KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT
Review by Michael Jacobson
David Shapiro, Laurie Gwen Shapiro
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: October 29, 2002
you a cannibal?”
the River on Your Right isn't a tale told by idiots, but it's still one full of sound and
fury and signifying nothing. The
subject matter is equal parts fascinating and repulsive, but ultimately, the
documentary doesn't live up to its own billing.
sort of tells the story of New York artist Tobias Schneebaum.
In 1955, his interest in primitive art and his skill in reproducing it
led him into the jungles of Peru, where he experienced life with the natives and
became a part of their culture, even to the point of participating in a
murderous raid and dining on human flesh.
was then. The documentary takes
place now. Schneebaum is 78,
suffers from Parkinson's and a bad hip, and is willing to talk about his
experiences (to a certain extent; he claims not to even remember what human
flesh tasted like), but not relive them.
David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro, however, know they have no film without his
return, so they basically persuade him to go back to the “scene of the
crime”, so to speak, even though the man's ability to walk is hampered and
his nightmares grow worse the closer they get to the places of his experiences.
of the film, however, really isn't about the subject that intrigued us into
watching it in the first place. We spend a lot of time learning about
Schneebaum, who frankly isn't very interesting apart from the one event in his
life that set him singularly apart from most of humanity.
I didn't care much about his upbringing, his career, or his frequently
flaunted sexual preferences (one aspect of the primitives that appealed to him
was their refusal to distinguish sexual desires; man or woman made no difference
to them). To a certain degree, I
sympathized with him, because what these filmmakers were coercing him to do was
quite unthinkable. To another
degree, I didn't. Sometimes we
make choices that haunt us, but ultimately, they are our choices.
photography in the movie is beautiful, and to the extent it records visually the
jungles, rivers, wildlife and Peruvian ruins, it plays almost like a good
National Geographic special. But
Schneebaum is problematic…his appearance and his experiences derail any
cultural or archaeological importance the documentary might have.
We're not along for the ride for any edifying reason other than to make
this old man relive the one experience he'd spent most of his life trying to
wrote about his experiences in a 1969 published memoir of the same title as this
film, and we see that for a time, he became sort of a quasi-celebrity because of
it. On an early Mike Douglas Show
appearance, he DID manage to remember that human flesh tasted like pork.
What this did for his career as an artist, I'm not sure, but it gave
him a run of the lecture circuit, as we see.
Colleges and other groups seemed willing to pay him money to come and
talk about what he went through, even though it seemed for the most part, he
actually refused to talk much about it.
the end, I walked away with no new insights, no new opinions, no revelations
into human behavior. I felt
slightly worse off for the experience; like I traveled through some serious muck
and desperately needed a shower. Before
I started watching the film, I could only think that if you wanted to fit in
with a strange culture, you might eat some food you'd never imagine yourself
eating, or wear your hair or clothes in ways you never pictured yourself doing.
There are certain things, however, that you never do.
You don't sacrifice virgins. You
don't throw children into volcanoes.
for God's sake, you don't eat other people.
Common sense should tell you that long before this movie does.
TRIVIA: “Keep the river on
your right” was the vague instruction given to Schneebaum before entering the
Amazon jungle as the only means of keeping his bearings and finding his way back
out, which he did…one year later.
mentioned, the photography in this picture is very beautiful…I'm guessing
most of the source was digital video. Colors
are bright and well-represented, and images are nearly as crisp and detailed as
film, with no noticeable grain or break-up.
Brightly lit outdoor sequences fare best of all, though there are no weak
moments (save for some occasional archival footage, which is understandable).
Overall, a very solid job.
the box says 5.1, the presentation is actually 2.0 surround.
It's a highly serviceable track, considering most of the picture is
dialogue oriented. The quieter
river and jungle scenes work beautifully, when all you hear are the subtle
sounds of nature. Dynamic range is
limited, as are panning and discreet effects as far as I could tell, but still,
a clean and decent listen overall.
disc boasts nine deleted scenes, a photo and sketch gallery featuring
Schneebaum's original artwork, excerpts from his book Jungle Journey including
drawings, plus bios for both Schneebaum and the filmmakers, along with promos
and trailers for Docurama products.