Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Salo o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma)

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken us?

Well, here it is. The day has finally come. I can honestly say that I’ve been dreading having to watch this film since pretty much when I started this quest. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve been using a random number generator to randomly pick my films for me is because I did not want to have to actually choose to watch this. Well, someone at the 1001 Club went ahead and picked this, hilariously enough for Valentine’s Day, so I guess I owe them at least a mild thanks for making me finally get this out of the way. I know of many people who have seen stuff like A Serbian Film or The Human Centipede; films I absolutely refuse to watch, and thus condone the filmmaker’s efforts. But, having been forced to watch this basically against my will, I will say this: it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. But then again, that is likely wholly because of how my brain approached the film.

If you don’t know or have never heard of this film, the plot should give you your first indication or red flag that this may not be for you, or for anyone. It involves a group of rich fascist Italians engaging in a secret ritual for unknown reasons, which involves marrying each other’s daughters and kidnapping nine young boys and nine young girls to a palace in the countryside for 120 days of torture and debauchery. The film starts out almost deceptively meek, rolling what can best be described as smooth jazz over the opening credits, as if this film were nothing but a care in the world, and then opening on a lovely pan of the town in question. Then, in a scene a few minutes later, a group of guards come into a room with the daughters in question, and one promptly walks up and spits in one of the girls’ face. Red flag #2. And then the young’uns are rounded up, herded to the palace, and explained the rules. And from there, the actual film begins, which consists largely of some of the captors regaling tales to the young folks, tales which consist entirely of the most depraved actions, pretty much all of them, that the human mind can possibly conceive of. During these tales, the young victims are subjected to degradations of a mostly sexual nature, though there is one section of the film appropriately titled “Circle of Shit” that consists of a few scenes of coprophagia, and if you don’t know what that word means I will spare you the definition. Really, except for the aforementioned section, the film was a lot tamer than I was expecting. I was expecting it to be this constant, non-stop, all-out orgy of despicable and disgusting actions for virtually the entire two-hour runtime, but it wasn’t. It was, amazingly, more reserved than that, only giving us bits and pieces of the depravity one at a time, instead of the deluge I thought the film was going to be. Not that that should be seen as a recommendation, though; the film is still highly in the running for the most disgusting film ever put to celluloid, but it wasn’t overwhelming 100% of the time, which enabled me to actually get through the whole thing. The one compliment that I’d heard about this film was that, at the very least, it was well made for what it was. I, however, did not get that perception. Frankly, despite that this was made in the 1970s, I actually think I could take the same material and subject matter and make a better made film from it than Salo. Not that I would, though. I do still have a little bit of humanity left.

Here’s the thing about my viewing of Salo, that I figured out some time while I was watching the film and decided to completely leave alone to do its thing: none of what is seen in the film is really, actually happening. That it was a fictional film was just the layer of protection my mind needed to remain largely whole on the other end of my viewing of this one, and again, even after figuring that self-defense mechanism out, I left it alone, since it was working out well for me. Still, I couldn’t help but think that there was no way Salo could possibly be made in today’s filmmaking age. That the filmmakers were able to make a film like this, even in the 1970s, is baffling. That they got the actors to agree to do this film is nothing short of appalling. What’s even more amazing is that the credits told me the musical score was done by none other than Ennio Morricone, which was probably the most mind-boggling. I will say, though, that the main reason this isn’t getting a lower score from me was because it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, and for very few other reasons (one of which being just another middle finger to the one film I have given a lower score to). Still, even with the protection of that fourth wall my mind constructed, a little part of my soul has been taken from me, abused and tortured and raped like the young folks of Salo. To imagine what has been done to it is to relive the events of the film. I don’t think I want it back.

Arbitrary Rating: 2/10

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11 thoughts on “Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (Salo o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma)

  1. “none of what is seen in the film is really, actually happening.”

    Actually, that’s incorrect. Yes, the young “actors” were free to go after filming was done, but they really were forced to really perform the acts in the film. They really were forced to eat excrement and all the other things you see. And they really were in their early to mid teens. Not one of them ever acted in a film again. They were basically paid to come in, be abused, and not sue them afterwards.

