Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom

Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom is a revolting film, the work of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian director who was murdered shortly after finishing this, his final film. In an essay by Naomi Greene included in The Criterion Collection's disc of the film, Pasolini is quoted as saying, “artists must create, critics defend, and democratic people support . . . works so extreme that they become unacceptable even to the broadest minds of the new State.”

With Salo, Pasolini certainly succeeded in making a film that was extreme enough for even the most open-minded viewer. As the English translation of the title indicates, it is based on the notorious book by the Marquis de Sade.

Here you have a remote castle at which the upper class members of society have created their own world populated by masters (them) and slaves (everyone else). Sex of the most perverse kind is their way of life. The slaves are presented nude before their masters and subjected to whippings for failure to comply with orders which include kneeling on the floor like dogs and fetching pieces of cake embedded with nails that the masters toss at them. The slaves are also fed excrement.

Like de Sade’s novel, the film has no subplots. It’s all about sexual degradation, a portrayal of a lifestyle cut off from all but the basest, most contemptible forms of behavior. Is this art? Perhaps. But it is art that would likely speak only to those who fantasize about a similarly decadent way of life. What are we to make of such obsessions? To resign oneself to a life of abuse, whether as the abuser or the abused, could be a reaction to suffering. By focusing only on being a victimizer or a victim you can shut yourself off from all other feelings.

In another of those essays in the DVD booklet, someone named Neil Bartlett says, “Salo is not only a film that has been forgotten (a film that some people and organizations have, throughout its existence, actively made efforts to ensure is forgotten), it is also a film about forgetting.”

Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom is a movie that I'm glad to have seen, but I would also just as soon forget it. That, however, may be impossible.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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