Senior HTF Member
- Apr 24, 2006
- Charlotte, NC
- Real Name
- Matt Hough
Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 116 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono Italian, English
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Review Date: August 21, 2008
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s scathing indictment of both the Fascist-minded intelligencia in the last year of World War II and the unthinking conformists of his own time makes for a graphic and altogether horrifying film Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom. Controversial hardly describes this kinetic attack on the senses, described by some as a masterpiece and by others as the worst kind of arty trash. I rather take a middle road. Pasolini has important things to say and uses a shocking manner of visually symbolic expression with which to say them. As is often the case with passionate filmmakers, however, his excesses to make his point are often the very things which take away from the film’s eventual effectiveness.
Four aristocratic Italian men (symbolically calling themselves the duke, the magistrate, the bishop, and the president) during the last year of the war round up an extremely appealing group of fresh-faced young people and bring them to a villa for their own sadistic pleasures. Every manner of depravity and cruelty is inflicted upon the seventeen boys and girls (one boy is shot trying to escape from the truck conveying him to the villa; in retrospect, he made the right decision) as three artfully gowned prostitutes recount sexual tales which inspire the captors to indulge in their own freakish and ever-growing outlandish fantasies. During their time at this tastefully appointed mansion (the only good taste on display is the architecture and horticulture), even the guards begin to take part in the sadism and sexual games, but the four primary perverts and their increasingly grotesque desires are the focus of the story. There can be only one end for these pathetic and submissive victims, of course, as Pasolini symbolically climaxes his story in a orgy of violence and near-numbing loss, all directed at Italians who let the Fascists take over their country instead of fighting for their own honor and freedom both during the war and in his own present time. Fingers get pointed at others to save their own necks (to no avail), but very, very few stand up for their own rights.
Pasolini’s screenplay (written with Sergio Citti and others including some inspiration from Dante's Inferno) is based on the novel by the Marquis de Sade (which was left incomplete; much of the vulgarity in the film is suggested by the parts which were completed), but it’s been set in Italy near the war’s end for the director’s dual purpose. It’s a nasty, ugly piece of goods on display even when one is keenly aware of the director‘s objectives. Ironically, Pasolini’s direction is most stately and deliberate, almost classy even when dealing with the scatological and bestial nature of these sex games. The prostitutes are gowned gorgeously, there is baroque music being played as their saucy, diabolical tales are being recounted, and the camera moves with studied grace as various youths are submitted to the desires of the aggressive men.
Of the four primary men, Aldo Valletti’s salacious, sadistic President and Paolo Bonacelli’s more tender, needful Duke make the greatest impressions. Signora Castelli’s more elegant and less debauching stories are well represented by Caterina Boratto while Else de Giorgi gives her seemingly endless stories of defecation and repulsion a gleeful grace. Oddly, the children, as beautiful and well appointed as they are, make no individual impressions. They’re there to be used and abused as so much cattle, ultimately faceless once they’ve served their wicked purposes.
One of the older men says at one point that nothing is more contagious than evil. I’m not sure if that’s a quote from de Sade’s work or if it’s a Pasolini invention for the film, but how ironic that after making this utterly gruesome and shocking examination of the face of evil, Pasolini’s own life was snuffed out by a youth in a similarly shocking and brutal way. Sometimes the ironies of life are beyond comprehension.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio makes for a beautiful DVD. Though early on the color appears a bit dated and there are one or two dust specks and a troublesome hair, in the main, the picture quality is quite impressive. Sharpness is a notch below optimum, but flesh tones seem very realistic, color is firm if just a touch subdued, and blacks are nice and deep. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is clear lacking hiss, crackles, or pops. There’s not much range in the mix; neither highs nor lows distinguish themselves, but it’s a solid mono track. There is an English-language dub available for selection, but I listened in the original Italian (which is also dubbed).
The first disc contains a theatrical trailer using the English dub of the film. The sound here is quite shrill and distorted, nothing like the audio mix on the film itself. The anamorphic widescreen trailer runs 3 ½ minutes.
The rest of the bonus features are contained on disc two.
“Salò: Yesterday and Today” is a 1975 4:3 documentary shot on the set of the film on the last day of shooting. This 33 ¼-minute look in black and white and color of Pasolini’s working methods along with an interview with him is perhaps the best bonus on the disc.
“Fade to Black” spends 23 ¼ minutes with three world class directors including Bernardo Bertolucci and John Maybury and film scholar David Forgacs as they discuss the film and their own reactions and interpretations of what it means. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
“The End of Salò” is a 39 ¾-minute documentary discussing the writing of the script, the banning of the film in Italy, and the preparations for the French dubbing which went on despite Pasolini’s murder the preceding weekend. It’s presented in 4:3.
Production designer Dante Ferretti talks for 11 ½ minutes about his four film experiences with director Pasolini and specifically about his work on Salò. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
Film historian and director Jean-Pierre Gorin analyzes the movie as a modern allegory in a 27-minute critique filmed in anamorphic widescreen.
The enclosed 80-page booklet offers some film stills, six different interpretations of the movie by film critics and historians as well as excerpts from writer-critic Gideon Bachmann’s production diary, all fascinating.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cold, detached examination of sexual corruption on a grand and inglorious scale makes Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom a one-of-a-kind experience. Fans of the film will be thrilled with the excellent video transfer offered here, and the outstanding line-up of extras will delight them even more. For all others who might be curious by the film’s notorious history, consider yourselves warned.