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Pier Paolo Pasolini
Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti, Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Hélène Surgère, Sonia Saviange
Writing Credits:
Marquis de Sade (novel), Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Citti

The final vision of a controversial filmmaker.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a celebrated poet, writer, and all-around intellectual, but it was his maverick, controversial filmmaking that distinguished him as an influential artistic force. The director's last film, Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom, an adaptation of the Marquis de Sade's 18th century novel, remains his most notorious (and most censored) due to its scenes of graphic rape and torture of adolescents. Pasolini relocates the novel's horrific abuses from France to the final days of Mussolini's reign, effectively rendering a grim portrait of the degradation of the human body and spirit beneath Fascist and Nazi rule.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
Italian Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/26/2008

• “Salo: Yesterday and Today” Documentary
• “Fade to Black” Documentary
• “The End of Salo” Documentary
• Interviews with Production Designer Dante Ferretti and Filmmaker/Film Scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin
• Theatrical Trailer

• 80-Page Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom: Criterion Collection (2008 Reissue) (1975)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 8, 2008)

Back in college, Caligula maintained such an outrageous reputation that we young buggers just had to check out its depraved delights. It grossed us out, though in a “so bad that it’s good” way.

Thank God we didn’t dare to see 1976’s Salo, Or the 120 Days of Sodom, as I’m not sure we would’ve come through the experience unscathed. The flick starts in 1944 and takes us to Nazi-occupied Italy. The ruling class rounds up all the attractive young men and women they can find for unspecified but clearly lascivious motives.

Once the instigators finish with their recruitment efforts, we quickly learn that “lascivious” radically understates matters. “Absurdly perverse” probably offers a better encapsulation, as the selected subjects find themselves subject to the sexual whims of their captors. And that’s about it, as Salo focuses on social commentary but lacks much in the way of actual plot.

Recently one Internet wag referred to Salo as the “Two Girls, One Cup” of its era. That was a cheeky comment, but it’s not terribly far off the mark. This isn’t a film for the faint of heart, as it comes with graphic visions of a variety of nasty subjects.

I think Salo usually inspires one of two different reactions. Much of the time it provokes the basic, instinctive “Ick Factor”. I can’t fault those who view it that way, since the film shows more than a few uncensored shots of various depravations. The movie earns its reputation as an often unpleasant visual affair.

On the other hand, the disgusting notoriety of Salo adds to a faction of defenders who see it as great art. And perhaps it deserves that. After all, director Pier Paolo Pasolini isn’t some hack with a camera. He’s a noteworthy filmmaker, and one who seems less likely to make filth for the sake of simple degradation ala the aforementioned “Two Girls”. This group sees Salo as an unjustly condemned gem, one that deserves better than the fate given to it by the “Ick Factor” folks.

To me, the film merits consideration somewhere between the two poles. Those who dismiss it due to its graphic nature miss the point, but I think the second camp probably goes too far in its knee-jerk defense of the flick. They’re closer to the mark, but I wouldn’t regard Salo as a classic.

It does prove effective, though, and it actually seemed less graphic than I expected. Based on the film’s reputation, I figured it’d be one nauseating shot after another. In truth, the gross material doesn’t appear until the DVD’s 14th chapter, and even then, the movie doesn’t maintain the “Ick Factor” on a constant basis. Sure, we get more than a few disgusting images, but they’re not relentless. Honestly, I think Caligula outdoes Salo in regard to the amount of graphic footage it displays.

However, Caligula plays things in a broad, campy manner; it’s too laughable to be truly offended by its visions. The same can’t be said for the harrowing Salo, a movie that packs much more of a punch. Even before the really nasty stuff emerges in chapter 14, the film already has us firmly on edge. It portrays its sick society in an oddly dispassionate manner that gives the material more of an impact. Pasolini doesn’t lend an emotional edge to the depravity or encourage us to feel for the victims. Instead, the flick comes with a fairly neutral tone. It’s not a documentary vibe, but it lacks the expected manipulative side.

Some have complained about the film’s lack of empathy for its victims and its two-dimensional portrayal of virtually all its characters. I regard that as a positive, not as a negative. If we knew the victims and got inside their heads, the flick would become much more conventional and trite. Salo doesn’t exist as a morality tale or a character study. It wants to paint a portrait of a certain type of society, so it avoids standard emotional tendencies found in most films.

Essentially, Salo presents an encapsulation of how a fascist society degrades its citizenry. It presents an extreme vision of a fascist society in which the subjects suffer at the uncompromising whims of their superiors. Only when the subjects break down and turn against each other do their masters view them as acceptable.

Could Salo have succeeded without all its unpleasant visuals? I don’t think so. I believe it requires the forceful nature of its depravity to demonstrate the extremes of the society it portrays.

And to be honest, I don’t think Salo quite lives up to its reputation as Super-Duper Disgusting. Sure, it has shots that nauseate, but we don’t find a ton of these. As I alluded earlier, I think Caligula boasts a higher Ick Factor. Salo features scads of nudity along with some sex, but the latter scenes aren’t explicit; they’re not revealing in a porn film manner.

Perhaps the relentlessly downbeat and cruel overtone of Salo leads viewers to feel they saw more visual nastiness than they did. That doesn’t mean you won’t go “yikes!” on a number of occasions, but if you expect 115 minutes of “Two Girls, One Cup”, you’ll not find it. I think Salo feels more graphic than it is because it so consistently assaults the viewer with its unpleasant worldview. By the time we actually see people eat feces and urinate on each other, we’ve been emotionally beaten down just like the young victims, so we think we’ve experienced more nastiness than we have.

