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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975) d. Pier Paolo Pasolini

In this scene some of the kidnap-ees are showing their empty chamber pots to one of the Libertines.  They have been ordered not to defecate so all their feces can be collected for (a hard to watch) feast of shit.

Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
d.  Pier Paolo Pasolini
Criterion Collection #17

  Movies don't get edgier then this. Pier Paolo Pasolini's version of Marquis de Sade 120 Days of Sodom is a tough watch, though if you are familiar with the book you can imagine myriad ways it could have been worse.  The "plot" of 120 Days of Sodom is minimal in the book:  A group of four decadent/depraved Libertines kidnaps a host of young boys and girls and wall themselves up with four elderly courtesans, some large dicked enforcers, and their own daughters who they marry as "wives."

"Nothing's more contagious than evil." -a still from Salo or the 120 Days of  Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini

  During the day the courtesans tell erotic stories from their lives, and the libertines inflict all manner of humiliation and degradation on their captives, giving birth in the book to what we today call "Sado Masochism,"  or the infliction of physical and mental anguish in the service of sexual gratification.  As the book makes perfectly clear, time and time again, 120 Days of Sodom is a critique of the totality of the enlightenment/rational world view, and it firmly makes the case that enlightenment itself is a sham and has terrible, anarchic implications.  Over three centuries later, De Sade couldn't have been more right, and the evidence of the validity of his critique is supported by a hundred years of Continental philosophers (Foucault, Nietzsche, Adorno, etc.)

  Pasolini similarly made the movie version as a protest against the consumer-fascist culture that he hated and it is his disgust for consumerist society that permeates Salo.  Pasolini set his version in 1944, in the Northern Italian Fascist puppet state centered on the city of Salo.  During the film you can hear the Allied bombers putting a slow but decisive end to their world, but that is the only intrusion of the outside world into the narrative.

 Although the subject matter is "pornographic" Pasolini uses theatrically inspired distancing techniques to drain any kind of eroticism from the film.  As Catherine Breilliat argues in one of the three accompanying documentaries, Salo is actually an anti-pornographic film in that it employs the opposite visual technique of most pornography:  Rather then excluding context to focus on sex organs and sexual pleasure, Pasolini always shoots sexually themed material with long shots and a steady camera, forcing the context onto the viewer.

  Salo is one of several Italian films of the 70s- another is The Night Porter, that sought to re-contextualize the asethetics and themes of Nazism/Fascism.  I believe the point of this critique was to emphasis that Naszism/Fascism was not some kind of aberrant behavior but rather a culmination of intellectual themes that were developed in the so-called Enlightenment, and that the mid 20th century success of Fascism/Nazi ideology points to the failure of that Enlightenment, and is evidence in support of the claim that modernity is a failed project.

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