigarettes!

so this chimp, cheeta, basically pioneered chimp-acting.  and he’s 76 and still alive.  jane goodall sent him a birthday video for his 75th birthday, which, according to the internet, featured goodall singing happy birthday in chimp calls.

or that’s what cheeta’s autobiography (me cheeta by cheeta) lead me to believe.

but it’s not true.  i found this great article by rd rosen.  he was working on an authorized biography on cheeta when he discovered that cheeta (seen above) is actually only 48 and never acted in any tarzan movies and possibly never acted in any movie ever.

cheeta, however, is an accomplished painter.

(for anyone interested in ape art, check out this site.  they can be a little hard on animal artists (they have sections under there why artist don’t get paid tab that feature other ape, dolphin, cat and turtle artists) because the site is ran by artists and they might be a little insecure seeing these animals paint (and get paid for) these incredible pieces of art.)

the real chimp-actor pioneer is jiggs.  he was featured in a number of early tarzan films (including tarzan and his mate).  he may have been the first chimp to ever smoke and/or dress in drag in a movie.



Filed under Brian

3 responses to “how’s that for civilization?

  1. So who’s the one responsible for Cheeta’s deception? I know it wasn’t Cheeta himself. Who wouldn’t trust a face like that?

    • brian

      i was thinking about doing another piece about it. because it isn’t cheeta’s fault. and, he may be one of the most important figures fighting to get chimp-actors recognition.
      like, he’s been involved in multiple campaigns to get the name cheeta on the walk of fame, but so far they’ve failed.
      the thing that’s interesting about the walk of fame thing is that it would be cheeta, the character, who would be inducted. so this would include cheeta the painter as well as the character of the chimp in all those tarzan movies. in other words, cheeta the painter is an extension of the cheeta character.
      but, it was the previous owner that lied about cheeta’s movie roles and age. or he was confused.

  2. natali

    i like cheeta and his art and this post.

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