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Blu-ray Review Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Oct 1, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    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 in 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. As a study in pure evil told through the actions and reactions of a perverse quartet of sadists, the movie is not pornography, but it is, in effect, flawed art.

    Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1976

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 116 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
    Subtitles: English

    Region: A

    MSRP: $39.95

    Release Date: October 4, 2011

    Review Date: October 1, 2011

    The Film


    Four aristocratic Italian men (symbolically calling themselves the duke, the magistrate, the bishop, and the president) during the last year of World War II 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-expanding  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 (then) 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 revolting, 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, surprisingly classy even when dealing with the scatological and bestial nature of these sex games. The three prostitutes are gowned gorgeously, there is haunting baroque music being played as their saucy, diabolical tales are being recounted, and the camera moves with studied and fluid 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 élan. 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 purposes for their wicked “benefactors.”

    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 malevolence, Pasolini’s own life was snuffed out by a youth in a similarly shocking and brutal way. Sometimes the ironies of life are truly beyond comprehension.

    Video Quality


    The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. On the whole, the film transfer is a beautiful one with excellent sharpness and an artifact-free image apart from a dust speck here or there and a troublesome hair. There are a couple of establishing shots that appear a bit dated and one that looks oddly digital, but otherwise, the transfer is impressively filmlike. Color is beautifully realized with flesh tones perhaps a bit too pink but consistently maintained throughout the film’s running time. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) soundtrack is a strong mono mix. Except for some late scenes which contain some crackly hiss, the track is surprisingly clean, and while the post dubbing of the dialogue is as expectedly flat as it usually is in films of this era, it combines with the music and sound effects quite well. Even periodic intrusions of the drone of overhead Allied aircraft don’t produce expected distortion and actually give the soundtrack some heft. There is an English-language dub available for selection, but I listened in the original Italian.

    Special Features


    All of the bonus features are presented in 1080i.

    Salò: Yesterday and Today” is a 1975 documentary shot on the set of the film on the last day of filming. 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.

    “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.

    Production designer Dante Ferretti talks for 11 ½ minutes about his four film experiences with director Pasolini and specifically about his work on Salò.

    Film historian and director Jean-Pierre Gorin analyzes the movie as a modern allegory in a 27-minute video critique.

    The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 3 ½ minutes.

    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.

    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    In Conclusion

    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 high definition 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.

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

  2. FoxyMulder

    FoxyMulder 映画ファン

    Sep 14, 2009
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    The UK edition had some major issues most likely due to using a Cintel DSX scanner, have Criterion had a new transfer done for this film or is it the same as the UK edition. ?
  3. Lord Dalek

    Lord Dalek Producer

    Apr 4, 2005
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    Joel Henderson
    Going by the Beaver screencaps, they aren't from the same transfer.
  4. Derrick King

    Derrick King Supporting Actor

    Aug 15, 2003
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    They aren't the same. Criterion did their own scan of an interpositive. To see the difference, go compare these sets of screencaps (may be NSFW): Criterion and BFI

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