Saturday, May 30, 2009

Arthur Davis & Factual Reports

“Some men are driven to investigate, to explore, to come to grips with the motivating forces that shape our lives. Arthur Davis is such a man, and BRUTES AND SAVAGES is the result of his desire to search out the roots of our civilization in the places where mankind first developed.”

[from the back cover of the BRUTES AND SAVAGES novelization]

Arthur Davis, known as “Mr. International Showman” in the film distribution world, was a familiar face to most people who read Variety during the 1960s and ‘70s. The son of a Florida movie theater owner, Davis followed in his father’s footsteps as an exhibitor before landing a job as a publicist for the film import company Mayer-Burstyn. He ran his own film import business in the States for several years before relocating to Tokyo in the early 1960s and establishing The Arthur Davis Company, a distribution outfit that provided Japanese TV stations and movie theaters with Italian and French movies. After more than a decade in Japan, Davis expanded his operation to Hong Kong and formed The Arthur Davis Organization -- “The leading independent showmanship group in Japan, Hong Kong and all the Far East,” according to the ads that frequently appeared in Variety (accompanied by a photo of Davis, always smiling). He also widened his scope to include the handling of German, British, and some American films, and by the mid-1970s his company was distributing over 22 titles a year throughout Asia. Logically, the next step for Davis would be the production of his own films.

It took an action-packed vacation in South America to convince Davis that truth was indeed stranger than fiction, at least in certain corners of the globe, and that a sensationalistic travelogue in the tradition of the enormously successful Italian “shockumentary” MONDO CANE (1962) -- and all its “Mondo” imitators -- would be a good way to ease into film production. The lifestyles and rituals of so-called primitive cultures in South America and Africa, committed to film, would hopefully provide enough shock value to get the movie sold in every conceivable film market in the world. Davis formed a new company called Factual Reports, opened a production office in London, and immediately put up $750,000 of his own money to start the motion picture that would become BRUTES AND SAVAGES. “Such films are relatively easy to make,” he boasted to Variety. “They have no cast and don’t need a name director to sell them” (Variety, May 11th, 1977, p. 6). Meanwhile, a second “factual report” -- a documentary about Japanese martial arts called THE ART OF KILLING -- would be shooting at the same time in Japan, with producer Hisao Masuda and director Masayoshi Nemoto in charge.

Davis' third Factual Report, WITCHCRAFT, was set to roll in September of 1977. Based on the files of UCLA professor Michael Donaldson and focusing on Japanese ghosts, Malaysian voodoo and other psychic phenomena, Davis had pre-sold the documentary to a dozen distributors on the strength of his claims that it would contain footage of an actual exorcism. That summer, after seeing EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC bomb with both critics and ticket buyers, the distributors got nervous and asked to be released from the deal. WITCHCRAFT was scrapped, at a cost of nearly $100,000 of Davis’ own money.

BRUTES AND SAVAGES and THE ART OF KILLING remained unreleased in the United States until 1982, when the former was given limited grindhouse exposure through Aquarius Releasing and the latter was re-titled BUDO and released briefly through Crown International Pictures. By that point, Davis had sold the Arthur Davis Organization to his Japanese employees, who split into 3 separate companies (Medallion Enterprises, Nan Enterprises, The Dela Corporation), and returned to Florida to begin a new career in real estate. He passed away sometime in the 1990s.

To learn more about BRUTES AND SAVAGES and BUDO: THE ART OF KILLING, read Chris' liner notes inside the DVDs from Synapse Films.

UPDATE: Longtime Temple contributor John W. Donaldson sent in a cool BRUTES AND SAVAGES graphic (below) and also drew our attention to an amusing entry on Arthur Davis at the Museum of Hoaxes website.

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