Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2001 at 12:00 AM

This documentary tells the story of Tobias Schneebaum, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who became a cannibal. Actually, it was just that one time so, keeping in mind the old adage “once a philosopher, twice a pervert,” calling him a cannibal might be misleading.

Schneebaum, who had become an artist of note in New York City by the mid-’50s and who fancied himself a part-time archeologist, received a Fulbright grant in 1955 to travel to Peru to paint. Following his natural curiosity, Schneebaum wandered farther into the jungle than perhaps he should have, ending up staying with the cannibalistic Amarakaire Indians and participating in one of their murderous raids on another tribe.

Schneebaum, now 78 and mild-mannered when not mildly cranky, doesn’t seem like the sort of person to whom adventures naturally occur, and much of the interest generated by the film lies in trying to figure out how and why this urbanely diffident character did what he did. At first, Schneebaum, who is gay, seems like another of civilization’s discontented who’s drawn to the superficially paradisiacal aspects of “primitive” societies, specifically those where bisexuality is culturally sanctioned. But as the film progresses, its first half dealing mainly with his revisit to a tribe in New Guinea, we can see that his interest is genuine and deep.

But the payoff we’re waiting for is Schneebaum’s return to Peru and the site of his great transgression. And though it’s anticlimactic — apparently even cannibals can’t go home again — the trip there is satisfyingly strange.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

Visit the official Keep the Rive on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale Web site at www.keeptheriver.com.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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