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Category:    Home > Reviews > Crime > Drama > Politics > Fascism > WWII > Torture > Genocide > Literature > Italy > Salo or The 120 Days Of Sodom (1976/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

Salo or The 120 Days Of Sodom (1976/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B+     Film: A-



It is one of the most censored, criticized, ignored, shocking, vulgar, gross, bold, groundbreaking, stunning, relentless, bleak, sickening, wild, astounding and graphic films ever made, but it is also a masterwork whose creator was highly likely assassinated for making and today, it would instantly get an NC-17 and be passed on by most movie theaters and cineplexes.  So what it is about Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo or The 120 Days Of Sodom (1976) that continues to be so controversial to this day when we have had endless torture porn films, gross-out comedies, endless blood and gore even in films and on TV shows that would not have had it years ago?


The difference is that 99% of those productions (including now often tired Horror genre works) are pointless, repetitious, more show than go, about nothing and unoriginal as unoriginal can get.  Salo is as relevant as ever, is an extremely political film and remains the ultimate criticism of fascism and extreme consumerism that has ever been filmed and ever will.   He went all the way to say what he had to say and his enemies were not happy, especially since he had addressed the issue before in films like Porcile and Theorem, but what was implicit in those films is out here full force in front of the camera all the way, though the film starts like many others.


Set in the title town in the Italy of 1944, Hitler has helped Mussolini take over a big piece of Italy to do what they will with it.  Many atrocities followed and this tale combined the title work of De Sade with Dante’s Inferno to expose the total annihilation that Italian Fascism and all fascism represents and though some have stated that this is aimed at all absolute fascist power run rampant, Pasolini particularly aimed at Italian Fascism alive and well in his country and apparently paid the ultimate price.


Four men lead a group of soldiers and other participants in kidnapping a group of young boys and girls (14 – 18 years old) and take them to an elaborate house (one writer suggested it was the home of a wealthy Jewish person or family, all of whom had been long sent to a concentration camp (or camps) or killed on the spot) and all of the young prisoners happens to be members of the communist opposition or their children.


After announcing bizarre ground rules they must conform to, it turns out they are to be systematically manipulated, taunted, stripped of their personal selves figuratively and literally, humiliated, abused, tortured and much worse including sexual assault, human waste consumption and other forms of degradation and torture that is systematic, sinister and absolute.  This never falls into self-satire, is increasingly dense and by the end, makes the ultimate statement of the truth about fascism and how it succeeds in destroying people and in turn, the world.  However, even with some dated effects, this is one of the most brutal films ever made and extremely difficult to watch, even after repeated viewings and even if you see it with many years in between.  This is very intense, in part because it is so honest.


It is also effective (especially in the cyber age) since these events are not being recorded, these victims are in total isolation, but it Is not just a mere horror show but very sick, dangerous, deranged people with power who still know 100% of what they do and not just love it but wallow in it (you have to see it to believe it) making them out to be what you have often heard the most famous of all insults when fascist are insulted: fascist pigs.  If this film does not back that statement, nothing does.


The cast and likely much of the crew did not know what was going on from day to day, denied the full script, so the actual shock and surprise the actors have from scene to scene is as authentic as it looks and I give the actors credit for being able to get through this film without quitting.  Though it is at least as difficult as I am warning, it is also as important a film and it is amazing a major studio like the original United Artists picked this up for distribution.  For all the landmark horror films with a theme of annihilation (including original versions of Night Of The Living Dead, Last House On The Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Raw Meat, I Spit On Your Grave, et al), Salo’s horror is more potent because it is more realistic, more potent and the nightmare here is not just a nightmare, but a fascist nightmare that is more palpable than those films that almost all have had inferior remakes.  Salo could never be remade because it is the most personal film of them all and goes even further than any of those films did, which is a remarkable thing to say, but that is the case.


While the theme of annihilation in those films come from other people who live on the same plane as their victims, the predators here have even more power, are more perverse and their evil still lives, especially because it is tied to evil in real life that is even now underestimated and ignored.  Germany may have outlawed fascism and Nazis when they continued after losing WWII, but Italy did not and even today the party is alive and well and not just in that country.  But the film even goes beyond politics, it goes to the very nature of how we allow ourselves to be destroyed by our worse decisions and own agreement to allow destructive power to survive and even thrive in extreme circumstances, fascist, Stalinist or otherwise.