Without question, Salo isn’t for everyone. I’ll defend it, but I can’t say that I like the film or will ever watch it again. However, I think it’s a well-constructed film that achieves its goals and deserves to be seen as something more than just a piece of graphic grossness.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

Salo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While fairly good, the transfer didn’t excel.

Some mild to moderate edge haloes affected sharpness. Much of the movie showed nice delineation, but wide shots tended to suffer from some tentative imaging. Despite those, most of the flick provided pretty good definition. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws remained minor. The occasional speck popped up, but the majority of the film was clean.

Salo wasn’t a movie with a dynamic palette, so expect subdued colors here. These were on the flat side much of the time. Some of that seemed to be by design, as a vivid set of hues wouldn’t make much sense for a tale of this sort, but I nonetheless thought the colors tended to be a little muddier than I’d like. Blacks were dark and tight, though, and shadows showed positive delineation. Overall, I felt pleased with the image, though the bland hues hies and edge enhancement dropped the presentation to a “B-“.

As for the monaural audio of Salo, it appeared competent for its era and nothing more. Distractions came from a lot of poor looping. As I understand it, most Italian flicks of the era featured little if any dialogue recorded on the set; the filmmakers preferred to dub everything. This usually worked fine, but more than a few lines didn’t fit well with the on-screen speech. For instance, look at Signora Vaccari in chapter six; you don’t have to speak Italian to realize that her lines don’t match her mouth’s movements.

In terms of quality, the audio was acceptable given its age. Speech tended to be a bit edgy, which came as a surprise since it was recorded in a studio. Despite the light roughness, the lines stayed fairly clear.

Music wasn’t much of a factor here, as there was little traditional score; the music tended to come from sources on the screen such as a woman who played the piano. These elements sounded fine overall and suffered from no obvious issues. Effects were also a minor aspect of the track, and they worked fine. They added little to the package but they appeared acceptably clean and accurate. This was a perfectly mediocre mix for a mid-1970s movie.

Expect a raft of supplements from this new two-disc version of Salo. Almost all the extras appear on DVD Two, as DVD One only features the film’s theatrical trailer. It’s interesting to see if just because it features dialogue dubbed into English – and pretty poorly at that.

Over on DVD Two, we find a few documentaries. A mix of archival and modern material, Salo: Yesterday and Today runs 33 minutes, 15 seconds as it presents remarks from director Pier Paolo Pasolini, longtime Pasolini collaborator Jean-Claude Biette, and actors Helene Surgere and Ninetto Davoli. The show looks at aspects of the screenplay and its path to the screen, some movie themes, cinematography, cast and performances, the director’s working methods and impact of his death, and thoughts about the final product.

At no point does “Today” turn into a comprehensive examination of Salo. It’s a little scattershot and doesn’t follow the film in a particularly concise manner. Nonetheless, we get some good notes about the flick, and the inclusion of some good footage from the set. All of these help make “Today” and informative piece.

Made in 2001, Fade to Black goes for 23 minutes, 20 seconds, as it provides thoughts from University College London Professor of Italian David Forgacs and filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat and John Maybury; it also includes some archival remarks from Pasolini. They discuss their feelings about Salo and reactions it engendered in the 1970s, the film’s style and aspects of the story’s telling, how the flick reflected its era, and some notes about Pasolini. “Black” provides an introspective examination of the film. It covers various insights about the movie in an engaging manner and works quite well.

For the final documentary, we get the 39-minute and 45-second The End of Salo. It presents remarks from production designer Dante Ferretti, screenwriter Pupi Avati, actors Paolo Bonacelli and Antinisca Nemour, assistant director Fiorella Infascelli, assistant editor Ugo Maria De Rossi, photographer Fabian Cevallos, Dell’ Auditorium di Roma president Goffredo Bettini, poet Valerio Magrelli, filmmaker Alexander Sokurov and Professor of Comparative Literature Arturo Mazzarella. We get notes about shooting specific scenes, various experiences and interactions during the production, thoughts about the director, script and adaptation topics, set design and visual choices, and a few general ideas.

Don’t expect the most logical, coherent presentation from “End”, as it throws out information without much fluidity. It also waxes a little too philosophical at times. Nonetheless, the show provides a lot of good information. Despite the awkward style, “End” offers enough useful material to make it worthwhile.

The set concludes with Interviews with Production Designer Dante Ferretti and Filmmaker/Film Scholar Jean-Pierre Gorin. The Ferretti segment goes for 11 minutes, 26 seconds, while the Gorin piece fills 27 minutes, seven seconds. During his clip, Ferretti discusses his career and influences as well as his work on Salo and thoughts about Pasolini. Gorin goes over why anyone should watch the film, themes and interpretation, literary influences, and other thoughts. He manages to provide some intriguing ideas.

As with virtually all Criterion releases, Salo comes with a good booklet. This 80-page piece includes seven essays that look at the film and related elements. Even for Criterion, this is a remarkable package, as it provides lots of good movie discussion.

Few films have suffered from the level of condemnation and notoriety thrown at Salo. I think the flick deserves a better fate; while it may be uncompromising and harrowing, it doesn’t throw out disgusting material for its own sake, and it does what it intends to do. The DVD provides erratic but acceptable picture and audio along with some informative supplements. By no means will Salo be for everyone, but this package presents it in a positive manner.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4761 Stars Number of Votes: 21
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