Salo – The 120 Days Of Sodom
My favorite screen credit of all time comes from the film “Poltergeist II.” There’s a scene where Craig T. Nelson downs a bottle of tequila, and accidentally swallows the worm. In true “Poltergeist” fashion, the worm takes on a life of its own, forcing Nelson to chuck it back up. The regurgitation then becomes an entity and crawls off.
The entity is listed in the credits as “vomit creature,” and was actually played by an actor. Imagine the actor listing off his credits….oh yeah, and I played the vomit creature in “Poltergeist II.” That’s what comes to mind when I watch notorious Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s shocking “Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom.” Here’s a film that dwells on its decadence. A group of young Italian men and women are rounded up shortly before the end of World War II by four Fascist leaders. They are transported to a private villa, where they are subjected to every degradation known to man. Most of the young cast members (I kept praying that they were al over 18) are forced to engage in perverse acts. They spend more than half the film naked, and the other half engaging in homosexual sex acts and eating each other’s feces. Now imagine putting that down on your acting resume. Oh yeah, I was sex slave number six who took a leak into the mouth of one of the fascists.
Unless you’re Annie Sprinkles, there isn’t much call for that sort of talent. Pasolini was a controversial director long before “Salo.” His “Arabian Nights” and “The Canterbury Tales” were both highly regarded for their style as well as their erotic and violent content. “Salo” was his final film. Pasolini was murdered by a male hustler shortly after completing the film. The director’s penchant for cute, young Italian boys takes center stage “Salo.” He delights in exposing and them humiliating his young cast. He balances the scales by tossing in an equal number of naked young females, yet his camera seems to prefer the male of the species. Aside from actual hardcore sex, Pasolini doesn’t hold back. He not only pushes the envelope, he shreds it. “Salo” is am uncomfortable film to sit through. It’s not really entertainment but an endurance test. Pasolini loosely based Salo on the Marquis De Sade’s “The 120 Days of Sodom.” Thanks goodness the time frame in the film doesn’t go on that long. The story is told in four segments: “Antechamber of Hell,” “Circle of Obsessions,” “Circle of S**t,” and “Circle of Blood.”
Each one is introduced by a woman named Signora Castelli, who like the rest of the cast, looks like refugees from Luchino Visconti’s “The Damned” by way of John Water’s “Pink Flamingos.” Surprisingly, the performances aren’t bad, but they’re most functionary. It’s surprising what people will do just to be in a movie. The simulated sex isn’t so bad, but when the cast if forced to eat feces, you wonder what they were thinking. Gee, I could shove forks in my eyes or be in a Pier Pasolini movie? Hmmm. Technically, the film is well made. The Italian countryside looks very inviting. Still, it’s hard to judge a film whose sole existence is to shock and dismay. Is it entertainment? Not really. Is it art? That’s another Pandora’s box. Is it pornography? That’s a tough call. While there is no actual close-ups of intercourse, there is a lot of rump pumping going on. Is it worth a look? It depends on whether or not you’re the sort of person who would slow down on the freeway to see a bad wreck.
Working from a less-than-pristine original print, the digital transfer of “Salo” is pretty decent. The blacks aren’t as solid as they could be, but the colors and flesh tones (and there’s a lot of flesh) look natural. Th flaking of the original print is magnified by the digital transfer. I also noticed some strobing, but it happens during indoor scenes and could have been a lighting problem while filming. Transferred in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio.
Monaural track is more than enough to get the message across. Anything more involved would make the overall experience even more sordid.
Subtitles in English.
There are no extras, but I imagine an air sickness bag would be apropos.
There’s a thin line between art and pornography. Even though Pasolini never shows hard- core sex, the film still walks that thin line. Pasolini may be dead, but his films lives on DVD.
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
BIRTH DATE: 1975
HMO: Criterion Collection