Of course, Pasolini was a communist, Marxist, Catholic and homosexual, the latter of which he did not emphasize, but his camera eye’s undeniable lingering on (semi-) nude young male bodies easily implies that.  This combination was too much for Italian Fascists of 1976 (or any period) to handle (they apparently helped start rumors it was gruesome pornography so no one would see it) and he was found dead (run over by his car after other things had happened) at the hands of a young rent boy, though it is now believed (as many suspected then) that he did not act alone.  Some of this is addressed in the supplements, though sadly, the documentary Who Killed Pasolini? was not included in this release.


A few years ago, a man who had seen the film asked me what the point was after explaining that he was shocked by the film, but did not understand the point.  That he did not understand was more disturbing to me that the content of the film, meaning the point has not just been lost to so few people having seen the film but to a sense of history lost.  That also means the worst possible history repeating itself.  I explained the history aspect and how this film was the ultimate critique of that fascism.  The man thanked me for the clarification (surprised I understood the film; maybe it was just too shocking on first viewing, even now, to catch the point the first time) and now had an idea of what Pasolini intended.


And that is part of the film’s limits.  Besides being so extreme, it is a period piece, like it or not.  Even a great, realistic, authentic one (the paintings on the alls apparently are all banned works of some kind) can have it limits, but I bring up this story to disprove the myth that this is just gross, sexual (the appeal of anything sexual being extremely distorted), pornographic and sickening but a film that had to go out of its way as much as any to make an ultimate point.  It is a complex work with an uncompromising point of view and its maker would have lived longer otherwise had it been less than that.  I can think of few other films of any kind with such conviction and you don’t have to share Pasolini’s ideologies to agree with some or most of what he is saying.  That is why Salo is an important film very serious film people should see at least once, no matter how difficult.



The ironic thing about all the earlier bad transfers of Salo is that they tended to give the film the authenticity of a lost documentary, forbidden film or a record as if recorded by the Nazis to self-celebrate their mutilation and eventually genocide of those they hated.  When older Criterion DVD copies of the film reached $300+ per copy on the secondary market, giving an ironic new value to the film, most people who wished they had it did not know the film or what it was about and more than a few of those who watched it actually understood it.  The DVD simply recycled Criterion’s older 12” LaserDisc transfer of the film.  Copies worldwide since have all been weak in various forms.


This new 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer comes from a brand new 35mm internegative of the film that far outperforms all previous editions.  Besides the fact that the estate of Pasolini did not want this to become the old film he would be known for, it needed this restoration and now comes alive with vivid new horror and realism that Pasolini intended.  It was lensed by no less than the ingenious Director of Photography Tonino Delli Colli, A.I.C., known for great work including the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns.  His work here is no less impressive and except for some noticeable second-generation footage, this looks amazing for its age and considering the history of the film and its censorship.  Also, Production Designer Dante Ferretti’s work is all the more amazing when you can see his full intent.


As for sound, the original Italian soundtrack is here in PCM 1.0 Mono sound and sounds as good as it ever is going to considering it was recorded after filming (as was typical of all Italian films until very recently post-WWII) and is sourced from a 35mm magnetic print track and includes a score supervised by no less than Ennio Morricone.  Though I was hoping a French language soundtrack would be included since Pasolini found it to be valuable, we do get an English Dolby Digital 1.0 lossy Mono track that is weaker and not as effective, though its there for those having difficulty with the film.


Extras include an elaborate slip case with its Blu-ray held by a DigiPak and a very think (thicker than usual even for them) nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and no less than seven essays on the film, while the Blu-ray itself adds an English-language trailer, separate on-camera interviews with Ferretti and film scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin and three featurettes: Salo: Yesterday & Today (33 minutes) including vintage Pasolini interviews, Fade To Black (23 minutes) with interviews by other directors on the film including Bernardo Bertolucci, John Maybury & Catherine Breillat (film scholar David Forgacs also participates) and The End Of “Salo” (40 minutes) about the making of the film including rare stills and script pages.  My only complaint is that they focus too much on the conclusion and not the whole film, so only see them after watching.


This is a film for MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY, but a vital classic that people are still trying to censor.  That is why you should make it a must-see film, with severe caution.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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