    • That is something I, as a filmmaker myself, refuse to believe. Everything I’ve found tells the tale that the film was just that: a film. IMDb’s trivia page tells me the excrement was a mixture of chocolate and orange marmalade. Sure, the young kids getting naked and occasionally fondling each other was real, but (SPOILERS) all, or most, of the kids at the end of the film are gruesomely murdered, some by branding their nipples, some by gouging out their eyes and cutting off their tongues, some by hanging them from a noose. I’d find it a little hard to believe the filmmakers actually murdered some of these kids. No human being would come onto a film set, be told that their nipples are really going to be branded with a hot iron, and be okay with that happening for the sake of completing the film. Same thing with the excrement scenes. Unless you have a tangible source that says otherwise, I’ll go by everything else on the internet that says that not only was the film staged, but that the actors playing the young victims actually had a good time on the set, laughing and pulling pranks on each other.

      • I think you’re intentionally misinterpreting my comment in order to make it sound more ridiculous, or perhaps you genuinely believe that I believe that they killed people. Either way that was not what I was saying. I said the kids were free to go afterwards. The parts I meant were real were the parts that left no permanent injury, such as having to eat excrement.

        The first I ever heard about this film was part of a doc/program I saw on it decades ago. It detailed the real vs. not real events in it. Everyone at the time (meaning the filmmakers) was quite proud that they had been as real as possible and the example that was mentioned was the shit eating and that the actors involved did not know beforehand it would be real, which led to a greater authenticity in the performance of these amateur actors. Many directors spring surprises on their actors in order to get real reactions from them. This was just far worse than usual.

        To be fair, this is no more proof that it’s real than a random comment an IMDB user submitted to the film’s trivia page proves that it’s fake, but it did take a lot more effort and money to produce the program than it did to produce that comment. The filmmakers would not be the first ones to backtrack years later and say they were lying for the sake of sensationalism. And they would not be the first ones to have lied to the actors telling them it was real shit to get the reaction they wanted when it was really not, either.

        I don’t think anyone at this point could say with any certainty what was real and what was not, including you and me. I do believe that they abused these kids to the limit of what they could get away with and as a result none of them ever wanted to act again. (If they had such a good time how come they never repeated the fun by working on another movie?) You believe that it was all fake because that was the lifeline you needed in order to stomach watching it. Both of us hated this film, so we are in agreement on that.

        • Yeah, sorry; I didn’t think it through enough to consider how mean that reply sounded when I wrote it. There’s a subset of people that are of the belief that filmmakers of any kind will do literally anything, up to and possibly including murder, to get their films made, and I take personal offense to that belief. Granted, we do do things like guerrilla filmmaking and messing with actors to get the right performances, but there’s a line that human beings just don’t cross, and it would be reasonable to assume eating excrement would cross that line. Then again, low-budget filmmakers like John Waters seem to have no problem apparently doing just that in Pink Flamingos, so it’s a case-by-case assessment.

          There’s a short documentary on the making of Salo I found on Youtube that apparently is included in English on the Criterion Blu-Ray release. I don’t know Italian, so I don’t know what was said, but the kids in the picture did seem to be having a relatively good time with the filming, which was as rudimentary as one could expect, which was enough to reinforce that particular trivia tidbit in my mind. As for why they never did another film, there’s a myriad of potential reasons for that, and indeed, because they never worked again limits the amount of information that I was able to look for on a cursory search.

          But yeah, fascism metaphor aside, there was really no reason to make this film in the first place, other than the infamy of actually making it. One of the tidbits I didn’t end up including in the closer of my review basically mentions that, thankfully, there would be no need to make Salo in the present day, because it has already been made. Then again, schlock like A Serbian Film is still being made, so who knows how far we will repeatedly go for a little taste of fame.

          • And apparently Pasolini was intending to make a trilogy of such films, but was murdered (in a case still filled with questions) after doing just the first one, so he didn’t get to make the next two. I won’t say “thankfully” because it would be in poor taste to joke about someone’s murder, but list completist or not I doubt I would have watched two more no matter how important someone deemed them.

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